Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rising Designer: Angela Chen

designer angela chen

A Fashion designer named Angela Chen wasn’t even born when the movie The Blue Lagoon came out in theaters in 1980, but just one viewing inspired the Vancouver designer’s spring collection. “I saw the movie this summer and fell in love with it right away,” Chen said. Taiwanese-born Chen, 27, moved to Vancouver at age seven and originally launched her line as Orange in New York in 2007 after graduating from Parsons the New School for Design. This was a labor of love she worked on after-hours, even managing to sell some of her pieces into Soho boutiques and onto a few of the famous. Chen says that Kirsten Dunst, Allison Pill and Chloë Sevigny have all worn the line. Three years and several successful fashion shows later, Orange has been changed to ‘OR’ by Angela Chen, with the spring collection hitting the runway at LG Fashion Week in Toronto.

One doesn’t often think of The Blue Lagoon as a fashion movie. Child star Brooke Shields’ character Emmeline relies on a loincloth and, for modesty’s sake, her long hair to make a fashion statement. But it wasn’t the one makeshift dress Emmeline fashions from her lone trunk that inspired Chen. It was the actress herself. “It was the first time I had seen Brooke Shields when she was so young and not just in pictures,” she says of the early Shields who was all gangly tanned limbs, wild hair, strong eyebrows and innocence. Although the palette of Chen’s Spring/Summer 2011 OR collection was also inspired by the movie’s sun-drenched sky, sand and sea, the cold, rainy weather that welcomed Chen to Toronto on the eve of her runway show was less than sun-drenched. Models huddled in the drizzle outside her publicist’s downtown office, anxiously waiting for this interview to be over and the runway casting to begin.
To evoke a carefree island mood, the collection relies heavily on fine French linen, sourced at some expense through a fabric rep who had seen her Vancouver Fashion Week collection. It’s pretty and ethereal, but in a nod to Chen’s pragmatic side, doesn’t rely on less than practical floaty chiffon tricks to convey the carefree mood. Instead, there are fluid flax-colored linen gowns for beachy weddings and details like delicate spaghetti straps, intricate smocked bibs and tiny pleats. One demure dress pools around the knees; another is a floaty, ankle-grazer in pale ombré, as though the bottom had dipped into a lagoon of blue dye. For fun, there’s a little romper.
In addition to usual sources like Carolina Herrerra, Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui, famous New York fashion studios where she worked before moving back to Vancouver, Chen says she pays close attention to Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong fashion. “I love all their really simple things, the Zen feeling of design and the little detail here or there.” That’s reflected in Chen’s own taste for asymmetric pleats and draping. They’re also the kinds of slightly off-kilter designs that Shield’s Emmeline might have fashioned out of those Victorian linen dresses that washed ashore, since she’d never laid eyes on a fashion magazine.

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