Cover Jasmine Chong (Photo: Sylvie Rosokoff)

Tatler catches up with New York-based designer Jasmine Chong who shares how her love for Malaysia inspired her latest collection and first ever fashion film, Paradiso

The last time we spoke to Jasmine Chong, the up-and-coming fashion designer was teasing her upcoming appearance on the first season of Amazon Prime Video’s highly-anticipated fashion reality TV show hosted by Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum, Making The Cut.

Related: Malaysian Fashion Designer Jasmine Chong on Making It in New York

When it aired at the end of March in 2020, the global pandemic was in full swing, with strict lockdowns and travel bans implemented worldwide. “Everyone was at home and so many more people tuned in than I expected,” says Chong. “People were recognising me in the streets, even with my mask on.”

However, she reflects that the period was an anxiety-ridden one as she was the very first contestant sent home by the show’s star-studded judging panel comprising Naomi Campbell, Chiara Ferragni and Nicole Richie. She presented two dresses that explored size fluidity, including a blue dress that she admits is ‘still the ugliest thing I’ve ever sent down the runway’ and a sheer emerald runway piece that was critiqued as too revealing and difficult to market to the wider public.

"I was so terrified what everyone would see and think and I was almost thankful for the all the time inside to heal from it."
Jasmine Chong

Two years later, the talented Malaysian fashion designer opens up to Tatler about her experience on the show and how it had shaped her journey as she channeled her energy back into her eponymous label based in New York's Garment District. The 34-year-old also gives us the scoop on her latest collection and first ever fashion film, Paradiso.

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How do you feel about being asked about Making The Cut

A lot of recovery had to happen but after two years, I’m pretty open about it. Looking back, it was an intense experience to be adjusting to the reality TV format, especially on camera. I was a little shy and it had been a few years since my undergrad years where I was huddled in the studio behind a sewing machine all night.

The outcome was not what I expected but I’ve accepted that there were things outside our control—lighting, the wind, the venue. Standing in front of the judges was definitely hard but they were actually really sweet. After the show, Naomi Campbell gave me a big hug and assured me that it was not the end for me. Tim Gunn, as well.

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What did you learn from your time on the show?

It showed me my own strength and resilience. I put myself out there and said yes to something that was scary and new. I got a lot from Making The Cut. I got to travel to Paris and meet some amazing people; Ji Won (Choi) and I still hang out all the time.

Honestly, my fall/winter 2020 collection, Celestia wouldn’t have happened it if weren’t for my experience in France. When I left the show, the crew arranged a visit for me to the Palace of Versailles before heading home. I had always wanted to go but when I got there, I was feeling all the feelings—I stood inside this grand building and I felt very small and terrible and untalented. I used these feelings and channeled them into my next collection.

I chose powder blue silk, inspired by the painted frescoes of Versailles, and metallic jacquards evoking tin ceilings of Parisian cafes.  And I was very adamant about sheer dresses. Then, I put on a fashion show in the West Village with a cellist, chandeliers and everything. It felt like a re-do. 

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That was your last physical fashion show before the pandemic hit. How has the pandemic affected you and your label?

I’m not going to lie, it’s been really hard. The show gave me the boost but I was stuck inside and not able to go into my atelier. I was relying on a few rolls of fabric I had at home and getting really bored, so I decided to start making silk masks. If you remember, this was at the time when there was a shortage of PPE so it gave me a sense of purpose to make and donate these triple-layer silk masks to the nursing home nearby.

I always wanted to focus on clothes but I started making silk scrunchies for people to wear on their Zoom calls and now we have expanded into an accessories line. 

Speaking of the pandemic, homesickness is one of the inspirations behind your latest fall/winter 2022 collection, Paradiso. When was the last time you visited home?

I haven’t been back to Malaysia since December 2018! I miss everything about it—the humidity, the greenery. My collection is a nostalgic reflection of my childhood home in KL. Growing up, my mom’s garden was full of rambutan and mango trees, beautiful orchids and tropical flowers. I have a corner in my New York room with 18 plants but you don’t get anything like that kind of garden in this city. Paradiso came from a place of remembering these vibrant colours and silhouettes and adapting it for where I was.

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Tell us about your favourite pieces from the Paradiso collection.

I loved the Eden set. I love that it's aggressively floral and summery, contrasted with the weight of the fabric. Everyone who has pre-ordered it has also added the matching headband and bow for the full outfit. 

I also love the red Ellaella Pouf dress because it is the culmination of the last two years. When I was making scrunchies in 2020, it was a way for me to play with obsessive gathering: pleating, sewing, hand-stitching. This is an extension of that. Although it looks pretty and soft, it was a product of my frustration for every postponed trip or cancelled plan during the pandemic. 

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You also released your first ever fashion film. Congratulations!

Yes, it’s a medium I’ve always wanted to explore because only a few people can see the collection like how it’s intended to be seen at a fashion show; watching it online is not the same. But in a fashion film, every shot is curated and that’s how it is meant to look for everybody—it’s a democratic art form. 

I was so lucky to be able to collaborate with people who really saw me. I connected with the director Zane Gan over Instagram; I didn’t know that he was Malaysian at the time. But he’s a Bangsar boy and he completely understood the homesickness, the yearning and the longing.

Even the music was written specifically for me by one of my best friends, Sugar Vendil. During the pandemic, I spoke to her so often about feeling so sad and homesick. I cried about the Asian violence we were seeing on the news and in the streets. And somehow, she managed to put all these feelings in a song. It was a beautiful melancholic piece that still felt optimistic with the trills.

It was a wonderful collaboration and super cool to see my collection come to life.

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Do you think fashion will stay on the digital platform?

I’m not sure! I’ve been longing for physical fashion shows, especially seeing how online and social media-obsessed we’ve become in the last few years. And the digital space is so saturated. Even when I put out my fashion film, I didn’t want to just drop a link. I screened it for my close friends, clients and media at SoHo House; I wanted to give them a tangible experience and a physical extension from that film.

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What’s next for you?

I’ve been saying that every collection is going to be all about homesickness until I go home. I hope I can get to visit this summer. I’d love to shoot a fashion film in Malaysia one day.

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