Who are the people who work behind-the-scenes in fashion?


  • Style
  • Thursday, 21 Nov 2019

From pattern makers to choreographers, it certainly takes a whole “village” to “raise” a successful fashion collection.

When talking about style, we always focus on the designers. Yet, the clothes don’t produce themselves. Neither will the runway shows appear so stunning (or glamorous) without the creative minds planning them.

From pattern makers to choreographers, it certainly takes a whole “village” to “raise” a successful fashion collection. It is these people who contribute tirelessly, often beyond the spotlight of glitz and glamour.

Here, we speak to two women who have worked behind the scenes with the designers or fashion labels.

Sewn To Order

Rachel Tan has been working with renowned Malaysian designer Khoon Hooi since 2004. Her job? Ensuring that his designs get sewn in the most precise manner possible.

“My role is to create a pattern draft using free-hand method to replicate a design concept by using my knowledge of fabrics, sewing skills and ability to alter garment, ” Tan explains.

Her pattern drafts are used as a guide for fabric cutting and sewing. Thus, you could say that she makes its possible for Khoon Hooi’s sketches to be brought beautifully to life.

According to Tan, there are a lot of challenges to the job. Tight deadlines for example, are something she has to contend with. Especially when it comes to events like society balls (where customer orders pour in) or trade shows.

“I was encouraged by my mother to enter into this industry. I was encouraged to acquire skills that can earn a living, because during my younger days there wasn’t many skilled opportunities available, ” she says.

To her, the most enjoyable part of her job is to see her hard work in the finished garment. She also gets excited whenever spotting customers wearing the dresses she has helped create.

“I absolutely love seeing them presented on models in our seasonal campaigns, which are then distributed to the global market, ” Tan, who is currently in her 50s, enthuses with pride.

When asked, she says that her job requires a keen interest in the trade, as well as a lot of perseverance. Patience is also needed, especially when it comes to mentoring the younger generation.

“It is not an ageing workforce. Recently, we have witnessed a trend of graduating fashion students wanting to zoom into the art pattern making, ” Tan points out, regarding the misconceptions about her job.

“The other myth is that this field can easily be replaced by a machine. Contrary to popular belief, not everything can be automated and computerised. There is still a need for skilled pattern makers to help turn sketches into reality.”

Walking The Talk

For Cilla Foong, being a runway choreographer is all about having creativity and resourcefulness. She says that you will also need a good eye for detail, as well as the passion and patience to keep up with the changing needs.

“My work is seasonal. For fashion shows, they are mostly centered around the time when the brands unveil the Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter collections in their stores, ” says the 59-year-old.

“When not busy, I catch up with the international fashion weeks (New York, London, Milan, Paris) and lifestyle news online. Staying in touch with what’s happening is relevant to my work.”

Foong (who runs her own company) conceptualises runway shows or fashion events. She has provided her services to many local and international luxury brands in the past.

Some of these include a grand New Year’s Eve party at the KLIA rooftop car park, which had a runway show for Dior using 30 models. It featured the label’s Spring 2000 ready-to-wear designs.

She also had a hand in the opening of the Louis Vuitton boutique at Singapore’s Marina Bay in 2011. Situated on water, it was the fashion house’s first flagship in South-east Asia.

Her more recent work involved organising a runway show for B.Space, a local multi-brand menswear store. For this one, she created a stunning setup using LED lights.

Foong started out as a model. It is that experience she now draws from to handle runway shows. She says it has taught her how to better manage and guide models.



Her job really requires creativity, as each show that she stages needs to be better and bolder than the last. It is like competing with herself.

Everyone seems to think that her job is fabulous. Foong says otherwise. To her, it is indeed hard work. Overnighters are common, involving runway setups and removals. But she still loves what she does.

“I enjoy the opportunities to work with different clients, learning from their international team, being challenged with event briefs and creating shows/events that the local market have not seen before, ” Foong explains.

“I have been in the industry for a long time and still love what I do. No two events are the same and I am constantly learning new things. I enjoy the creative process, bringing an idea to ’life’.”


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