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Sitara | कला (KALA): An Inclusive Celebration of Asian Culture

Updated: Mar 1

Ilaria Freccia reviews the fashion collective's triumphant annual fashion show.

On the night of Thursday, 23 February, I forewent Haus' arrest and jazz night, instead boarding a bus to make the now familiar trek to Falside Mill for Sitara | कला (KALA).

A sanskrit term meaning “time, fate, destiny and death”, the Sitara committee told The Saint that the vision for this year’s show was to explore the word “kala” linguistically, through fashion, painting, dance, performance, and music.

Upon arrival, we were escorted to a roped-off section to the side, where bottomless champagne flowed from the VIP bar. One distinctive feature immediately evident to me was a livestream filmed at the back of the area. Hosted by St Andrews’ own Ramsay Bader, Olivia Groom, and Sofia Sanz-Kimura (and sponsored by Viou) there were interviews with various attendees and committee members before the show kicked off. An innovative, progressive, and inclusive move, this gave those who were not able to make the show an opportunity to tune in. Furthermore, Viou offered viewers the ability to shop the pieces and donate during and after the show, expanding Sitara’s reach and fundraising possibilities.

A huge part of Sitara’s brand is inclusivity. Indeed, the collective was founded with the intention of “allowing the expression of all cultures in the small bubble of St Andrews where conventions are challenged on our runway”, they told The Saint.

“Fashion shows in St Andrews penetrate every aspect of student life, and although the university is an international institution, it is not easy for students to fit in due to the image of exclusivity portrayed when it comes to our little sea-side town. Therefore Sitara challenges stereotypes and celebrates Asian lifestyle and culture, something that has always been underrepresented in St Andrews”.

This ethos was clear at the show, and not just with respect to the celebration of cultural diversity. To start, their price tag was a reasonable £55 for standard tickets and £75 for VIP tickets. The VIP gift bag included a custom Sitara tote bag, two bags of sweet and salty popcorn, a raw coupon card, and a non-alcoholic Amalfi spritz and American malt whiskey from the brand Lyre’s.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of Sitara was the date. Situated a week after three nearly consecutive fashion shows and two days before the start of the break, I found it a challenge to find anyone to go to the show with me who wasn’t trying to submit a deadline or save a few pounds.

Despite this, the turnout was still robust and everyone present was in a celebratory mood. As the only fashion collective not to have thrown their show in 2020, Sitara has faced a bit of a climb back to where they once were. Whilst they might not have matched their previous numbers of attendees, they certainly met the mark when it came to the quality of the show.

The show opened with a dance performance that, as a dancer of 16 years, I was honestly blown away by. The technique and the synchronisation were unbelievable and it certainly started the show on a high note. Indeed, Sitara was the first long-standing fashion show to have introduced the act of dance to their shows as a way of furthering their exploration of fashion and culture, and their expertise in the field was self-evident.

Moreover, the soundtrack provided by AKA Prince was right on the money, creating a celebratory atmosphere felt by models and attendees alike.

From there, it just got better. I thought that all of the models had a great walk, the choreography of the show was constantly changing, keeping it exciting, and there was a huge amount of diversity which was reflected in the people in the audience and their energy. The clothes were unique and didn’t repeat and the accessorising and makeup were tasteful. The audience was dynamic and responsive, and the staging was such that everyone had a great view of the models and their outfits from nearly everywhere in the room. The first half ended with an ethereal live performance of Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Ray as models paraded past in evening wear, commanding a moment of silence and awe from the audience.

After a short break, Sitara’s models returned to the stage in lingerie for a seductive dance around a chair. Although some pieces were more revealing than I’ve seen in previous shows, it was tastefully done and balanced out with a long skirt or slacks. This allowed the piece to elicit the audience's attention. I also enjoyed the freedom and joy that was expressed during this section. Models were dancing, interacting with the audience and very clearly feeling very confident about themselves. This rubbed off on the audience whose cheers increased in both volume and intensity as they danced along to the music which included Cindi Lauper’s classic Girls Just Wanna Have Fun and Sam Smith’s Unholy.

The show was first and foremost a charity event, with Sitara raising money this year for UNICEF and SEEAC: two causes which perfectly suit the collective’s ethos. UNICEF is an international charity working in over 190 countries to save children’s lives and defend their rights. SEEAC is a small grassroots organisation working to provide homes and security for migrants, refugees, and anyone of Southeast and East Asian heritage in the UK.

After the show ended, guests were sent out to Falside’s entryway to start the afterparty while the stage was broken down. Logistically, this presented something of a challenge as the time the stage took to break down was frustratingly slow; however, it also provided a chance to grab a bite from their two food vendors. Moreover, during this period music was provided by student band Vertabim, ensuring that guests were kept in a festive mood.

After a wait, we were brought back in to finish off the night with an afterparty soundtracked by performances from Tim Berger, and Rory Maclean.

All in all, Sitara 2023 was a triumph: a night well-spent with good people at a great show.

Photos: Maggie Zhu

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