An Interview with Selahdor Designer David Chum

Interview by Vivienne Eunji Ko
Background & photos by Alexina Prather

Artist and fashion designer David Chum grew up in New England after his family emigrated from Cambodia. Chum graduated from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University with a B.F.A. He was also one of the talented designers of Project Runway season 9. Chum has been an artist for his whole life. He was first introduced to the world of fashion as a teenager when he participated in a theatre department. It wasn’t until 2008 that he decided to pursue and commit to his own clothing line. Just one year later, in 2009, he launched his line Selahdor.

This past Friday, February 22nd, Chum presented a few of his pieces from his most recent collection at the restaurant Brasserie Jo.  It was a luncheon hosted by Marilyn Riseman to promote Chum’s line Selahdor. Two models walked around the tables of the restaurant showing off beautiful pieces from the spring/summer 2013 collection. It was a great way to see the stunning fashion, enjoy a delicious lunch, and get to know more about David Chum and his clothing line. Read on for our interview with him!

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Haute Fashion: What motivated you to be a fashion designer?

David: Fashion has always been there. I was drawing fashion sketches when I was a child and I designed and sewed costumes in high school. I ended up going to school for Fine Arts, but even then I incorporated fashion by creating costumes for the models to wear in the my paintings.

HF: We heard that you studied in Boston, how was a life in Boston as a student with a passion for fashion?

D: I carried about 18 credits or more a semester, and worked 30 hours a week. I was busy, but I made it work somehow. And at the time I was constantly toying with the idea of transferring to MassArt or another school to pursue a degree in Fashion Design. It never happened though. I was too comfortable with what I was already doing with my artwork.

HF: Tell me about the fashion show held at Brasserie Jo. It was very unique compared to other fashion shows. Why did you decide to have a fashion show at a restaurant? Was there a specific expectation or purpose? And what about the theme of the fashion show? What is your favorite style? And what do you want to try for your next collection?

_DSC0346D: Fashion Fridays at Brasserie Jo are held by Marilyn Riseman every Friday more or less. She is a prominent figure in Boston, especially the fashion industry. She invites designers to show their work to the crowd that meets there before the symphony. I really wanted Marilyn to see the Spring/Summer 2013 collection.

The collection is part of a trio of collections I am creating inspired by the 1980’s film “The Neverending Story.” Spring/Summer 2013 was inspired by Atreyu, the boy warrior who is sent by the Child-like Empress to save Fantasia from The Nothing. The aesthetic is tribal but polished, with a strong feminine vibe. I made my own prints for the first time.

The next collection is inspired by The Nothing. Expect to see my signature tailoring with a darker, urban feel.

HF: Today there are a lot of students who would like to have a career in the fashion industry. What advice would you give them? What do you think is most important factor to become a fashion designer?

D: If you want to launch your own line, be prepared to work to a point where you think you can’t anymore. You need to figure out where your money is coming from to fund your label. It costs a lot to pursue something like this. It is also very important to secure your supply chain. You won’t succeed unless you can insure you can control your manufacturing and keep costs at a point where you can compete with your competitors.  I honestly think it is best to work for bigger companies for a while. You can decide down the road if you want to do your own thing once you’ve had some experience.

I think as a fashion designer, you need to be constantly aware of the rest of the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s politics, sports, etc. These things somehow set the tone for the time we are living in and decide the trends we see in clothing. Also, you need to know how to draft patterns and sew. You need to master your technique. You can fall in love with a silhouette, sketch, idea, but unless your technique is en pointe you will never be able to flesh out your designs.

HF: When was the hardest and toughest time that you had to prepare for a fashion show? What gets you most excited? How do you overcome the hard times?

D: The hardest is the very end. There are deadlines to meet, tradeshows and showroom appointments. I’m usually dealing with a handful of people from sales reps to manufacturers to sample makers to models and photographers. You just do it. Even if you’re tired and things are going wrong, you have to have faith and finish what you set out to do. The most exciting is the very beginning when the sketches start happening after a mood board has been made. Besides that, seeing the samples finished for the first time is my favorite time.

_DSC0360HF: What is the ugliest thing you have ever worn?

D: I’ve had many many phases with my own personal style. Back in the late 90’s I was wearing these heavy wide-legged jeans called JNCO’s. I think that’s how it was spelled. It was very popular among the alternative youth culture at the time.

HF: What do you look for in a model?

D: She needs to be my sample size, 35/25/36. She needs to be tall. She needs to have an interesting face and a good personality. The best models can stand there, do nothing, but somehow stare right through the camera and connect with the viewer.

HF:  Who are your style icons?

D: Daphne Guinness has always been a fave. Lately I’ve been admiring Katherine Hepburn.

HF: How was Project Runway? What did you learn from that experience?

D: It was good for what it was. I learned that it is a reality show, and at the end of the day it is TV. I don’t think I’d ever go back and try out again, even if they asked me. It’s not a fast track to fame, but it’s something to experience if you want big exposure.

HF: Our fashion club Haute Fashion is having a fashion show of our own in April! Do you have any advice for us?

D: Stay organized! Make sure there is one person handling the back of house and one for the front and they are in constant communication during the show, i.e. cellphones, walkie-talkies, etc. Be careful of the changes with the models. If they are timed wrong, if there is a wardrobe malfunction, it can ruin a show.

Check out David’s line at!

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