By KEVIN TAN and CHRISTINE CHEAH
Empty spaces. Chairs. Daisies. Those were some of the things Kiwi Phoebe Ratcliff Reid saw at the memorial site of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand.
Just from these three concepts, Malaysian Kathryn Lagrosa Rao and Reid, both 21, designed four elegant and fabulous outfits to win the Virtual Re-Start Fashion Competition, which was developed by Education New Zealand to showcase the quality of fashion and design programmes in New Zealand.
The competition paired ten Malaysian fashion design students with ten from New Zealand, and saw each pair given a NZD1,000 (RM2,500) budget to design garments based on the theme “Re-Start”, which represents the recovery of Christchurch after the cataclysmic events of 2011 that claimed 185 lives.
Kicking off New Zealand Week in Malaysia, the competition’s runway show saw designs that ranged from street-wear to formal attire. There were also accessories made of mesh metal, aluminium-crafted footwear and outfits that incorporated wood.
Reid and Rao played with contrast layerings and it was a very daisy affair. The painted flowers that were painstakingly sewn onto their cocktail dress represented life blooming from the cracks of the earth. “The flowers took such a long time to paint, and it was important because it represented the work needed to collectively rebuild a community,” said Reid.
Reid was paired with Rao just six weeks ago, and it was a learning experience for both of them.
The pair, who won NZD10,000 (RM25,000) for their work, were able to communicate regularly through email and Skype, though the time difference between Malaysia and New Zealand made things a little more complicated.
But coming from different countries and backgrounds, Rao said they both had strengths that complemented each other. Rao, who is from the Raffles College of Design and Commerce, has a strong background in design, whereas Reid was more well-versed in fabric production being from the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology.
“I think we won because we used positivity as the main element in our designs,” said Rao. “The sharp edges were from the structure of the white chairs and the daisies that fill the ground represents optimism.”
The white chairs Rao referred to are an art installation by Pete Majendie, who set up 185 chairs of all shapes and sizes – one for each life lost in the earthquake – on the site where the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church once stood in Christchurch. The building had to be demolished after the earthquake.
Most of the other teams in the competition went with floral themes for their designs, a tribute to the lives lost in the earthquake. There were, however, teams that went with darker, more sombre colours that reflected a mood of mourning.
Judges for the event included the wife of the New Zealand High Commissioner to Malaysia, Arti Pine; Malaysian couturier Bill Keith and top Kiwi footwear designer Kathryn Wilson.
Datuk Jimmy Choo, who was there to present the awards to the winners, said that the competition was an excellent platform for exchanging and sharing ideas between students from both countries, and a good way to promote Malaysian fashion to New Zealand.
“It is also a way of promoting tourism and giving others from around the world a warm welcome when we have such collaborations. It is good for the designers to correspond and share their thoughts as this would give them different insight on their designs,” said Choo.