Fashion with a confrontational message

We sat down with renowned fashion designer Stefan Andre Joachim to discuss his latest and thought provoking fashion show under the theme ‘Colonial Romance’ which was a celebration of his 30 years in the fashion industry.

70 looks by 20 runway models, Colonial Romance was held at Trace Expert City recently.

Attention was drawn to some of the more poignant issues of Sri Lankans, namely forgetting our roots and identity and embracing our colonial past, and through his artistic and creative talent, he managed to convey these ideas successfully whilst promoting the need to ‘decolonise’.

Here are some excerpts from the interview we had with him.

Firstly, tell us a bit about why you went into fashion designing and how you got your big break?

In truth, I didn’t choose, it chose me! All I wanted was to go into investigative journalism and ultimately into mainstream politics. I was hugely “impressed” by Pieter Keuneman’s ability as a Burgher and thus a member of a minority group to have reached the levels he did politically with such a NON mainstream attitude.

During my A’ Levels at Wycherley and as the President of the English Literary Association, I decided to ask the head of my department to allow me, along with some of my members to write a script for FAME the movie, so we could perform it at the Lionel Wendt. This I would say was the first taste of the arts, design and politics of some sorts. During my final year at school, I had started a very small business by making brightly coloured beach shirts with the then ever popular ‘Veytex’ fabrics and selling it to my friends and supplying yet another friend of mine in Melbourne, with the same. To me, it was something that I was good at, which made me money, and was effortless. In terms of work, I felt like a glorified, English speaking tailor!
I guess the turning point was when I decided to convert the tailoring into more of show of my ego at the age of 18 when I very boldly embarked on my career with my first solo fashion show.

What was the talk of a ‘Swan Song’ about?

Firstly, the Swan Song was symbolic to Colonial Romance. I believe I have only just begun in Fashion! It was about letting go of the past for me as well. I believe it has been a learning experience for the last 30 years. A school that taught me that we are blessed to have been born in a country like this BUT we are also cursed with the idiocy of being politically influenced to hate one another. As a designer, it has been pretty much the same where we are very willing to hop on any first world band wagon in order to take short cuts opposed to truly work towards creating an identity of our own.

What was the inspiration and theme behind this line?

I see no true national pride and that is only because we have embraced what the imperialists have made us believe. The divide and conquer rule has been entrenched in us so badly that every political party uses it in order to capitalise on the voter base. They uphold the archaic colonial laws only because it suits their political benefit. All of these laws can be done away with but they are continuously upheld politically because our own people have lost all identity and pride as a nation. We shamelessly follow the white man’s law that was thrust upon us; we even still wear his dusty wigs and gowns in this sweltering heat.
We follow his system of governance without question as to if it fits into our system of life.
We follow his ridiculous dress code of what is deemed as a “gentleman’s” dress code as if not wearing a suit makes you a savage.
We believe his skin colour is better than ours.
I felt the need to express all this through my art as a designer, through my clothing and story.

If you could use five words to describe this fashion show what would they be?


How do you think your take on fashion has changed when you compare your very first fashion show with your last?

My take is pretty much the same. I still have no idea what I’m doing until the very end. All I do know is that I am as passionate about the process and message as I was 30 years ago.

What advice would you give others who are aspiring to be fashion designers especially in Sri Lanka?

Stay true to your vision and do not let anyone or anything shake you. Colombo is full of bad advice freely handed out in clever disguise by complete and utter industry failures. DO NOT let anyone’s age fool you, because most often grey hair also is deemed as wisdom. Judge those giving you advise by how successful they are at what they are advising you on.

A creative mind cannot be tamed and no one should try to. Run wild and free and more so be the judge of your own success. The apparatus you measure that by is how many people you upset with your expression! The higher the number, the greater the success.

What is one fashion trend you were unable to get on board with?
Jeggings and Crocs.

What is next for you?

The installation is next as it was impossible to showcase 10 years of passion research in under 40 minutes through fashion. I intend using this research to educate certain youth forums on how we can use art to create a bigger impact on lobbying the governing bodies opposed to being bullied by unions into protesting in the heat, creating traffic jams, being shot at with water cannons and simply becoming a nuisance to society.

What do you live by?

Live life fullest in the here and the now. NOTHING of the past and nothing you can imagine in the future should concern you. Be overly kind to people who need love, care and kindness. Be kind to children as they are being moulded, teach them kindness so that they in return may be kind adults. Do whatever you can financially and otherwise for the old because they don’t have much time left and it’s a terribly sad thing to watch an old person suffer. Don’t kill or be a part of killing anything that has a life. Don’t think twice about walking away from anyone or anything that makes your soul ache.

By Nikita Gomez