What life can look like 3 seasons after graduating from Central Saint Martins
We first got to know Wan Hung Cheung when he was still a second year Fashion Print student at Central Saint Martins. He went by the nickname of Ping-Ping and got one of his garments bought by Grayson Perry. While Tom Ford was the reason that he applied to CSM — “he showed me how beautiful a woman could be in his dresses” — he ended up interning there, and decided to start his own menswear brand after graduation instead. Fast forward a few seasons (three, to be precise) and the designer hailing from the Hainan Island in China, is preparing to board the Eurostar to Paris and present his AW16 collection in the showrooms, after having first shown the work to press and buyers during LC:M. Wan was working on the line-sheets when we gave him a call, but put down his pen and paper to tell us about the process of starting up his label after he graduated in 2014. Wan will head to France on the 21st of January and return on the 28th. “I’m very much looking forward to it,” he says excitedly and shares that he’s got quite a few appointments, with Harvey Nichols (Dubai), Joyce (Hong Kong), Lance Crawford (Hong Kong) among others.
“I LOVE OBSERVING PEOPLE ON THE STREET. IT IS A REALLY EXCITING WAY TO DISCOVER WHAT PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY WEARING, AND HOW THEY MOVE. IT GIVES ME A CLEAR IDEA ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE REAL WORLD, INSTEAD OF BEING STUCK IN MY ‘DESIGN ZONE’.”
What are you doing to prepare for the Paris showroom?
I need to prepare a formal line sheet with facts and figures for the collection. The price we’ve set up is quite competitive to other big brands as well as new designers. The market I’m aiming for is high-end luxury. I aim to get my clothes to the level of Thom Browne and Haider Ackermann. That’s my final goal, but right now I need to set up a really charming price, to get there slowly but steadily.
I guess it’s rather difficult to calculate the appropriate price, especially when you’re a young designer — having skyrocketing prices will probably not gain you loads of customers in the beginning.
Yes, that’s quite a fun challenge actually.
When you were studying at CSM, did you have all of these things already in mind? Did you do something crazy or wearable?
I was following the particular ‘Central Saint Martins direction’ a lot, which is all about the creativity. I didn’t really think about selling; I didn’t learn that much from CSM. After graduation, I launched my own label, and everything is all very new to me.
How do you remember your time at CSM?
Very intense and challenging, but I really enjoyed it. It was quite a cheerful time. I did the Grayson Perry project, and luckily he bought my garment, and I also won the Liberty Print Prize. It’s full of surprises in CSM.
Wan Hung Cheung AW16 by Kirill Kuletski
“‘CONTEMPORARY MENSWEAR’ TO ME CONSISTS OF WELL-MADE GARMENTS WITH REFINED DETAILS. TO ME, IT SHOULD BE SIMPLE WITH SOMETHING EXCITING GOING ON IN THE GARMENT, BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE ‘OVER THE TOP’.”
Do you ever want to go back to school or are you happy where you are?
I’m really satisfied with where I am right now [laughs]. Being in school is great and it made me who I am today, but overall we need to really separate from school to get into real society and face different challenges. In school you’re still a bit naive (like a student), which is good and original, but when you’re up to starting your own label, you face so many problems like meeting buyers, how to deal with press, how to manage the studio. Human management is quite a tough thing! Launching my own label was a very good idea. I learnt so much, even after three seasons, way more than in school.
Do you think you would have benefited from an MA? Did you ever consider doing one?
Yes, I was thinking of going to MA, but sadly Louise Wilson passed away. The main idea for me to go to the MA was that I really wanted Louise to make my life more difficult, so that I could learn the best from her. MA right now is facing a new direction. To me, was not that stable yet, so I decided to launch my own label.
Would you think of branching out more to China, as it’s got a fresh startup scene with emerging fashion designers?
Overall, I am a Chinese boy, and I would love to do business there one day, as I’ve ‘got to stick to the roots’, if you know what I mean. However, I am very happy to have launched my label here. I think it is one of the smartest decisions I have made in my life, just like when I chose to come here to study at CSM. Firstly, the British Fashion Council is one of the best platforms that supports new talent unconditionally, and I believe this could be of great help to my label. On the other hand, London has so many mixed cultures. There’s always something exciting going on, like new exhibitions or new shows in theatres. I have a particular habit, which is to go to a cafe and read a book. When I put the book down, I love observing people on the street. It is a really exciting way to discover what people are actually wearing, and how they move. It gives me a clear idea about what is going on in the real world, instead of being stuck in my ‘design zone’.
In what ways has this influenced your new collection?
For AW16 or SS17?
Oh, you’ve already got a solid concept for next season? Then we can discuss both!
The AW16 collection is based on the bad economic situation we have right now. People are all after money, which I am as well, but I don’t want the economic side to limit ourselves. It’s also inspired by a show I saw a few years ago at Sadler’s Wells: Sutra. It’s about 19 Buddhist monks from China, who did a performance with Antony Gormley. They were performing with a lot of boxes, and what I’ve learnt from that show, is that right now we are living in a big box: we’ve got limitations and so many rules. We’ve sort of lost the ‘control’ over ourselves, so with the collection, I want people to realise how free we can actually be.
For SS17 I have a set of rough ideas. I want to continue on the topic of searching for freedom and exploring the ‘truth to self’.
Do you take any literature as a reference for that?
Normally I get inspiration from life in general: what I’ve seen, news or music I’ve heard. It gives me ideas about what I want to express through the new collection. Later on, I go to the library to do research about that idea in my head. This has become the way I design collections ever since I was a student.
Wan Hung Cheung AW16 by Kirill Kuletski
“WHY SHALL WE KEEP SEARCHING FOR PERFECT? NOTHING CAN BE PERFECT FOREVER.”
You describe your brand as ‘contemporary menswear’, but looking at what has been shown at LC:M in the past week, one realises that it’s got a lot of different meanings. How would you describe the term?
‘Contemporary menswear’ to me consists of well-made garments with refined details. To me, it should be simple with something exciting going on in the garment, but it doesn’t have to be ‘over the top’; just a tiny bit of detail could light up the whole garment. And, importantly, it should be a piece that people can wear every day — not just a garment that stays in the closet or is only worn during special events. It is a product and it should be worn by people.
Your brand identity also ‘challenges conventions in menswear’ — how do you pinpoint these conventions and why do they need to be challenged? Do you see fashion in a very binary (men/women separated) manner?
Personally, I would love to wear a decent well-made suit everyday. But I could never find any suits that I felt comfortable in or confident to wear with my baby face. When I put them on, they just looked wrong! So I came up with the idea to make a tailored suit that could fit people who have a baby face, or a young soul within a manly body. So I challenge the traditionally-cut tailored suit. You can find many men in tailored suits on the street, but I have discovered some women who totally nailed wearing them too. I would say that menswear and womenswear nowadays have no big difference. If your soul fits the garment, then I would say: go for it!
With regards to innovation and traditional artisanal craft, what do you like about both, and what techniques are you excited to explore?
I enjoy exploring new techniques based on traditional materials. I like to play around with the material until it comes out in a surprising way. For example, I have made 3D cube embroidery with Swarovski crystals, which was inspired by movies like Transformers and Interstellar. It turned out looking like lego, or a ‘map view’ of New York City. Now, I have transferred this 3D language from embroidery to the cutting in my collection. Most pieces in the collection have this 3D/boxy details on the lapel, collar, cuff or pockets.
What kind of future technologies would you be interested in using?
I would still love to stick with handwork, and imperfection makes the piece so original that it’s almost ‘perfect’. I actually don’t think that ‘perfect’ exist. Why shall we keep searching for perfect? Nothing can be perfect forever. It’s about trying your best to do things well, that’s already a very perfect example.