“We experience little deaths so that we can make way for new life,” designer Olivia Chen explains in the most recent copy of The Dauphinette Mourning Post, a single-page newspaper highlighting the ins and outs of her SS24 collection. “I’ve always wanted to make a collection about death. Not the actual act of dying, but the personalised set of beliefs and habits — protections — that humans and animals uptake along the way.”
I knew better than to expect something simplistic from Chen, and the softly bright hues and intricate detailing were a far cry from the black dressing and dark veils that I have come to associate memorial-wear with. Even still, I was utterly struck by the complexity of nuanced references of the collection, which looked at death from a standpoint of survival. With allusions to religion, masculinity, and physicality, the collection discusses the habits and rituals that bring a sense of comfort and meaning to loss. How do these protective measures make living easier? It’s a question I’ve been contemplating ever since. For now, all I know is that I left the Girls, Gods, and Monsters show with a fresh, strong joy for life.
In Girls, Gods, and Monsters, Chen modernises the Victorian practice of keeping a loved one’s lock of hair after they pass, explores the growing trend of cremation, and introduces her first scent — the sense most associated with memory. She gives a second life to materials and garments, reworking vintage bedding into tops and incorporating her mother’s Shanghainese woven silks into dresses. Committed to using at least 50% upcycled materials in all of her collections, Chen creates fun and scrappy embellishments — from vintage doorknobs to broken jewellery to vinyl beads cut out of vintage records.
Along with helping to protect the environment, these design decisions bring a deeper meaning to the pieces, ensuring that every element has a complex story of its own. From the Tomtex bioleather (made of shrimp and mushroom waste!) lampshade corset to the skirt and belt inspired by a 1950s Bonnie Cashin archival image, every detail and garment has seen a previous home. As reindeer moss, old sea pottery, leftover hair extensions, and even an actual baguette made their way down the runway, it is clear that nothing is wasted at the SS24 Dauphinette show. Everything has the potential for a fresh beginning. After all, little deaths give space for new life.
Take a look at exclusive behind-the-scenes imagery from backstage the Dauphinette SS24 show…