When Yume sent me the DVD of her selections of backstage photos from
fashion week, I quickly flipped through them all. It was the usual
fare…. makeup, hair, rehearsal, lineups, smiling (or bored)
until I came to Jenny Fax. On the runway, we saw sweet dresses and
coquettish girls curtseying in what appeared to be fashion made from
100% pure saccharine. But the backstage revealed that there was a dark
side to this collection as well, and it delves into many, many layers
of Jenny Fax designer Shueh Jen-Fang’s own memories. When you put the
dark side of the backstage together with the cutesy-wootsey outward
performance, you have an edgy, mature collection that delves deeper
into fashion and the human experience of interpreting it than any
other collection during Tokyo Fashion Week I had seen….
It appeared to be some kind of ceremony going on backstage. Was Jen’s sister
the victim of some kind of model cult?! I had NO idea what was going on.
I couldn’t just put these photos up without getting the story straight
from the horse’s mouth, so Jen met me for coffee recently to talk
about her whole collection.
M: Can I just say that your models looked scary here. One of the girls
was threatening your sister (who flew in from Taiwan to model in the
show) with a mop?! Was this on purpose or was everyone just bored
backstage and playing around?
J: No, it was on purpose. It’s part of the show. I wanted to show a
contrast because when the models are on the runway they look so “nice”
and “pretty” and “perfect”. But backstage, you see this other side of
them and it *isn’t* so pretty… they are actually “bullies”. But you
know, this goes back to my memories of growing up because I was in an
all-girls boarding school and girls at that age can be really, really
MEAN. I was never one who was bullied or who did things to other
people, but when I saw it happening I felt helpless.
M: So you decided to add the bullying element as part of the performance?
J: Yeah, and I originally wanted to do it in the actual catwalk show.
M: (laugh) Really?? What happened??
J: Well, my show director…..he’s uh…. (laughs) he’s quite
handsome. He didn’t really understand why the contrast of the pretty
girls with the bullying was important. I was told that maybe since he
was so good-looking that he had never experienced bullying before so
he didn’t get it. I pushed for it really hard! But in the end we
compromised by doing it backstage (laughs).
M: (I’m laughing really, really hard now)…ha,ha,ha….pretty boys
don’t get it. But, so…why your sister???!
J: It all comes back to the talk about this collection being about my
memories…especially from childhood. I dearly love my sister with all
of heart. But when you love someone so much, it can inadvertently veer
towards hate at times. It’s natural….it’s also symbolic.
M: And she was OK with this and went along with it?
J: Um, well…actually she flew into Tokyo just for this show and I
agreed to have her be a model in it as it was kind of a dream for her.
And it was last minute since she was working at her job back home so
it kind of slipped my mind to tell her….
M: Omg, she didn’t know?! so this ended up being a social experiment!! What happened??
J: Yeah..and she doesn’t speak Japanese so I don’t think she had any
idea what was going on. I felt awful!!
M: And then you made her go walk the runway for the first time in her
life. She’s got my respect. It’s so weird I didn’t see this part of
the show reported in the media though…
J: I think it’s because fashion people…you know, they are only
concerned with the fashion fantasy and they don’t want to face any
kind of fantasy-as-reality. I have even had some trouble finding
sponsors for makeup or whatever for my next show because of rumors
about it. But you know, this was just a performance and it all ties
into my real memories. I can’t just erase those! I wish I could be
more clever and come up with more abstract concepts from simpler
things, but in the end it all comes from my memories…
M: It’s so rare to hear a designer speaking so passionately about her
vision, even if not everyone agrees with it. I think you had one of
the most fascinating shows of the entire week and many of the guests,
such as Susie Bubble, listed you as her favorite.
J: I’m so pleased!