The mercurial Isabelle Wen (溫慶珠) decided against a runway show this year and instead transformed her Taipei atelier into an art space to introduce her Spring/Summer collection, a futuristic slant on what-to-wear.
There were models running around, of course, but clothes were the principal focus and they hung from the ceiling in the central exhibition area, suspended in space, slowly rotating like three-dimensional works of art.
They were framed by a multi-media exhibition held over two nights. A digital art projection by Lee Ji-hong (李基宏) splashed light around the entrance of Wen's studio, while a nearby installation piece fashioned from cotton represented dreams and clouds.
In a small gallery leading to the main room there were manipulated photographic images of Wen by art coordinator Nicolas Chu (周隸). In the "floating room" there was a bed with a spectacular comforter made from orange ping-pong balls, by Chen Hui-chiao (陳慧嶠).
Opposite the bed was a television beaming images from a Wen fashion shoot at the Museum of Tomorrow, on Civil Boulevard. Models with bobbed, neon blue hair wore brushed-silver midi coats, pop art mini dresses and golden Formula 1 driving shoes.
The overall impression was of neat, clean-cut designs with an emphasis on metallic colors. It was a more minimalist approach than in the past and the garments appeared to be easier to wear.
A transparent raincoat caught the eye, with its white belt buckle and a crystal-embossed angel design on the back. As did the mini-jacket with a silver snake pattern and matching bag. The concept appeared to be, "Barbarella hits the night market for her space outfit."
"I called the collection Mercury, after the planet and the [element]," Wen said at the opening last week. "Usually I am inspired by a dream or something to produce a collection, but this time the clothes came first and the name came after."
"I ordered the fabric and had all the ideas about 10 months ago, but then something horrible happened and I just wanted some light, something shiny in my life, so that was why I came up with the concept."
The "horrible" event Wen referred to was the crash of Idee department store four months ago, when Rebar Group Chairman Wang You-theng (王又曾) fled the country with other people's billions. Wen had four outlets in the store and said she lost NT$20 million.
"We have sued them already but we can't get our money back because it belongs to the bank. The company of Isabelle, the fashion brand, has almost gone back to the first year because of this.
"Wang You-tseng, I think he's horrible, he's destroyed Taiwan. Actually, I'm super good friends with his daughter [Idee chairwoman Wang Lin-mei (王令楣)] and a couple of weeks after it happened we had dinner together. You know, even after three hours, I couldn't say a thing. What could she do?
"I couldn't even pay the New Year bonus. I tell you it was so bad, so many small companies went down because of this. I cried for weeks."
At around the same time management at Taipei 101 decided she could not renew her store's contract. Wen was livid and trashed her store the night after it closed.
"This was their policy, they didn't want Taiwan brands on the second floor, they made it very clear. It almost made me want to give up Taiwan. I can't understand their thinking."
It was these "huge losses" that led to the decision not to hold a traditional fashion show and ultimately rethink her business.