In part, that DIY prowess was instilled by her dad who is that handy he once turned cardboard boxes into a Christmas tree. “I couldn’t fathom how anyone would think this was normal… it was just such a random and funny thing to do,” Chu says. She credits him but also her native Hong Kong where knick-knack shops are plentiful, as the inspiration behind her work.
Chu has always had a thing for all the pleasant-to-look-at objects that make up daily life and, even if she didn’t know it when she first started studying Womenswear at London College of Fashion, it became obvious to her that these would be the central focus of her work. Rather than drawing influence from favourite designers like most of her classmates did, Chu explored staples of contemporary design such as the S-shaped, brightly coloured Panton Chair from the 1960s. This brought her to realise that she would take a slightly different path than what she initially planned. “Whilst doing a design assignment I would actually put more thought into the things that would surround an outfit; the accessories,” she points out.
“Whilst doing a design assignment I would actually put more thought into the things that would surround an outfit; the accessories.” – Clara Chu
Acknowledging this perhaps brought about the tipping point in Chu’s fixation with the common yet visually appealing things that surround us. She’d go on to enroll in an MA in Fashion Accessories at the Royal College of Art and do a thesis fully dedicated to Tupperware containers. There, at RCA, she spent countless hours in the workshop, doing 3D scans with the haptic arm of these familiar containers that make up most scholars and workers’ lunch boxes. “At first I thought I’d distort Tupperware into something more sciency, but after much experimentation, I worked with them as they were,” she says. “They are already iconic in their own way, and I thought it would be more spontaneous and fun to make designs that nod to the everyday objects that one accumulates instead.”
Since that realisation there’s been no turning back for Chu, as she’s been stacking boxes of colourful plastic kitchenware in her studio; found items coming from Hong Kong, the UK, the streets, car boot sales, etc. “When I go through all the things I’ve sourced, I go about sorting them by colours,” she explains.