Assalamualaikum! Tell me more about how Lasalle College of the Arts happened.
I was in Madrasah Al-Maarif Al-Islamiah for 12 straight years. We didn’t have options for humanities. All we had was core geography. I had the best geography teacher in the world, honestly. She’s very sincere in teaching. She really wanted to see you score. She’d really help you. She really went the extra mile. She made me love geography. Because of her, I wondered if I should pursue it.
At the same time, I took Malay Literature. I thought that I could major in it when I go to university. However, after A’ levels, I was like nooooooooo. So much academics I cannotttttt!
My mother is a painter so she paints a lot. However, I was deprived of the arts. We only had art lessons in Primary 2 and Primary 3. I had so many other subjects, you see. In Secondary 2, I remember juggling 14 subjects.
Lasalle truly came out from nowhere. It wasn’t in the plan at all. Alhamdulillah, my parents were very supportive. My mother just told me that I had to work hard and do well. My relatives were all asking me, “Are you sure? Are you sure you want to do this?” It was tough because I come from a family of achievers. Most of them are teachers. No one pursued art or design.
How did you find out about Lasalle?
The newspapers! I read about it in the Straits Times and thought “hmm… nice school”. So I thought that I should give it a shot. I asked my mom to accompany me to the open house. I remember what happened when I first stepped into Lasalle. The campus is sooo gorgeous. I stepped on to frass (fake grass) and I was absolutely overjoyed. Alhamdulillah!
I had to go for a portfolio workshop that was held over 2 weekends. At the end of it, we had our own portfolio. I heard that 60% of those who attend this workshop gets into Lasalle. It was expensive though. Everything is expensive in Lasalle. Alhamdulillah I got in.
Who influenced you to take fashion design?
I wanted to follow in my late grandmother’s footsteps. She was such a remarkable seamstress. At that time, she was still alive. She passed away when I was in my second year. I was devastated. I wanted to be like her. She had this tremendous focus and dedication. She paid attention to the small details. She would sew our baju kurung every raya. She would also take orders from relatives and friends.
Every time I slept over, she would teach me wonderful skills like how to hand-tag. I remember the last time she taught me. She was making a baju kurung for someone’s engagement. Her client had given her cloth that had a lot of sequins and beads. She painstakingly had to knock out and break all of them. I stared at her in awe. I asked her, “Why are you doing this? Susah seh!” I will never forget her reply. She said, “Tapi bila dah habis kan cantik?”
Looking back, that’s when I realized the beauty of fashion design. There are some things that may be difficult or that you don’t like. However, at the end of the day, it’s worth it.
When you in Lasalle, were there times when you felt like giving up?
Yes… It was really crazy. I think the lecturers were preparing us to go out there and compete with the likes of Karl Legerfeld. Sometimes, it felt like they were pushing us to the edge. However, I would say that one of the greatest challenges was not having as much money as my classmates. You see, I come from a very average family. There was a point when I had to juggle 3 part-time jobs at a time – I taught tuition to 4 students, I was working at a local mosque and I was working at a cafe. It was crazy but alhamdulillah, I somehow managed.
In my class, there were only 3 local students. The rest were from extremely rich expat families. Everyone’s father owns a factory or huge company. They got easy access to things. They got the best resources. They had the money to buy the best fabrics. I felt very tiny. But I told myself that I shouldn’t let this be a barrier.
During graduation year, it was the first time that the top 20 designers would get to showcase their designs at the Audi Fashion Festival. It was a huge deal! After we confirmed our designs for our graduation collection, we had to go on a fabric sourcing trip in Hong Kong. Our tasks were to pick fabrics, sew them, send them for production and then make accessories. I remember sitting down with my classmates before we left. Someone asked, “Guys, how much are you going to bring?” One classmate said, “$3000”. Another classmate said, “$4000”. They were all bringing money in the thousands. I sheepishly said, “Umm… I only have $900”.
One day, one of my lecturers called me up. He was just checking up on everyone. When he asked me about my progress, I immediately broke down. I told him how I felt. Alhamdulillah, he was very understanding. He asked me to try my best and just give my all.
That’s good advice. Could you let me know more about your collection?
For my collection, I made the clothes very minimal and wearable. I didn’t want anything complicated. It was a stark contrast to what some of my classmates designed. They used feathers and leathers. One even revolved her collection around Lady Gaga.
On the submission day, I remember hanging my clothes carefully. I prepared my portfolio. I displayed my accessories. I made sure everything was perfectly arranged. When we left the room, a panel of judges had to choose who would be part of Audi Fashion Festival. Everyone wanted to be picked. Everyone really wanted this. Alhamdulillah, I was chosen.
Alhamdulillah! What inspired your designs?
Before we start designing, we have to do extensive research. We need to find one picture which is our main inspiration. It can be a picture of anything. It can even be architecture. However, everything needs to be centered on that picture. I found one picture of beachwear in the 1930s.
When I found this picture, I was really amazed. I couldn’t stop thinking abut it. I mean, beach wear has changed so much since then, hasn’t it? I decided to delve deeper. I discovered that 1930s was the flappers era. Art deco was very popular then. Thus, all my accessories were based on art deco.
On the other hand, the silhouette on my collection was based on the picture – long and covered. I’ve always wanted to design for the Muslim market. No one else was doing it in my class. No one wants to focus on modest wear. In fact, one of classmates chose to focus on lingerie. -laugh-
I decided that I wanted to create an all silk collection. I named my collection Sutra. Sutra is silk. If you were to spell out sutra in Arabic, you have the letters س ت ر. If you put certain lines, you get ‘sitru’. ‘Sitru’ literally means conceal. ‘Sitru aurah’ is term that I commonly heard during fiqh lessons. I knew that I wanted my pieces to be modest and elegant.
That’s amazing, Hafizah! Was your journey in creating your collection smooth?
No actually. For the graduation collection, we all had to make 6 outfits. For mine, I knew that I wanted my outfits to come with scarves. I knew that I wanted my models to wear scarves. In my portfolio, all the models were properly covered.
When it came to Audi, I was told 2 things – I had to work on my accessories and that the tudung would be a problem. Every designer has only 30 seconds to dress up each model. Not 30 seconds each! 30 seconds for all 6 outfits. The craziest place on earth is the backstage of a fashion show. Imagine 20 designers with 6 designs. That’s 120 outfits. We’re only given 12 models and have to rotate. It would be impossible to tie a tudung for each model.
I requested for my collection to come out first so that I would have more time to prepare. However, they told me that it was not possible. The first collection to come out would be menswear. I had to resort to instant turbans for my models that they could put on in a matter of seconds. I collaborated with a textile student. She used my designs as inspiration for her textiles. In return, I got textiles for my outfits.
How did you feel about this decision?
I felt very self-conflicted. I don’t wear turbans. I don’t want to encourage people to wear turbans. I felt like I was forced to compromise my values. I consulted people whom I trusted. They told me, “It’s not your show, Hafizah. You don’t have a say. Maybe, when you have your own show in the future in shaa Allah, you can do things as you like.” So, I made the tough decision to go ahead with turbans. Alhamdulillah, my collection made it to Lofficiel’s page.
Was everyone receptive to your collection?
No, not everyone was. That really was my greatest challenge. However, I would prefer not to talk about it. What’s past is past. I would prefer to learn from the past but not dwell on it unnecessarily.
What did you learn from this challenge?
To Allah we belong and to Him, we return. I learnt that, in every step that I take, I need to focus on pleasing Allah. My work and actions have to be for the sake of Allah, no matter the circumstances. I had to learn this the hard way but I am grateful. Allah has given me the opportunity to check my intentions and contemplate on what can be improved. In our lives, we are so busy sometimes that we forget what is important. I hope that we can take a deep breath, calm down and reflect. I can’t emphasize the benefits of Tafakkur enough. If we do not take the time to think and evaluate our actions and thoughts, how would we be able to center our lives on Allah?
“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” (3:190-191)
Hafizah’s customised designs are now available on http://www.hafizahghazali.com