Xiaolin: Gothic Redux

Combining elements of untamed nature with sleek sophistication, Xiaolin aims to create garments of enchantment and allure.

By Niko Pifferetti

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Julia Chew designs under the name, “Xiaolin.” Her given name, Xiaolin means “dawn” and “jade” in Mandarin, and it’s an appropriate term for Chew’s aesthetic. The woman she designs for alternates between a dark, moody “raven girl” and a bright “jewel-toned princess,” transforming through the course of her runway show.
“Each look has its own character,” Chew said. “It’s kind of like writing a story.”
That’s a fitting analogy. Stories of Gothic romance and icy heroines from the 19th century inform Chew’s designs. Miss Havisham inspired one of her dresses, and the saintly and sad subjects of Waterhouse’s paintings inspire others. But don’t mistake Chew for a pensive Ophelia. She’s been sewing since she was very young and presented her first runway collection at the age of 17. Now, the 19-year-old designer has appeared at Christian Fashion Week and Park Avenue Fashion Week, where she won the Emerging Designer Award. Praised for her “inventive and finely constructed” dresses, Chew is a prodigy whose talent is bested only by her work ethic. In addition to designing, Chew manages a couture and ready-to-wear business, and sells her accessories and apparel on Etsy.
“I also have a regular line that I will be putting into local boutiques,” Chew said.  “It’s a simpler version of my designs that are wearable for everyday.”
Already available at retailers in the Tampa, Orlando and Wisconsin, Chew’s designs may one day be available around the world, she said. Yet, no matter how big her business gets, she wants to keep the art of dressmaking and the storytelling of runway collections at the core of her enterprises.
“I would like to expand my regular line and possibly be a an international brand. But I also want to keep my runway design and continue to make garments for individual clients.”
Presenting her updated Autumn/Winter 2014 collection at the runway show Saturday, Chew is sure to make many audience members into aspiring clients.

This post was originally published on April 5, 2014.

Rachel Smith