For over two years Judith was head designer at Sofira, a luxury clothing brand in Kuala Lumpur. But the 25-year-old now has her own wedding fashion label called rocca and is embarking on a digital fashion project called Ode to Liberty.
Judith tells me how she was never fashionable as a teenager, and how she gave up one Christmas to sew 18 metres of lace and went bead-eyed.
How did you begin your career in fashion design?
Three years ago, I got a job as a designer in Sofira. I was fresh out of college and all I had was my portfolio and a goofy smile. I wasn’t sure if I fit in there honestly, but as time progressed and collections went by, I had the opportunity to design, organise, envision, travel and have fun, and stress, at the job. It was a great place for budding designers.
My designs are modern with some chic tucked in a seam somewhere
So how did your own brand rocca come about?
I resigned last June and took a backseat because I wanted a break from work and life. I decided to take on bridalwear orders to pay the rent and to satisfy my designing itch. Then I thought it would be a good idea to put my work online and that’s how rocca was born.
How would you describe your designs?
I like to start with ‘less is more’ when I design. It’s never overdone, unless a customer wants it to be, which I’d be sure to advise against. I love structure and form, so they are modern with some chic tucked in a seam somewhere. I also tend to stay away from girly.
Where do you get your inspirations from?
I love going back to classic and modern art for inspiration, like paintings, photography, literature, interior spaces and architecture. And nature as well, like flowers and animals. I’m dealing one on one with customers now, so their personalities – like their mannerisms and physical features – also inspire me.
Why wedding gowns and evening dresses?
No particular reason – it just happened. The customers I had so far were all brides-to-be, so I obviously did their wedding gowns and evening dresses. Personally, I prefer designing cocktail dresses, but it’s proving to be quite interesting nonetheless.
Lavender luxury: silk chiffon lined with satin, lavender-grey lace and beaded trimmings
Why do you like designing clothes?
I love it because it feels natural to me – it’s like an extension of myself. I love art and designing in general, so I really see this as an expression of art. It gets my mind ticking and my senses tingling! I enjoy the conceptualising bit the most, especially when I think about ways to incorporate things into the design and the story behind it.
I was never a fashionable person and didn’t have any fashion-related childhood dreams
When did you first discover your passion for fashion?
When I was about 16, I kept doodling in my Chemistry and Physics books and I knew I was in ‘trouble’ with this new habit of mine. I really don’t know how it came about – it just happened. I was never a fashionable person and didn’t have any childhood dreams that were fashion-related, that’s why I believe it was definitely from God. I was a late bloomer.
What is your best piece so far?
A chilli red and coral evening dress I did. It was a one-shoulder with a beaded waistband. In terms of difficulty, it would be the Lavender series I did for a wedding. It was highly labourious and packed with intricate beading. I really like how the belt turned out.
Any disasters yet?
Last year, I beaded close to nine meters of lace and had to re-do them because my client had something else in mind. It was back to square one and I said goodbye to Christmas. That was pretty funny, looking back at it now.
Who is your favourite designer?
I don’t have a favourite as I like too many. At the moment, I really like Rodolfo Paglialunga’s work for Vionnet. I love the practical way he drapes and injects modern colours and accents to his designs. It’s wearable stuff that’s fashion forward.
The world doesn’t revolve around fashion, and I’m not going to be totally consumed by it
Judith at the Malaysian International Fashion Week 2008 with Sofira’s collection, Illuminer
What does the future hold for you?
Well, a good friend and I are creating a project called Ode to Liberty. It’s an online destination for fashion and art lovers in Malaysia and internationally. The website will be launched in a couple of months.
What advice do you have for budding fashion designers?
Explore and educate yourself continuously. Read, write, draw, travel, observe and analyse. Don’t restrict yourself because fashion is an expression of whatever you want it to be – and that’s basically everything. Find inspiration from new, unexpected places and you’ll be surprised by your originality.
How do you glorify God with your talent?
The most important question and a good one too. “Lord, help!” is an SOS cry I would often say when something is wrong. And He always helps me. The talent I have is from Him to begin with, so everything I do goes back to Him. Doing the best I can with integrity is something that I think matters to God. The world doesn’t revolve around fashion, and I’m not going to be totally consumed by it. Fashion is a temporal industry like many other things, and for me, choosing to make choices that have eternal benefits makes all the difference.
Judith takes private enquiries and appointments at least one week in advance. She can be contacted on rocca.judith [at] gmail [dot] com. For more information, visit her website here.