Nigel Chia, award-winning fashion design graduate from Raffles College of Higher Education, has won the hearts of many in the local fashion industry and has made a strong name for himself throughout the years of struggle and achievements. He has come a very long way from producing unique, collectible dolls to creating and producing extravagant, impeccable fashion.
Curious to find out more on how he rises to the top? Here’s the juice!
What’s your background story?
I was born and raised in a small fishermen village called Sungai Besar. Previously, my mom was a tailor and when she was pregnant, she used to sew day and night. So, I think I was born with the passion – or maybe it was just prenatal education. Everything seemed to come very naturally to me … as if it was meant to be.
After I had graduated 5 years of Veterinary school, I received a full scholarship from The Star Education Fund and immediately decided to attend a fashion course with Raffles College of Higher Education without any hesitation.
Was your childhood particularly a creative one?
Well, I guess it was. I have always loved playing with my mother’s sewing machine – when I was just 5 years old, I got the needle stuck in my finger and ended up in a hospital!
Childhood was great, until it came to the stage where I had to choose which course I had to take up after finishing secondary school. I was a science student, and it was a struggle for me to choose my own passion against my parents’ hope.
How did you take an interest to fashion and then to designing in particular?
I am a huge fans of Miss Universe! Always have been! When I was a child, I never missed a single show. I was so fascinated with their gowns and national costumes.
In my teen years, when Fashion TV just started, it was like heaven! I was more exposed to international brands and runways. And that’s when I started to sketch a lot of details and silhouettes inspired by the showcases on Fashion TV. Years ago, when internet was still cable, and very limited, I’d spend time cutting out all things fashion off the newspapers as well.
Take us through your journey — from your first job to eventually designing.
I graduated as a Veterinarian and during Vet school, I designed dolls to satisfy my designing urges and needs, and of course, to make enough money for living.
After I had graduated, I took 2 months to launch my own line of fashion dolls – DeMuse Doll. My mother nagged me during the process and told me not to waste my time on it, but I insisted, and the results turned out pretty well. Sometimes we just have to believe in what we are doing and note that persistence is always the key to success.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
I joined a few fashion competitions during my years at Raffles College – won a few and lost a few, which was all very normal. I’d have to say that my greatest achievement would be wining MODA’s innovative award for the young designer category in September 2014.
What inspires your designs?
I am a huge fan of vintage Dior, Balenciaga…I just love sculptures, unusual architecture, wildlife, nature and arts & crafts. All these things usually comes into my mind when I am designing.
Tell us more about your latest, award-wining collection at the Raffles Graduation ceremony.
The collection was inspired by 3D pop-up books from an amazing artist, Su Blaxckwell. She has done a lot of breathtaking book sculptures. This collection tells a story of girl entering the world of a pop-up story book, exploring in the mysterious woods where things are made up of paper including all the wildlife.
The silhouettes are 50’s Inspired – voluminous, tiny waistlines, cocoon shapes. Each look was designed to appear as characters that have risen from an old story book. The highlight of my collection would be the animal cut-outs and patch work. I have used different tones of faux leather and layered them to create a 3D effect so that when people see it, they’d be tempted to feel the fabric and detailing. I have also use layers of organza to create the effect of pages from a story book.
Other than that, I have created pieces that can be converted and worn in different styles and methods. Colour wise, I stuck to pastels, nude and white to create a sophisticated and romantic look. All these were done within 3 months time, which involved a lot of handwork and detailing. It was crazy, but it was fun. It is the most satisfying collection I have done so far, no regrets.
We heard that you started off with designing clothes for dolls, what made you move on to designing clothes for people? Tell us more on this transition.
I’ve always loved to design and create clothes in life-size, but back in vet school, it was very hard for me to produce a complete, life-size collection as it requires a certain amount of financial support and technical knowledge in order to do so.
So, I came up with an idea to transform and create all of my designs for dolls so that people could actually see and appreciate it rather than just having them age as sketches. That’s the time I had discovered the market for the collectible dolls; it is a very niche market where my designs actually sell well and eventually gained great recognition. I only eve started to make life sized garments after attending Raffles College.
Describe your workspace, and why it’s more conducive to you in terms of productivity and creativity.
My workspaces is pretty simple – a sewing machine, an iron, a huge board for me to pin all of my sketches and inspirational pictures, a few mannequins and a space that is big enough for me to draft, cut fabric and sometime photo shoot some dolls. On the plus side, there is a haberdashery shop just walking distance from my place, so it is very convenient for me to get material without having to travel too far.
What does 2015 hold for your label?
I have created a number of crazy, avant garde displays and pieces during my years at fashion school to grab the attention from various icons and current members of the fashion industry. So, things will be more toned down and ready-to-wear this coming 2015.
What are your favourite and least favourite things about being a designer?
My favourite part has to be turning 2D sketches into 3D, real life outfits, and presenting the whole idea from makeup, hair, accessories and music. I feel it is plain satisfaction. The least favourite activity is definitely cutting fabric. I really hate it!
What’s the one thing you can’t leave the house without?
My car key? Haha!
Image credit: Nigel Chia, Jewel Ling, Jun Ashmund, cXstudios, Alexio Yeoh.