Karen Hua, Anne He, Alice He and Abeir Soukieh combine their narrative, fashion and aesthetic talents to bring us this multilayered collaboration exploring clothes, creativity and meaning. Words: Karen (and Abeir). Photos: Abeir, Karen and Alice. Modelling her own clothes: Anne.
We all, to a certain extent, exert some degree of sartorial effort as we get dressed each day.
For some, the boundaries of dressing never extend beyond the realm of utility, avoiding, as it were, crossing into the seemingly select and alien territories of haute couture. For others, fashion is synonymous with identity, and daily outfits are a wonderful opportunity to express art, creativity and emotion.
For my good friend Anne He, clothes are carefully curated artefacts that, when put together in concerted harmony, become the visual reproduction of her state of mind, beliefs and character.
To the casual onlooker, her outfits may just be a beautiful whirlwind of colours, prints, and textures. However, if you explore deeper, these clothes will reveal layers of meaning and ideas that playfully nudge and dare the mind.
Being a much more conservative dresser myself, I often ask for Anne’s opinion on fashion. I remember once standing in the middle of an op shop in a trendy Sydney suburb. I had just come across a slinky black qipao, and was quite tempted to purchase it for an event.
I wasn’t sure, however, if it would make me look like a walking cliché.
So, naturally, I turned to Anne.
I texted her a photo of the dress and captioned it with: “At the op shop. What do you think?”
“OMG I love it,” was her reply.
“Oh, really??” I said, still a little undecided. “I love qipaos, but I don’t know if I can pull them off…”
Now, I can’t remember Anne’s exact words, but I do remember that, in a single sentence, she both echoed my thoughts and reassured me; it was something along the lines of: “I used to think that only Western girls looked cool and edgy in traditional clothes, but then I realised that there’s nothing saying that we can’t own that look!”
Needless to say, I parted with my money (only 7 dollars, don’t worry) in no time at all.
A few days later, I paired the black qipao with black ankle boots and red lipstick, feeling strangely chuffed with myself.
There really was something about confidently donning this particular piece of clothing, with its relationship to my own cultural history.
Ultimately, I feel very lucky to have had someone like Anne around to help me with my realisation, and while I don’t think I ever owned the qipao-look with the same pizzazz Anne possesses, the moment served as an important fashion lesson to me.
That it is a magical experience to connect with your identity through clothes, and even more so when you blend it with other bits and bobs of your personal world to make it truly your own.
To be unafraid of stereotypes and clichés. To think about shapes and colours; to think about textures; to think about what you like and dislike.
And then to think about unequivocally owning it.
© Karen Hua, Anne He, Alice He and Abeir Soukieh, 2017