a list of accomplishments that includes her very own clothing line and
participation in multiple fashion shows and events nationwide, fashion
designer Julia Chew’s career is nothing short of impressive. And
what’s even more remarkable? Chew is just 19 years old.
Born in China
and raised in Tampa, Fla., Chew has ties to Milwaukee, too. Her
paternal grandparents live in Oconomowoc, and she credits her
grandmother, who gifted Chew her first sewing machine, with
jump-starting her interest in fashion design. Chew wasted little time
turning her passion into a profession, teaching herself how to sew via
online courses and eventually creating an entire clothing line and a
A combination of
couture-worthy gowns and cocktail dresses, her line, Xiaolin, is sold
online and in-store at four boutiques throughout the country. One is
Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio in Oconomowoc, a business relationship
formed through her grandparents’ local connections and Chew’s
frequent visits to Lake Country. Chew was introduced to the store’s
owner, Bethany Frost-Peters, through her grandfather.
business-minded entrepreneur, Chew analyzed her prospective buyer and
market before choosing which garments to feature in Frost-Peters’
store. "I asked myself, ‘What can I bring to Milwaukee?’"
she says. "Something a little different — flair, edge, high
fashion." And thus a partnership with Merle Norman was born.
Here, Chew takes
us through the the creation of her Raven Queen Dress, a process that
took two and a half months.
inspiration from nature, art and music, Chew approaches each new piece
as if she’s "writing a novel for a character." Chew
collaborated with one of her favorite fashion photographers, Zhang
Jingna (whose work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar and Elle), when
brainstorming ideas for the Raven Queen Dress. Like Chew, Jingna is of
Asian descent, and both women regularly identify with their heritage
in their creative work. The dress’ shape was inspired by the
Mandarin collars and elegant silhouettes often found in Chinese dress
textiles, Chew gravitates toward darker colors and natural materials
like feathers and silk. Much of the selection process, she says, is
experimental. "I always consider what type of fabric best brings
out the character of the dress," explains Chew. For the Raven
Queen Dress, Chew wanted to evoke the feeling of a "gothic
romantic fairy tale," so her textile selections included black
silk fabric and black feathers to reflect her vision.
to work with the actual dress fabric, Chew creates a preliminary
mock-up of each dress using muslin fabric and her initial pattern.
"I then drape the mock-up over a dress form," she says.
"Seeing the template on a dress form allows me to see its design
flaws, its length and how it will lay on a person. I make adjustments
hand sews on feathers at the second fitting.
Photo: MP Studios,
As with all of
her pieces, Chew sewed the dress’ base with a sewing machine and
then sewed on its finer details (i.e., the black feathers) by hand.
The sewing process required not one, but two, model fittings. The
initial fitting, where the model wore only the black silk base,
ensured that she could properly walk, sit and stand in the dress, and
the second and final fitting, which occurred after Chew had sewn on
the feathers and other details, prompted only minor alterations.
On the Runway
Raven Queen serves as Chew’s finale dress when exhibiting her line
at major runway shows. The dress has closed her collection at both
Park Avenue Fashion Week and Christian Fashion Week and was presented
at several smaller shows and events, too. Chew says her ultimate dream
is to show at Paris Fashion Week, and her short-term goals include
continuing to build her name as a designer and selling her line in
more retail boutiques, further expanding its presence.
To see more of
Chew’s designs or to contact her directly, visit