by Ann Pichon; Fused Magazine, Issue 31, May 2007, p. 65.
Photos by Paul Burroughs

On my way to WESSIELING’s Game On: The World Fashion Conquest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t anticipate it to be a game, nor that I would be allowed to touch it, never mind play. With the theme of fashion week and a world map in pastel colours on the runway of the catwalk, WESSIELING’s interactive installation is a feminine version of Risk, the classic world-domination game. After a brief introduction to the rules, the four of us sat around the catwalk game board. Each of us picked a “mission” card and rolled the dice. The highest-scoring roller started collecting the city pawns. A board game is inherently about competition, and Game On is no exception – but it stays light-hearted. “Like in fashion,” WESSIELING said, “losing is not the end of the world.”

With mention of “fashion”, a handful of cities – Paris, Milan, London, New York – springs to mind. I had no idea that each of the 85 cities on WESSIELING’s map, from Vancouver to Johannesburg, also holds a fashion week. Rarely have I heard of fashion from these cities. So why do they hold a fashion week? Ling’s research is revealed through the six “mission” cards: fostering a positive image for the tourist industry, and serving as a platform to develop the local garment and textile industry, to name a few. Since 2000, the number of cities claiming a fashion week has been escalating. According to Ling, economic return is the major concern. Fashion week in Auckland and Jakarta, for example, has generated tourists, which in turn increases revenue by millions of pounds. Despite commercial investment, many of these cities have no mechanism to promote designers or sell fashion goods.

As I played Game On, I kept thinking what was really at stake with these fashion weeks – until the pawns uncovered the enigma. These sleek white cubes, each representing a city that claims a fashion week, turned out to be compressed T-shirts. Inside each is a plain white T-shirt “in no creative terms”, highlighted Ling. The uniformity and banality of these T-shirts has much to say about the content of the 85 fashion weeks. “Most new rise fashion weeks are organised in much the same way as the established ones in Paris, Milan and New York. However, they attract significantly less buyers, journalists and designers. Some even have no fashion show schedule,” said WESSIELING. With a T-shirt-cube on hand, I was wondering what’s inside Tunis or Ascucion fashion week. Is there any difference between fashion week in Hanoi and Ho Chi Ming?

With a travelling schedule ahead, a website has been planned to extend Game On in MAK (Vienna) this June. However, physical contact is integral to both board games and fashion. WESSIELING realises that an online version of Game On wouldn’t have the same rigour of a physical game. After all, the catwalk game board, the T-shirt cubes, dices rolling, or even back stabbing and table talk, are the funniest parts of Game On. Rather, the website will feature an interactive map linking all fashion week websites throughout the world. This is the first exhaustive site to cover the world’s fashion weeks, and will become a reference point in no time.

Chatting in comfort in her London apartment, I wondered why WESSIELING had chosen to be based in London. Hong Kong born, Paris trained, now a senior lecturer at the London College of Fashion, WESSIELING considers London’s openness to young talent and innovative ideas to allow her to explore the frontier between art and fashion. Her work bridges fashion and visual arts, and to her fashion is a symbolic idea across cultures and societies. No wonder there are no clothes or fashion shows in Game On. Since her PhD, fashion, cities and identities have been at the heart of both her research and artwork. Her current Chinese dress project reflects much of her transcultural background. The dress’s multiple meanings have led her to an upcoming solo show focusing upon its hybridity. When I asked what’s so interactive about this show, WESSIELING urged me to “Come play! Tell me your interpretation.”

As I stepped out of her apartment, I had no doubt that another game would soon be on!

Game On: The World Fashion Conquest will be appearing next on 20-24 June 2007; Fusionable Cheongsam on 8-28 June 2007, The Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong.