Thread Talk With Caro Chia on Being an Artist and a Fashion Designer

Setting the trends aside, Caro Chia approach fashion with an artistic perspective.

Thread Talk is a series venturing into a designer’s inner workings and thoughts. Today, we have Caro Chia, a designer who infused arts such as biomorphic sculptures or surrealist artworks into the clothes she pours her heart into making.

Fashion and art, some view them as one but some suggest that both are antithetical. Caro Chia, however, leans heavily on the notion that fashion is art. At Caro Chia, human bodies are canvases, and clothes are art.

Taking inspiration from biomorphic sculptures and surrealist artworks, the Malaysia-based designer plays around with shapes and curves that flow naturally. Chia created a realm of her own translated through her designs, inviting us to peek into this space where uncertainties are constant. After all the brand, as Chia confessed, is a recollection of all her tangled thoughts and scattered ideas, a meticulously constructed reverie.

We speak to the designer to find out more about her pushing through whilst staying true to herself albeit being in a saturated fashion market.

How did the eponymous brand come about?

I started my brand in 2020—during the pandemic—after I graduated from the University of Brighton. Starting a fashion brand has been on my list for many years. I’ve been experimenting with clothes a lot and the brand came along.

How would you describe Caro Chia? Is there any difference between you as Caro Chia and Caro Chia as a brand?

I’m an introvert in real life who loves spending time thinking, about the possibilities with garments for example; with arts, I’d think from the designer or the artist’s perception, pondering and understanding the intention behind the ideas.

My brand is like a pocket where I put all the ideas and thoughts I’ve collected, merging them with elements that reflect the contemporary fashion sphere.

Where do you draw inspiration from, for a brand that is built upon the roots of art?

It differs every season. For the latest Spring/Summer ’24, I’m inspired by Italian artist, Piero Manzoni. The idea of using just white fabric as the medium to show texture and dimension intrigues me.

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How do you decide what fabric to use for each collection since fabrication is the core of your design?

Oftentimes, I start a collection by draping on a mannequin before pattern cutting, I like to see how a piece would look on the bodies before anything takes shape. As for fabrics, I sourced them mostly from Japan.

Balancing between being creative and commercial, you, of all people, are the best person to answer this since you juggle your time between making art and fashion pieces.

I always say: I make clothes with an artistic approach. The fashion industry wants and needs to be fed with new ideas constantly. I think it’s my mission as a designer not to recycle ideas and present something we have in the market already.

Your artwork and garments rarely feature edges or harsh lines. What is the thought behind this approach?

It’s my personal preference. Not only are they nice to look at, but arc lines also exude a sense of calm, freewheeling and a poetic form of visuals. These free-spirited shapes provide me with ample inspiration when it comes to creating a piece of work.

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While the overall tone is neutral, each collection features a pop of striking colour like Klein blue or Emerald. What is the role of colours in your designs?

Presenting colours in a contrasted way is also a part of the process. Visual-wise, the contrasted colours are like paint strokes on a canvas, creating a sense of sharpness that makes the garments more modern.

Is there a piece of yours, or anyone else’s work, that is precious to you?

Helmut Lang from the 90s. The designer is revolutionary, especially in the 1990s. His approach to fashion—clean-cut, layered tank tops, sheer tees, and utility parkas—evolved around incorporating technical fabric. The way he interacted with fashion, from an artist’s perspective, is inspiring.  

The industry is so trend-driven now, how do you manoeuvre in the industry while standing firm to your values?

Ultimately, especially in the current trend-driven world, the audience too, craves for a brand that has a strong character. I will always set trends aside, though I’ll take references from the runways sometimes. But at the end of the day, I still love to follow my heart as I design, to find the beauty in my own draping game.