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David Chum has gained plenty of momentum in his journey as a self-taught designer under the label Selahdor, launched in 2009. Born in Cambodia and raised in Massachusetts, Chum veered away from his fine arts background and ventured into the realm of entrepreneurship, counting fans like socialite Marilyn Riseman and Project Runway along the way. His Spring 2013 collection marks an evolution of the brand with the introduction of original prints, its premiere collaboration with stylist and jewelry designer Christen Mitchell, as well as an ongoing influence from cult-favorite 80s film The NeverEnding Story.
The moniker Selahdor was pulled from the phrase "cellar door," supposedly the most beautiful expression in the English language. It's evident that Chum finds inspiration in many forms—the latest of which are the fantasy characters and organic shapes like skeletal motifs and bark—with the common thread of sleek structure throughout his collections. We sat down to pick Chum's brain on everything from his brief TV stint to his signature detailing.
What led you to fashion?
It was always there, even as a kid. I would draw little women with ballgowns on, and in highschool I was designing costumes. Even in art school when I was doing a lot of figure painting, I was making costumes to dress the models. The paintings looked like fashion photography, but they happened to be 9' by 5' oil paintings.
It's interesting that you were making clothing for them to wear. You were commanding a full vision. Where did you have the a-ha moment to go from making the clothes as a side project to transitioning into a designer?
I got to a point where I was bored in my studio. The thing with artwork is that the process is never ending. You can sit there with a painting and have a conversation with it for a year, and it's kind of all subjective.
How does the creating of clothing, or clothing as art, really differ from painting?
With clothing you have to thinking about where it's going to end up, and who it will end up on...where the market is going and what is in season. It's the balance of art and commerce.
Have there been any challenges to getting your label off the ground?
It's been challenging. I feel like it was silly to decide "I'm going to have a clothing company" while not knowing anything about the industry or how production or manufacturing worked. I've had to learn it all along the way.
Were there any people you found particularly inspirational or that mentored you through that process?
Marilyn Riseman was a great mentor for a few years. She's great to show samples to. She has such a keen eye and knows the market.
Who is the Selahdor woman?
I'm starting to realize that she's different every season. A little part of her changes.
What's the common thread?
There's a sleekness there. A formal element. But this time she's a little more casual.
Where do you find inspiration for your collection?
?Lately films. Spring's inspiration is The NeverEnding Story and the character "Atreyu"—for fall, we're doing "The Nothing" from the same movie. I remember watching it with a friend and thinking it would make great clothes, but I can't do it all in one collection. So we broke it down to three.
How has the influence of the movie transformed through each part of that series?
It's weird because you're looking at it almost analytically like you would in school. It's bizarre to break it apart in that way because it was always so light and funny.
Where do you see the label in five years?
?I'm hoping this will be one of two that I have. The other one being David Chum, a higher end line. And I'd like menswear to be involved. I'm very structure and known for my jackets and coats, and the more I do those, the more I think I can tackle menswear. There's a need for it.
Do you have any hopes or predictions for Boston fashion?
I hope for it to be taken more seriously. I don't know what it's going to take to do that. We need someone to break out and really make a mark.
What has been preventing that?
I think the scene is it's biggest enemy. It's so self-contained and almost OK with it. It needs to acknowledge everyone else in the world. Then we can move on and move up.
What did you take away from your Project Runway experience?
I was grateful that I didn't actually make it on. It was a wakeup call that it is reality TV, not a fast track to fame. I went to their anniversary party and met a bunch of past designers, and they all felt that the industry can't see past the character TV made out of them. I'm glad I don't run into that. It's nice though how the cast is a community. It's like a club.
Is there a signature Selahdor detail?
Seaming. It's a different way to break up shapes and make interesting lines. For a long time I went for a nipped waist and full skirt.
Tell us about your print this season.
This is the first time we've featured print. We made the original digital print. I've always wanted to do one, but didn't have the facilities. We hooked up with a place in India and went for it. They were inspired by tree bark, water, and stones. Now I think there will always been at least one print in each collection.