Designer conversations: Chelsea Scott-Blackhall
Paradox and dualities
Between a relatively small consumer market and an unforgiving climate, Singapore is hardly the ideal place to launch a designer brand. Enter Dzojchen, the denim label started by Chelsea Scott-Blackhall in 2011. The British-Singaporean designer has had dealings with the fashion industry before: She was scouted to be a model when she was in the United States, and that gave her the necessary know-how of the importance of fit and a good cut. Fast forward four years, and Dzojchen is slowly expanding its reach beyond just denim and Scott-Blackhall is quietly building a fanbase both within the domestic market and internationally as well. "I've had so many memorable moments so far: From a runway in Paris to a fan writing me an email, those are equally proud moments for me," Scott-Blackhall says. "But Fashion Futures is pretty high on the pinnacles of what makes me feel like we're on the right track and we're going to continue to drive in this direction."
The beauty about the fashion Futures program is that it's about teachING designers that you have to look at the business in totality.
Speaking of Fashion Futures, the lithesome designer has been awarded a spot on the inaugural fashion incubator program that is allied with the Council for Fashion Designers of America to bring Singaporean designers to the US for an exchange program. "The beauty about the Fashion Futures program is that it's not platforming designers' aesthetics or design capabilities," Scott-Blackhall says. "It's really about delving into the business of fashion and I think the whole program is teaching designers that you have to look at the business in totality." That's something that she has had to learn on her own, mostly through trial and error, on her personal journey in growing her brand locally. Besides the aforementioned climate and market size, she points out that the fashion industry here is still in its infancy and that Singaporean consumers are one of the toughest buyers in the world. "Their expectations are really high, and their acceptance level is quite... low," the designer admits. "So you really have to hit the nail on the head with the average Singaporean because you need all these elements: the right price, the right styling, and you have to be competitive. That really does force a new designer to have humility."
It's a testament then, to how much Dzojchen has not only grown but flourished in such tough market conditions, so much so that it is now sold in nine different cities including Paris, London, Zurich and Sydney to name a few. But Scott-Blackhall understands that she still has more to learn. "What I'm looking forward to [for Fashion Futures] is picking the minds of key individuals that have a plethora of stories, from Thakoon to Victoria Beckham to Diane von Furstenberg, to see what is at the root of success," she says. "So I'm looking forward to exploring that more and affirming that what we're already doing is all on the right track."
With a few days days left to her show at Singapore Fashion Week, we turn to the collection that she has on hand — this is the offering that she will be bringing with her to America. "The collection is based around ethereal horse-riding: a bit of tradition, and a kind of romantic violence. So, the idea was a dame riding a stallion in the woods," the designer says. When asked to explain her concept further, she revealed that the idea grew because she picked up horse riding two months ago. "I wanted to learn the structure behind proper English riding, and I started to be very drawn to the attire. I found it so sensual seeing someone riding a horse with the posture and the conformity of what they have to wear, yet they are controlling something formidable," she laughs. "That paradox played perfectly in my mind and that created the collection we will be seeing."
As we come to the end of the interview, I ask her offhandedly what will be next for Dzojchen. With a confident gleam in her eye, she answers without missing a beat: "What isn't next?"