“Why do today’s designers prefer slim and flat silhouettes while the target customers do not pertain the ideal standard body?” – Seulki Sue Lee, Central Saint Martins’ Fashion Design and Marketing graduate states, “As much as I hate to admit this, I’m also attracted by the conventional ideals of beauty from skinny models. I think they are lots of women like me who are not exposed to alternative visions of beauty and femininity.” Her collection features a padded, foam bodice with a white, eggshell mesh bodycon dress. A dark navy two-button, tweed jacket with the hips padded with angular purpose and the shoulders back; it was like a business suit with a couture sensibility.
Sue presented her first Autumn/Winter 2017 collection in May 2016. Creating this collection in particular, Sue discovered her way of working through patterns, finding her metaphorical voice as a designer, and has learnt of the importance of feminism within her work. There were few voices constantly throwing question to her if her collection is a ‘plus size’ collection. She explains, “My collection is not challenging about different sizes of women’s bodies it is about exploring different shapes of bodies. Every look in my collection has a padded bodice and some has larger hips or smaller busts, every women has different shape even though they are categorised as ‘size 12’”.
Sue sifts through a pile of references that inspired her inaugural A/W 16 womenswear collection and lays out references from 1950s from the L’Officiel and Vogue’s editorial archives, photographs of couture designers, like Pierre Balmain and Jean Patou draping their evening gowns at their ateliers and her life drawing sketches of women. Sue’s confidence translates into her designs, she nonchalantly chats away about her collection and all of her ideas behind it. “The broad shoulders and the cinched waistlines appealed lots of women during 1950s. For my collection, I wanted to highlight the hips because I think it looks more powerful and builds a strong visual presence”. Sue was dressed in ivory, tissue-thin polo neck, long black knitwear with a pair of narrow black trousers. “I have no problem with a woman wearing anything as long as she has chosen to wear it for herself. But, I do think there are too many images of women that are sexualised when they expose their skin through the clothes." With this calculated outline of the jacket, Sue’s collection defines women’s silhouette in various shapes.
To challenge the conventional ideals of beauty propagated by the mainstream press, Sue has draped and sewed mostly by hand. “I am not hand-sewing this jacket and coat to make it ‘personal’. There are lots of technical machines that save our time but I think it was a crucial step to learn and make clothes by hand. While I was pattern cutting I left extra margin of the fabric so I could drape it on the mannequin and also test on real models to receive their personal response. I realised adjusting the seams of the jacket has let me to understand how every women’s silhouette brings out different degree of beauty and femininity. Depending on the wearer this tailored dress and jacket will be fitted differently. I think the ‘flow’ of fashion should not compromise the creative process or the quality of the clothes”.
The thing that strikes most, away from the studio, Sue has a strong couture-like integrity. Sue has consciously considered the needs of the professional woman. Strength is one way Sue’s clothes are characterised. There’s also a kind of a new sort of tribe for women with a sense of solitary spirit.
-Caroline Kang, Fashion journalist