A-Jane founder Alice Jane Chang Blends New Music and Fashion Together

Inspired by Neue Musik, Alice Jane Chang is a “ fashion composer” who visualises the tunes with threads and fabric.
Photo courtesy of A-Jane

“Is black your favourite colour?”

When I raised this question, Alice Jane Chang—dressed in a black top over the other end of the screen—laughed and nodded. Chang’s adoration for black oozes through her designs for A-Jane. The colour choice is a nod to music performers—a profession close to her heart as a music aficionado, or in her words, a “fashion composer”.

With a background in New Music (Neue Musik in German) composition, Chang was trained as a musician before going into fashion. “Black is a solemn colour. New Music is more progressive compared to other music genres, but the formality is well-respected,” Chang clarified. Black and white were used in her designs to create a concert hall setting, where audiences would dress to the nines, not for a classic orchestra but for numbers that are experimental. As Chang’s partner would phrase it, performances that give him “a headache”.

What makes A-Jane stands out is its connection to New Music. Think sounds—the clash between the most random objects—like a ball hitting the wall or a tap on the table. “Even if it’s a vibration or a ripple in the water, playing with sound frequencies excite me,” Chang tittered and continued, “I learned about Neue Musik during my time at the University of Music Freiburg in Germany, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. I was never one to follow the textbook. I once performed with a blown speaker; that was memorable,” she laughed.

New Music elements like distortion, atonal, and dissonance—which her Spring/Summer 2018 collection “Dissonanz” was named after—were frequently found in her designs, through colours and tailoring. Chang would use neutral colours as the canvas, and then add a splash of striking colours like neon green to represent the “crash” that is unpleasant to the ears, or in this case, the eyes. As for tailoring and construction, the huge wavy sleeves mimic the sound waves and the asymmetrical designs echo the atonality in music. “But if you asked me to pinpoint from where I draw my inspiration from precisely, I’d say the connection is intangible, the abstractness keeps me inspired.”

When starting her eponymous brand in 2017, Chang confided that she had a bumpy ride transitioning from musician to fashion designer. After her first child, she became a stay-at-home mother while learning more about luxury fashion, eventually becoming a buyer who sourced fashion items on her clients’ behalf. “But I’m a creative person at heart. I wanted to be an artist, not a reseller. I quit and started A-Jane. Fortunately, my work gained attention after the Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week,” she said. Her connection with fashion, however, goes way back, even before she discovered her love for New Music. “Making clothes happened quite naturally for me; it’s in my blood,” Chang confided as she reminisced the days she’d play with leftover fabric while her mother—a tailor—worked.

With her unique concept and skill, you’d think all things would sail smoothly for the fashion composer. However, in her seventh year in the industry, Chang confessed that she found herself in turmoil. Living miles apart from her family, she’d travel back and forth the United States every few months. The thought of moving her business closer to her family grew stronger after every visit. “Part of me wanted A-Jane to remain here because this was where I started, yet another part of me is disheartened by how I failed to break through the local scene,” she lamented. She later revealed that her career highlight was taking on
London Fashion Week twice. While independent local designers are gaining more spotlight than ever in Malaysia, the idea of paying for local designs—especially one that is as avant-garde as A-Jane—is still greatly lacking.

“My works got called all sorts of names—octopus, banana, seaweed, and so on,” she recalled. !ere were also people who thought her designs—especially the holey ones—were bad luck, based on Chinese beliefs. When asked if she had any thoughts on making garments to address the reprimand, Chang suggested half-jokingly, “A black asymmetrical cheongsam? Do you think people would fancy that?” Like all artists, Chang tries to take critiques as open-mindedly as she can. “But it still hurts,” she lamented.

To resolve the problem, the proactive designer launched a sub-line named Noiz, one that caters to the local audience with subtler day-to-day designs that are weather-appropriate. Inspired by the German word Geräusch, a literal translation of “noise”, it’s also one of the musical elements in New Music. “Instead of a seasonal collection, Noiz releases smaller batches to test the waters,” she said.

“To be frank, I’m like a lost soul now,” Chang shrugged and sighed. But before I could utter a word of motivation, her face immediately lit up. “!is inspired me to work on a new project that explores being lost. I’m visualising an art installation—black, of course—with fashion and music as the main formats. I might even compose a song for it!”

This article was first published in the print edition of Grazia Malaysia September 2023.