Nana: Fashion has infinite possibilities, and new power is born from it. As a carrier of culture and times, fashion encompasses everything. From trendy to traditional culture, from celebrities, idols to everyone’s daily life, and from West to East, it is our discourse, our power, our time. Through Asian Voice, we hope to spread the local Asian fashion culture to the world by moving cross languages and borders.
In this issue of ASIAN VOICE, we introduce Louis Shengtao Chen, an innovative women’s fashion brand hailing from China, founded in 2021. Within a short span of two years, this brand has garnered significant acclaim for its refreshing and pioneering approach. Louis Shengtao Chen excels in utilizing vibrant colors and materials to empower women, encouraging them to discover their true selves in their everyday lives. Looking back to the themes explored in previous seasons, such as the high school balls and diverse interpretations of romance, it becomes evident that this brand draws inspiration from various aspects of life and captivates audiences through its unique modes of expression.
Nana: Can you please introduce yourself briefly and tell us about what inspired you to start your brand initially?
Louis: I’m Louis, the founder of Louis Shengtao Chen, my own brand established in 2021. When I started, I focused on creating a women’s work collection, recognizing the importance of women’s fashion. In today’s culture, gender fluidity and diverse expressions of identity are prominent. However, my passion lies in designing sophisticated women’s wear, which has been my ongoing motivation. Over the past two years, we have successfully launched five collections, including three Autumn Winter and two Spring Summer collections. Our upcoming collection will be the Spring Summer 20 for the next season, scheduled to be released in September, just a few months from now.
Nana: What do you imagine a woman wearing Louis Shengtao Chen to be like in your mind?
Louis: Women don’t have to be limited to just black or white. They embody multifaceted personalities and express themselves in vibrant and fashionable pieces when they go to work or attend their activities. However, there are also women who prefer to wear more structured neutral suits or opt for black and white, creating an unparalleled sense of style in their lives or work. Our aim is not to please any specific group or alter their aesthetics. It’s a highly versatile design approach.
The way we conceptualize our clothing involves a rich array of colors and meticulous details on our coats. While we may not be able to please everyone, we aspire to be a brand that holds value in women’s collections. When you open your wardrobe and see Louis Shengtao Chen, you instantly recognize who you are. It becomes your personal accent, a tool for expressing your state of being.
We never intend to modify a woman, but instead, our goal is to create a representation of women that is both mature and filled with joy.
Nana: How do you come up and decide on the themes for your collections, and where do you find the inspirations behind?
Louis: It’s quite random, if I may say so. For example, our first collection, inspired by high school balls. These events mark a significant milestone in the lives of young boys and girls who, after finishing high school, dress up formally and attend a grand dance. I find it is enchanting to capture the essence of preparing for such a momentous occasion. Picture a room full of girls in the dressing room, helping each other with makeup and outfits, looking at themselves in the mirror with a new sense of identity. There’s a certain charm in that. When I began designing the first collection, my aim was to recreate the joy and elegance of a ball on the runway. The color palettes drew inspiration from the vibrant atmosphere of a dance, using experimental materials like sequins paired with silicone, or lace with hints of red blush, lavender, ginger yellow—bright and joyful colors. These elements were combined in patchwork and lace designs, creating a narrative and a sense of wonder. It truly embraced the spirit of a debutante ball.
Moving on to our second collection, titled “Romance Anónimo”, we delved deeper into the realms of introspection and personal journeys. It explores the concept of romance from various perspectives, acknowledging that different individuals have their own unique interpretations of love. Romance, for me, extends beyond conventional notions and can take multiple forms. This spring-summer collection reflects the diverse meanings of romance in different lives and for different people.
Nana: It is a captivating storyteller, drawing inspiration from the myriad experiences that shape every individual’s life, and translating them into every season’s collection.
Louis: As a designer, I believe that inspiration can come from various sources. It’s my role to discern and select specific elements from my observations or experiences that will form the foundation of a design approach for each collection. This approach is something I learned during my time at Central Saint Martins, where we were encouraged to explore diverse inspirations for our projects. It’s not about the source of inspiration itself, but rather the way in which we process and translate our thoughts and ideas into tangible designs.
Nana: Is it possible for letting us know a little bit about your next collection?
Louis: I cannot disclose the specific details of our upcoming collection, but I can share that it will be a highly vibrant and richly colored collection. Building upon the success of our previous spring-summer collections, we are aiming to further incorporate elements of couture in the upcoming line. Additionally, there will be a subtle connection to the previous autumn-winter collection as we continue to evolve and expand upon the themes introduced in that collection.
Nana: As a young Chinese designer, how do you see the development of fashion and design in China at this stage and where it is going in the future?
Louis: I believe there is a sense of hope and optimism in the current positioning of fashion. It has evolved significantly compared to five or ten years ago, primarily due to the generational shift following the pandemic. Nowadays, there is greater cultural tolerance and accessibility to design, thanks to platforms like Instagram, targeted advertisements, and software that enable people from different regions to engage with creative works, understand brands, and access interviews. This convenience far exceeds what was available in the past decade.
However, the increasing diversity in design approaches presents a challenge. Various innovative techniques and formats, such as knife pleating or experimental use of different mediums, have emerged. Therefore, it becomes crucial to maintain focus on a chosen direction. Personally, I consider myself an original thinker, approaching design in a traditional manner. I enjoy sketching, creating prototypes, and working with fabrics by hand, reminiscent of my time as a student when collages and fabric patchwork were common practices. I value the essence of craftsmanship and originality, embracing an old-fashioned yet timeless approach. I don’t believe it is necessary to constantly explore different avenues. While there are talented designers who excel in virtual experimentation, utilizing 3D mocap or FT technology, I believe every format should be encouraged.
Nonetheless, the challenge for young talents today is to invest time in discovering their own unique path and committing to it. It is crucial to find one’s own voice and persevere in that direction. This dedication is essential in the current fashion landscape.
Nana: It’s hard to balance the trend, technology and old-fashioned ways of designs. Is it possible for letting us know some challenges that you faced during building the brand?
Louis: For example, building relationships and trust with people is not an easy task, especially in the beginning. We all come from different backgrounds, and whether we enter the industry directly or through education, the approach to designing can vary significantly. This presents the first challenge.
The second challenge is financial. It is a hurdle faced by everyone who wishes to establish their own brand. Sustainability is crucial, and creating a budget plan becomes essential when preparing for the next season. Business strategy plays a significant role in managing expenses. To put it simply, when earning less, one must spend less and find smarter ways to utilize resources. Conversely, when making more profits, it’s important to update teams, techniques, and fabric sourcing. Financial success requires a well-structured and healthy company.
Another challenge is the distance, which has been particularly difficult during the past three years due to the pandemic. Contact with external parties has been limited, and establishing connections has become more challenging. However, in order to succeed, brands and designers in China, like us, have been working hard on press and social media to maintain visibility and not let our efforts go unnoticed.
Despite these challenges, I believe they encourage brands to be more courageous and independent. By facing these obstacles head-on, the brand can grow and establish itself as a confident and independent designer brand.
Nana: What advice would you give to aspiring young fashion designer about how they can differentiate themselves in the competitive industry?
Louis: I believe that when you have the opportunity to learn new techniques, you should seize it. Personally, I am still learning from various individuals, including more experienced people and my peers. I maintain an open-hearted approach to learning from them, treating society as a school of its own. It’s important to have a mindset that eagerly absorbs knowledge and seeks to learn everything possible. This attitude is necessary for young designers.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to quickly learn how to work effectively with your team. Teamwork is what shapes and defines a brand. While individual talent is essential, a brand requires a well-structured framework that involves people. You are not alone; you work alongside a team that needs to be cared for and organized efficiently. Each team member should have clear roles and responsibilities, leveraging their strengths. Additionally, providing encouragement, motivation, and hope to everyone involved fosters a collaborative and creative environment. Together, this enables the creation of something remarkable.
It’s my role to discern and select specific elements from my observations or experiences as a designer.