Make a statement with a quirky shoe collection from up-and-coming fashion designer Isabel Lam, writes Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan
YOUNG fashion designer Isabel Lam Chi Yoi is a citizen of the world. She was born and bred here, studied in the United States, did her Masters in Melbourne and is hugely influenced by Japanese culture.
The moment I saw her at her parents’ place in Sri Bukit Persekutuan, I knew she was not a run-off-the-mill fashion fan. For a start, her hair was purple, red and turquoise.
“It’s cherry bomb actually, not red,” she says, adding that she has not had black hair since she turned 12. But her crowning glory looks healthy, as though her hair is only occasionally treated with colour.
“People think that treating hair means coarse hair and split ends. But I dye and treat my hair myself and so far, no split ends, nothing. You just have to use good products and treat your hair well, that’s all,” says the 26-year-old.
Her childhood ambition was to be a hairdresser. But her father said no. Fashion designer? No. Musician? Okay.
That was how she ended up at the International College of Music before furthering her studies at Berklee College of Music, Boston, in film scoring.
“After I finished my degree, I wanted to join a small studio in Hollywood but with the writers’ strike two years ago, it was not possible.”
So she decided to fly Down Under to do her Masters degree in advertising and commerce. “I worked for a company for search engine optimisation... like if you Google something, I make sure my client’s company is shown on the first page.”
She decided that she was not a nine-to-five person and wanted to start her own business. Since fashion was her second childhood ambition and since she had studied music as per Dad's request, designing was then a natural choice.
ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
But she won’t let mainstream fashion get the best of her talents. Her shoes, for example, under the label Chiyo and available online at www.shopchiyo.com and Zalora, are all about attitude.
Exhibit one: Platform heels in suede with the base and heels of the shoes made of wood. It costs more than RM500 and looks tough but is surprisingly comfortable, even for a non-heels wearer like yours truly.
Exhibit two: Flat shoes with black shoe laces, a combination of plastic and leather. It is see-through, so if you wear patterned socks, they get to be seen and are not hidden in the footwear.
“That’s the whole point. My shoes are not the mainstream footwear that people find in shopping centres. They are eccentric and edgy.”
The use of wood makes the footwear heavy but gives it weight.
But wood is common footwear material, for instance, the traditional wooden clogs which local women used to wear decades ago.
Lam has those at home, so you know where she got her inspiration from.
A fan of Japanese style makers like Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, Lam says she will not make “mainstream” shoes because “there are already too many of those in the market”.
She understands completely that with her design philosophy, she may not be able to make it big here.
“When it comes to design appreciation, we are not there yet but we are slowly developing. Those who travel and who have stayed overseas are much more exposed to design and they are bringing that here. When it comes to the local market, people still buy brands, not products. Generally, consumers wouldn’t spend much on unknown brands.” she says.
Women will either love or loathe her footwear. Aesthetically, they look different. The chunky heels may even be off-putting for some.
Her customers are working women, musicians and fellow fashion designers, a sure sign that her footwear has a certain quality that may not go well with the masses.
Australians are more responsive towards her creations and prices play a factor. In September, she may be part of the Spring Fashion Week in Australia which showcases up-and-coming designers.
She hopes to see the growth of more local independent designers. “What’s sad is seeing designers just tagging their labels on clothes that they buy wholesale. That’s cheating and it’s not right.
“Being a designer doesn’t pay very well. It’s costly to set up shop and I hope department stores will consider local designers too and not charge us an arm and a leg... we’re not big companies and we’re Malaysians,” she says.
Lam’s shopping spots
• Sungei Wang Plaza for cool and reasonably-priced fashion finds.
• Publika for supporting independent designers and stores. She will have a pop-up store there soon.