IMAGINE this — a classy, lady-like style with some bad girl vibes that doesn’t make the wearer look odd. Or consider the classy looks of Celine or Yves Saint Laurent, infused with the in-your-face attitude of Viktor & Rolf.
Bold creativity from opposing spectrums in the name of fashion. And when it comes to combining sophistication with a raw and rebellious spirit, fashion designer Jo Disaya is an ace.
Jo Disaya uses radicalism and rebellion in both a strong and subtle way. With androgyny as its foundation, the label focuses on defined silhouettes with attention to accessory detailing and fabrication.
Established in 2015, Jo Disaya is considered a newbie in the industry. However, the new kid on the block was already making waves in the global fashion arena since its debut at Paris Fashion Week in 2015.
Following the event, in which the label received rave reviews from Europe, it had its maiden showcase back home at the Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week in the same year.
The pret-a-porter label is named after its founder, Jo Disaya. “Yes, that’s my real name,” says the young designer who is of mixed Chinese and Thai descent.
“My designs and clothing range are very personal to me. It’s about character. I’m also a hands-on person and very particular about everything I do. I guess that’s why I’ve chosen to brand it around my name,” says the natural-born talent who prefers to be called Jo.
Raised in Australia, she started sketching designs and imagining her own runway shows at 13. She read law and graduated from Monash University, Melbourne, but her passion has always been in fashion.
“Law is something more concrete but I never liked it. It’s just not me. Fashion has always been me since I was very young.”
Jo started her career in the fashion industry as a stylist, making bespoke pieces for a small number of clients.
“To start my own label took a lot of guts. But being in the industry has taught me a lot about its know-how and has opened up a lot of opportunities for me to meet established and upcoming designers.
“And that was how the journey began,” she says adding that the label specialises in women’s wear, with a few unisex pieces in every collection (usually outerwear).
Everything about the label — from the look to the materials or fabrics used — glorifies individuality and reflects the strong, non-comformist styles and expression of the designer.
For example, when white was the least likely colour option for outerwear, Jo showed white jackets in her Autumn/Winter collection last year. And if bright colours or floral motifs were common or expected in a Spring/Summer collection, Jo used those elements in the recent 2017 Autumn/Winter range.
“I always do things the opposite way. I don’t conform to the norm or follow trends. When I design, I do what I like or what inspires me. And when it comes to runway shows, I ask my models to feel what they wear and go freestyle.
“I minimise on styling and choreographing because I know my designs are loud enough,” says Jo.
So, what inspires her?
“I like the classy, elegance and sophistication of Celine, Yves Saint Laurent and Raf Simons. I also like the vulgar sides of Viktor & Rolf, Maison Martin Margiela and Comme des Garcons. Jo Disaya is a mix of both sides. In other words, you can look elegant yet rebellious at the same time,” she says.
“But generally, I can be inspired by just about anything, from provocative structures and unorthodox art pieces to someone who is passing by. Or while I’m waiting at the airport,” she says. For example, for the 2017 Spring/Summer collection, the looks are a mix between sportswear and corporate suits.
“I like power suits and I like to create clothes that are suitable for day and night and also the weekend, for men and women.
“The collection was born when I was in a phase where I loved wearing sneakers and sports outfits. I was trying to infuse sports in corporate wear. Thus, the pencil skirt and bomber jacket look.”
Jo says when designing for the collection, she imagined people who work in advertising agencies as well as those who are fun, daring, quirky and rebellious.
Jo loves to experiment and plays with fabrics and accessory detailing, with high collar and plunging necklines, as the design’s signature elements. “The cut is very structured and I love to experiment with fabrics. For instance, I use tetra rayon that is normally used for suits, for a daily top or a dress.
“In last year’s Autumn/Winter collection, I used neoprene, often used in scuba diving suits, for outerwear with 100 per cent English wool as the lining. For this year’s Autumn/Winter pieces, I use corduroy for jackets with expensive down as the lining.”
With regards to accessory detailing, Jo replaces buttons with buckles and features elements such as quilting and piping. The shirts, for instance, come without button cuffs but stretched or ribbed cuffs. I will not put studs to make a design look punk. For me, the buckle on the high collar or the ribbed cuffs and various detailing are enough as accessories or to create that fashion statement.
“And the designs are also versatile and flexible. You can wear a Jo Disaya dress with runners or a bomber jacket paired with pencil skirt,” she says.
“Some people may not accept the ideas, especially when it comes to using fabrics for unorthodox use. But, that makes the designs unique and original. That’s the beauty of it,” she says.
LIVING THE DREAM
In 2016, Jo won the Jimmy Choo Award for Next Designer Of The Year at Malaysia Fashion Week. Early this year, she was awarded with Most Promising Designer Award at the Mercedes Benz Stylo Asia Fashion Week.
“It happened quite fast but it’s just part of the journey. The recognition gives the brand more weight,” says Jo.
“After my first show in 2015, there were buyers who were sceptical about my brand being a one-hit-wonder. But I believe the awards have proven otherwise,” she adds.
Jo says she is living her dream because she has turned her passion into a career. As for the future, she dreams of expanding her range to other things such as shoes or accessories and turning her label into a household brand.
“I think I’ve achieved about 30 per cent of my dream because I’m working and doing what I’m passionate about. But, my ultimate dream is to make Jo Disaya a household brand. Perhaps like Louis Vuitton, but slightly cheaper.
“I want to make my brand known for affordable yet recognisable high street, ready-to-wear designer pieces that feature nothing but uniqueness, elegance and sophistication,” she says.
“I want to give people that different look and feel about what they wear or can wear and look good in.
“I always believe, however good or bad you are, or how conservative or modern you are, there is always that little rebel in you. And Jo Disaya is tailored to bring out that inner rebel.”