Interview with Arissa Cheo: "Dream to believe, believe to become"
Not many new brands get to make a debut with their own show at Singapore Fashion Week, but Arissa X isn't just any label. It's the eponymous line of fashion entrepreneur and personality, Arissa Cheo, whose legion of female followers are spread out across the globe — all eager to get a glimpse of her arresting street style and jet-set life that dovetails Asia's high society, fashion and entertainment circles.
Cheo's first foray into fashion was with her online store, Carte Blanche X, that stocked cult fashion brands like Stolen Girlfriends Club, Sretsis and Mawi. Now repositioning herself as a designer in her own right, Cheo embraces her reverence for the '90s and honed personal style as the brand's guiding DNA, to pull off a cohesive collection of girly rock 'n' roll separates.
Ahead of the first drop of her collection next week, we find out just where Arissa is at and where Arissa X plans to go.
Your first foray into fashion was selling clothes and accessories through your e-commerce store, Carte Blanche X. What made you decide to switch to the role of designer?
While it was fairly profitable, I realised a few things from my experience of bringing in labels like Mawi, Erickson Beamon and Sass & Bide. For the prices that people were paying, they wanted more of a see-and-feel experience and therefore, many customers were constantly asking when we would be opening a brick and mortar store.
Although I was not trained as a designer, the reason why most girls would want to follow me on social media is because they like the things that I wear and in some sense, want to emulate the way I put myself together at a lower cost. So with that, I was also constantly asked when I would start my own line. After considering all the pros and cons, I decided to start my own fashion label, Arissa X.
Where do you draw your inspiration from and how long did it take you to put this collection together from start to finish?
I'm constantly inspired by everything around me — my friends who are also my muses, the different places I've traveled to, different cultures, the music I listen to, the books I've read and so on. I've taken all these things into consideration and adapted and tweaked them to make it my own, incorporating bits and pieces into my collection. I launched my brand in July this year and for this runway collection, I spent around four months from conception to production.
What is your creative process like — do you sketch and work with moodboards?
Whenever I have an idea, I sketch it down and send it to my creative consultant Greg, whom I'll discuss and go back and forth with for almost every hour of the day. We will then sit down together with the rest of the team to filter all the ideas and streamline them further. We make moodboards to remind ourselves of the direction that we are headed. From there, we spend hours on fittings, adjusting every last detail to make sure the proportion and fit are just right. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that I'm a woman designing for women, and it makes a big difference because I have a firsthand understanding of the little lumps and bumps we want to hide or which parts we want to showcase. Making sure that the clothes have a functionality and practicality to them are very important to me as well.
What do you think differentiates Arissa X from other labels out there?
Every label has their own characteristics and differing aspects, but with Arissa X, I've been told that it's very distinctly me. It's edgy, but still a little feminine, and along those same lines, hardcore but girly; tough but luxe. I've always gravitated towards anything with contradicting elements and I would like to think that that sets us apart from the sea of brands out there.
Who do you see wearing your clothes?
All my friends! You for instance. All style icons that have influenced the way I dressed growing up — Kate Moss, Namie Amuro, Aaliyah, Naomi Campbell, Brigitte Bardot... Someone current: The Hadid sisters? But apart from that, it's not just about the fashion forward customer. For instance, my mum who is in her 50s wears it and so do my friends who are mothers or becoming mothers. There really is a piece for everyone and it's so much more about the attitude and persona than a specific age or lifestyle.
You've kept your prices affordable with your most expensive pieces going for under $500. What was the strategy behind this?
I never set out to do a hyper exclusive, exorbitantly priced label because that simply wouldn't make sense for someone like myself who's starting a fashion brand. I do not have delusions about the fact that I am not formally trained in fashion design per se, but for consumers, I'm more interested in injecting my personal style into my brand, one that is wearable and at a reasonable price point.
Your first collection riffs on '90s style references — will your next collection draw from this decade as well?
The '90s will always be a foundation for Arissa X because that is the era I'm most intrigued by, and the references from then will always be relevant and keep coming back. But with the current and future collections, we will definitely still infuse some elements of what is current at the moment.
Now that you've unveiled your collection at the recent Singapore Fashion Week, what other plans do you have to break Arissa X into the market?
We are in talks with several physical and online stores at the moment to carry Arissa X. Also, other than clothing, we have accessories, bags, and shoes, as well as a makeup line that is in the works. The next big step would be to bring the brand into China and America.
You have a strong social media presence with several Instagram and Facebook accounts. What other plans do you have digitally?
I've always personally felt that fashion, art, music and the entertainment industry all go hand in hand and I've always had a strong interest in media production. I majored in mass communication and minored in film and television and I would love to one day somehow merge fashion and my brand into a project in that field.
With the accessories and a make up line coming out, have you got any plans for opening a brick and mortar store?
There will definitely be plans for a brick and mortar store but we are going with the most feasible decisions right now, which is to first focus on building the brand and establishing a strong presence online and on social media. When the time is right, we hope to be seeing Arissa X stores all around the globe.
Your T-shirts have messages like 'anti-heroine' and 'she boss', and at the end of your runway show, your group of girlfriends came up on stage with you and your models. Would you call yourself a feminist, and is there a bigger message you're trying to convey?
I'm definitely a feminist, but not in an extreme way. I would think that all girls have a little bit of it in them that screams 'girl power' from time to time — whether its on the inside or outright. Growing up, I've always been very into the whole idea of 'girl culture' — girl bands, supermodels of the '90s, reading books like Sweet Valley Twins or Valley of the Dolls when I was young, and the whole phenomena of #GirlBoss right now. There are so many different roles that a woman plays that I love to convey through my brand, and cater that to women of all ages and walks of life.
Where do you see Arissa X in five years time?
Everywhere; thriving, and always evolving.
If you weren't working in fashion what would you be doing?
I would be a housewife with a full house of kids and English bulldogs!
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