Despite having staged three shows in consecutive years with Digital Fashion Week (DFW), Pauline Lim is no old hat when it comes to catwalk presentations for her label Pauline Ning. Her latest recalled her first: a neophyte endeavor of over-ambitious moves in a world already engulfed by excess. It’s been five years since Ms Lim graduated from LaSalle College of Arts (where she now also lectures), yet what she displayed on the catwalk parallelled the output of a graduate fashion show. As outfit after outfit appeared and disappeared, it was trying getting to the soul of the collection. What was the narrative, this “Wounded Rhymes”, as it’s called? The plot was lost in the hodgepodge that was crammed with dizzying overload of trendy items worn by models sporting uninspired makeup and tragic hair (messily swept to one side—apparently the label’s favourite look). The real question is: would any of what was shown be remembered after the show?
It appeared that too much consideration was given to ‘design’ (“complex cuts with curved structures”?!) while execution was left to neglect. The underwhelming details were unrelenting; the coupling of the slapdash and the superfluous glaring. From the very first outfit, Ms Lim’s lack of attention to finishing was drawing the attention. The sleeveless, black, silk satin jacket, curiously affixed with half a pleated skirt of orange and purple panels (or was that one part of a coattail?), was robbed of the neatness of finish that such a fabric deserves. The one button to hold the two front pieces together was clearly inadequate as the pivoting allowed the right half to sag. With the second outfit, any hope to see better workmanship was dashed: the tented tank top had an opening at the left shoulder, and it wouldn’t sit flat, and if you went further down, the hem was so warped; you wondered how it could have escaped the designer and her sewer. The accompanying bottom was a peplumed skirt with a fly front that refused to stay level, gaping between fastenings. This oversight meant that fly fronts of similar flaws would continue to come down the runway, as well as waist bands with openings that were ajar so that the hook-and-eye fastening could be clearly seen.
Ms Lim is known to pay particular attention to design, but the investment in design, no matter how large, quickly becomes inconsequential when the execution at the assembly stage is overlooked. It, therefore, raised the suspicion that all the flaps, bits, and asymmetrical protrusions so favoured by Ms Lim were, in fact, visual distractions to camouflage failings of finishing. One by one, the mischance appeared, challenging what is considered acceptable in basic dressmaking. The first oversight, you could ignore; perhaps, the second too. But when they appeared again (and again), drawing your attention like a tear in a stocking, you began to wonder if there were some serious problems going on. It came to a point when these diverted what one came to see: the designs. (Even the Pauline Ning website isn’t spared. Despite the dramatic images to suggest Ms Lim’s flair with graphic shapes, it is the unintended plethora of dents, tucks, and puckering that immediately catches the viewer’s eye.)
Ms Lim is also recognised for her use of fabrics, and love of mixing them, however, incongruous the combinations. This season, it seemed she resorted to what’s on trend, or what is available that could be conveniently and inexpensively had. The use of performance-wear synthetics, for example, attested to this observation. One of them was what looked like warp-knit polyester air mesh; those mostly used in shoes and bags, but have, of late, migrated to garments, thanks to the escalating output from mills in China and the trend that Pauline Ning’s brand communication calls “luxe sports”. “Many brands are using them,” noted one product development manager watching the show. Plentiful is not necessarily a boon to a designer, and if Ms Lim had looked carefully enough, she would have learnt that the cloth had become quite overused—from Patpong to Katong.
Part of the pioneering group of Parco Next Next incubator project, Ms Lim, started her label in 2009, as soon as she graduated from LaSalle College of Arts. From the onset, she wanted to create “a brand that would be synonymous with edgy, contemporary and innovative fashion”. The edginess notwithstanding, Ms Lim is a designer of extremely feminine clothes. Within the on-trend shapes, she applies asymmetry as counterpoint so that some kind of avant-garde veneer could be discerned. But the asymmetrical dimension often lacks balance, so much so that her clothes on the body look lopsided. The sum effect are silhouettes that are floppy, and not flattering to the wearer. But Pauline Ning is what merchandisers would call “garmental”—clothes that look like clothes, regardless of the quality or design. It’s commercial too, which adds to its appeal. But, as we have often seen, commercial acumen is no indicator of artistry.
Some of Ms Lim’s students from her alma mater came to cheer her on. One of them, who calls herself JuJu the Zealot and looks like a Depression fan girl, would later post on her blog page Fashion Fanatique that “the show was short and sweet, and it really has the essence of spring”. It is doubtful if this schoolgirl knows what the essence of spring is; but it is fortunate for Ms Lim that the pupil wasn’t able to see what we saw. Students might miss the shortcomings of a staged collection, but someone who teaches them shouldn’t. This, sadly, is the daunting part: what kind of graduates are we turning out if those who teach them turn a blind eye to those small but crucial parts of dressmaking? As Ms Lim took the customary walk down the runway at the end of the presentation, she looked uncannily like the models that came out before her (the swept-to-one-side messy hair too!). One thing became clear: she designs for herself.
Digital Fashion Week Singapore 2014 runs from 31 Oct to 3 Nov at the National Design Centre. Photos: Jim Sim