How Singaporean is she?
Skeptics may question Chelsea Scott-Blackhall’s nationality because of her Caucasian looks. But the Singapore-born fashion designer of British descent – and founder of clothing label Dzojchen (pronounced as doh-jen) – is more Singaporean than you know.
Besides being born and raised here, Scott-Blackhall is also the daughter of Rick, one of the founders of the Batey Ads agency, which was responsible for the Singapore Airlines iconic “Singapore Girl” brand.
Together with French couturier Pierre Balmain, he worked on the “ Sarong Kebaya” uniform and immortalised the look. It’s a legacy that the family is proud of, including the 32-year-old designer, who wouldn’t change anything about her dad’s work.
“My nostalgia would lead me to not want to change a thing (about the Sarong Kebaya),” said Scott-Blackhall during a recent interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore after the Singapore Fashion Awards (SGFA) took place on 24 November, where she had won Designer of the Year.
She arrived at the event wearing an oversized blazer, pants and boots, a look that encapsulates the androgynous fashion Dzojchen is known for. Meanwhile, her face was a combination of jet-lag fatigue and ecstasy when she went on stage to accept the award.
“I had just arrived from New York the evening before. After the awards, I went straight home and had a very proud and satisfied slumber! I celebrated with my family the next day,” said the designer, who returned to the US soon after. The award came six years after establishing Dzojchen in New York as a denim line.
“Singapore is home, it was the birthplace of Dzojchen. The acknowledgement and affirmation from our industry was something that meant very much to me,” said Scott-Blackhall, who reintroduced the brand as a contemporary fashion label in 2013.
Similar to the Singapore Girl, Scott-Blackhall travels widely, placing Singapore on the global fashion map wherever she goes. She is currently working on her Autumn/Winter collections for 2018-19 and will launch the men and women’s line in Paris, New York, Milan and Los Angeles in early 2018. Unfortunately, Dzojchen’s line of mainly jackets, coats and blazers aren’t suitable for the humid tropical weather in Singapore.
“I will be in New York City till 21 December, then I will return to Singapore to spend Christmas and New Year’s with my family before having to return for the launch of the new season at the turn of the year,” she said, after successfully carving out some time out of her hectic schedule for this interview.
Her clients include stars such as Lenny Kravitz and his daughter Zoe Kravitz, along with actors such as Johnny Depp.
“It’s a fantastic feeling when anyone wears the brand, not just celebrities. When a celebrity wears your label, it underpins your customer’s confidence in the brand, and ultimately assists in opening doors,” she said. This achievement was made possible through connections with the right stylists as well as public relations agencies in New York and Los Angeles.
Her encounters with celebrities continue with established designers Diane Von Furstenberg and Victoria Beckham, whom she met in 2015 after being selected for the prestigious Fashion Futures Program by Singapore Fashion Week (SGFW), in collaboration with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
When asked about her biggest lessons from them, she said, “To feel the need to please everyone. Know your lane, and thrive. Be confident in your differentiation. Play to your strengths.”
Other mentors of the programme included Sarah Rutson, formerly of mega online fashion retailer Net-a-Porter, and designer Thakoon Panichgul.
“Each encounter was memorable, and all made a lasting impression on me. While I may not yet share their deserved stripes of a globally recognised house, I felt a sense of comfort that they all knew the journey, the struggles and the triumphs of the birth and growth of the brand,” said the former model, who was once signed to the Wilhelmina Modelling agency for six years before deciding to become a fashion designer “out of deep curiosity and blind faith”.
“It is certainly not an easy journey. It took several years of exploring and refining the skill of design, development, production, marketing and sales before receiving any validation that this was in fact a sane path to follow,” said Scott-Blackhall, whose first-ever piece was a pair of jeans made with Japanese selvedge denim with a diagonal fly zipper and panels on the inner thighs.
More than five years after producing her first piece, Dzojchen is currently stocked in over 25 cities worldwide and is about to have its very own online store.
“I always chalk it down to working hard and maintaining the belief in yourself before looking up to see if others believe in you too,” said the humble designer while looking back at her career.
Independent, career-driven and fearless. While the Singapore Girl does not embody these qualities, they’re definitely entrenched in Chelsea Scott-Blackhall as a modern Singaporean woman who is positively kiasu when it comes to seizing opportunities wherever she goes.
If that’s not Singaporean enough, we’re not sure what is.
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