This is a new project in which we ask fashion designers from around Asia about their journey in the Asian fashion industry and how they view the current Asian fashion scene. In this two-part interview, we welcome Karchun Leung, former editor of MODERN WEEKLY and NUMÉRO CHINA, and his unique experiences in both fashion journalism and merchandising.
Nana : It’s interesting to hear about problems young designers in China face since I expected them to have a variety of platforms to sell their work.
Karchun : There are a lot of platforms to sell products but at the end of the day, I think the important thing for Chinese designers right now is to build a brand. The crazy thing right now is that if you have a celebrity to wear your clothes, it sells and a customer buys your clothing because of the celebrity. So, either you rely on the celebrity to keep wearing your clothes or you make a brand that can stand on its own. But it would be risky to rely on something you can’t control. So a brand has to build its own language and the product has to be good, having a specialty in the way the brand delivers itself in all ways including the texture, design, product, show, merchandising. Brands have to be particular and focus on what separates the brand from others. It would never be easy and the industry is so competitive. Because this is fashion, exactly why you wouldn’t want to wear the same thing all the time and why you wouldn’t want to wear something your mom is wearing. You would only wear something your mom is wearing because there is a story behind it. When you’re a teenager you don’t want to go shopping with your parents. Why? Because they’re shopping for the things they want. They want something special to them and we all want something more representative of ourselves. It’s kind of cliche to say that we use fashion to represent ourselves but that is true. You can only pay attention to the things you pay attention to and not somebody else’s. Even if people say that what you’re wearing is ridiculous if you like it, you feel good and that’s what makes fashion so fun and that’s what I like about it. Let me give an example, take Kawakubo for COMMe des GARÇONS, she’s always challenging our perceptions of beauty and creation but what she creates is always new. You might not actually wear it, but it’s such a passionate experience and that’s what I like about fashion. The other thing is that fashion is related to time. We always try to find something modern or new and now we talk a lot about sustainability. Which I think we talk too much about. Talking about sustainability and having all these conferences within fashion is not working. What is important for brands to do is to pursue the best way to produce fashion and pay more attention to how to produce. Because now sustainability is becoming the start of a brand and you cannot be not sustainable at all. When we talk about fashion it’s so much bigger than what it used to be. Almost everybody pays attention to fashion. So, you can like sportswear, I can like streetwear or really really high fashion, feel free. They will all connect somewhere and you can always find people to talk about fashion. So all genres of fashion can merge. I just want to tell people that fashion is exciting and not just a product. No, no, no. It’s just a language and also a memory. We always remember when people talk about what you wear and the green dress or pair of pants you wore. That story is included in the fashion category because that is a story you will always remember and those are the reasons why I like fashion. And I think that was more exciting for me than keeping on talking about the business side of it. If you tell me something’s a bestseller I would be interested in that somehow but we wouldn’t really need to communicate about it. We want people and the options. Why do we want to talk to designers? It’s because we want to know why they were creating this design and not about how successful the business is. What’s more important is that you like a piece Ian’s wanting to know about how it got created and those things last. I think most of the things related to fashion are the fact that you want to own a piece of fashion, and the piece of story and memory.
Nana : Can you also tell us about some of the most challenging experiences you have had as an editor for Numero China and for your other works as a writer in the Chinese fashion industry?
Karchun : Well, when I moved to Shanghai in 2007 or even before when I am in Hong Kong, to be honest, the fashion industry was still not that open to China. So we had to try very hard knocking the door of all the fashion houses, independent designer brands, and agencies. We have to show them who we are and what we can do until we finally become part of the industry. This depends on our hard work, and the whole economic situation, but we cannot do this without luck. But that’s the thing, we have to try everything we think may work, and work it out. The most important thing in this industry is to show them your understanding of fashion and let them recognize how creative we can be.
Nana : As someone in the fashion industry of Asia, do you notice a difference in the current Asian fashion scene from before and after the pandemic occurred?
Karchun : This is huge. Because of the lockdown, Chinese designers are now focused more on what Chinese customers need and one of the luckiest things is, Chinese customers are the most fast-growing customers base in the market right now. So it helps Chinese designers to become more focused on their local customers. And this is the same for Asia, as Asia designers are now focusing more on the Asia market, they would put more attention to their local culture and background, so it might help all of us to create a possible new Asia style, like wearing socks with outdoor sandals…….. I think this is a very Asian thing, and I think this trend was starting from Japan.
Nana : Do you have any advice for our listener who is seeking to find a way to pursue a career in fashion journalism like you? Become a successful fashion designer like you?
Karchun: Not sure I can give the right advice to the young generation, as fashion changes all the time. To be honest, if you like fashion, actually you can just enjoy fashion by buying fashion and wearing fashion……….. because working in the fashion industry is very tiring……… it is basically non-stop. As I always said, if you don’t love fashion, don’t get into the fashion industry. Your career wouldn’t last if you don’t have a passion for it. But if you really love fashion, then you can try different things, journalist, stylist, makeup artist, models, photographer, set designer, buyer…………. There are so many roles created in fashion, not just fashion designers, so I mean you have to find out what you like, and what you are good at, that’s how you can create your career.
As I always say, if you don’t love fashion, don’t get into the fashion industry.Karchun Leung
Nana: Everyone needs to type that down!
Text: Yuka Yoshimura