Joint winner of the L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award, Leeann Huang combines retro concepts of the future with cartoon glam and vacuum moulding.
For her final MA Fashion (Textiles for Fashion) collection, Leeann Huang presented flickering lenticular optics and oversized furry hats in a bright, powerful palette. But such a seemingly joyous aesthetic came from an initially dark place:
“I had a bleak vision of the future… All the talk about sustainability made me feel like there was no point to anything. I was nihilistic; I didn’t understand what was good about being alive. I wanted to only see things that made me happy.”
Looking for comfort, she found inspiration in the films and cartoons of her childhood: The Powerpuff Girls, Austin Powers and Charlie’s Angels. Across her nostalgia viewing, she picked up on a recurring 60s aesthetic, specifically one that spoke of how the future was meant to be. But there was something beyond the look: “They all have very strong girls who can fight the world and defeat their enemies but they are still wholly themselves… I want women to be authentic to themselves and for that to be what makes them strong. That’s the basis of the collection.”
In shape, Huang’s collection is restrained. Inspired by a Mary Quant coat, she created a coat, suit and dress as the foundation pieces with a 60s crispness. It was in material and embellishment where she experimented. Continuing on her nostalgic trip, she looked at her childhood toys: anything by Plastic Fantastic or Lisa Frank, 3D-effect bookmarks and pencil cases. Huang gave herself the challenge of creating a lenticular material – reminiscent of a television screen – that could flicker as the wearer moves. Having found a company that could print a lenticular pattern on to recycled rubber, she then spent a month working on the algorithm to correctly filter the snakeskin pattern into a surreal, optical effect.
One of the most striking elements of Huang’s collection are the sculptural appliqués embellishing the dresses. Her flatmate was studying architecture and would often bring models and moulds home. The designer was intrigued by the architectural scale of what she was seeing and began experimenting with vacuum moulding motifs more usually seen on interiors. From recycled plastic bottles, Huang created a plethora of sculptural forms that she then embroidered onto her dresses. Some of the larger pieces are divided into sections and then stitched together to allow for movement.
Noting Huang’s cross-disciplinary approach, Andrew Davis, of The Face, and a judge of the L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award said: “Fashion students often spend their time at the College in a bubble, not meeting any other disciplines. Leeann took the time to use the College and its equipment and push the conventional use of other workshops.”
The hats were one of the finishing touches, made from recycled polyester faux fur by fellow alum Benny Andallo. “I had a cloud hat in mind,” says Huang, “but I didn’t have time to become a milliner, so I messaged Benny. It was so immediate, he understood exactly what I wanted.”
The MA Fashion Show and the L’Oréal Professionnel Creative Award mark the end of Huang’s education at Central Saint Matins that began with Foundation through BA Fashion and on to the Masters. Her final collection for BA Fashion was exuberant to the point of excess with jelly, prawn crackers and glazed oranges combined intricately into tailored garments. If her BA collection reflected an insatiable curiosity into technique and material, her MA one exhibited a focus.
“The BA pushed me to do whatever I wanted to an extreme degree. That was always really cool, the work was intensive, saturated and condensed... On the MA I learnt to edit, it’s about refining things, to tell a whole story with one image.”