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Robert Wun on The State of Style in Hong Kong

Robert Wun on The State of Style in Hong Kong

Hong Kong-born designer Robert Wun reflects on his triumph at haute couture week in Paris and offers advice to fashion’s next generation.

It’s been a grand year for Asian fashion designers. Dion Lee became the creative director of Helmut Lang, Jessica Jung and Dami Kwon staged We11done’s first show in Seoul in three years, and Hong Kong’s Robert Wun made his haute couture debut in Paris.

A year or so ago, we spoke to Wun about what it takes for an Asian fashion designer to conquer Paris. How blissfully unaware we were of the fact he’d been preparing for his debut at the haute couture week under the mentorship of Chanel president of fashion Bruno Pavlovsky (the duo has been working together since Wun won the prestigious ANDAM prize in 2022). And then in January, fashionados, fashionistas and fashion dilettantes were blown away when Wun closed the couture season to much jubilation and ecstasy. (In the fashion world, this was akin to Michelle Yeoh at long last bagging an Oscar.)

The Scorched Bride dress from Robert Wun’s spring/summer 2023 haute couture collection

The spectacle was unlike any other. Wun’s signature pleats, which, of course, reference birds (as he told us last time), appeared more restrained and controlled – in most cases, taking the form of elegant basques and collars. Fear was what guided the collection, we were told. And no, not because the designer was in a perpetual state of terror when building the collection under the sadistically tight timeline imposed by the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), but rather due to the universal nature of the emotion he chose as the subject of his study.

Robert Wun backstage

In the cornucopia of fashion artistry that was Robert Wun’s spring/summer 2023 couture collection, a few garments pulled at the heartstrings of the famous and fabulous. The Scorched Bride dress, for example, appeared on Somali model Rawdah Mohamed at Cannes and inspired musical artist Burna Boy to commission a custom outfit comprising metallic plissé pants with impossibly long and no less impossibly flared legs. Then there was The Rain Coat in silk jacquard and taffeta hand-beaded with more than 30,000 Swarovski crystals and reimagined upon Adele into a custom gown for a recent Las Vegas show. And who can forget the Bleeding Coat in white with red feathers, which was re-appropriated by Icelandic singer Björk for her Cornucopia Arena Tour?

“It was crazy,” Wun says when recalling the collection’s creation. “To give you an idea: I’ve always been doing things my way and on my terms. As for spring/summer 2023, not only was it the first time we had to stage a runway show, but we also had to operate on a tight timeline.”

Björk wearing Wun’s Bleeding Coat

The designer recounts how in Paris late last year, he met Pavlovsky and the director of FHCM’s emerging brands initiative, Serge Carreira, who suggested he do a show at the couture week. “FHCM opened applications to join the calendar mid-November and announced the results at the end of the month, with the show scheduled to happen in January,” he says, “which meant we had about a month to create an haute couture collection and stage a show. We’ve never done anything like this before, so we had to learn all the nuances extremely quickly.” Diamonds may be made under pressure, but we hope that creating his forthcoming haute couture collection (which we hear will embody the idea of passion) will impose less force on the designer and his team.

Adele wearing custom Robert Wun gown

After his Parisian triumph, Wun – now crowned the first Hong Kong designer on the FHCM couture week schedule – returns to this city for just two weeks to speak at the Fashion Challenges Forum. Organised by Fashion Asia, the conference gathers luminaries such as Guo Pei, We11done’s creative director Jessica Jung, Chen Peng and The Fabricant’s Kerry Murphy.

Custom Robert Wun piece for Burna Boy

Such an occasion inspires the couturier to reflect on the state of fashion here. Although always tender about the support he gets from Hong Kong and China, Wun remains unwaveringly frank when dispensing his opinions. He preludes his statement with, “I can’t say I’m familiar with fashion here, given I didn’t receive my degree in Hong Kong.” He then continues: “However, from what I’ve seen and heard, the institutions here seem more eager to train their students to work in manufacturing. I’m not saying that technical education isn’t important, but the city seems more invested in making sure these students get jobs and earn money rather than believing in creativity being a profit-generating industry. It’s not all line sheets and technical drawings.” Perhaps that could explain the dreary variation of parkas and cargo pants some of us are forced to enjoy at the Convention and Exhibition Centre every September.

Corseted dress from Robert Wun spring/summer 2023 haute couture collection

But what can aspiring fashion designers do to break the shackles of convention and achieve their dreams of dominating the world’s most coveted runways? To the likes of Rick Owens, it comes down to a simple, “You don’t have to go to parties and meet people, you just need to produce and produce until your vision comes through.” For his part, Wun advises looking beyond fashion history when foraging for inspiration. “You need to explore outside of the industry,” he says, believing that when designers surround themselves with references only based on clothes it can hinder their imagination. “I’m not saying they can’t be imaginative, but I feel like it’s interesting to have a breadth of multidisciplinary knowledge as a backbone for a collection,” he says, “There’s fine art, poetry, science, food – so many forms of passion and inspiration.”

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Details at Robert Wun spring/summer 2023 haute couture collection

Wun wouldn’t be so adamant if this tenet didn’t echo his experiences while studying at Central Saint Martins. “Maybe I’m naturally not a very good designer when it comes to referencing historical fashion,” he says, laughing. “In school, we were discouraged from referencing contemporary fashion. I remember how I once brought up a Raf Simons collection that had come out five years before, and ended up getting shouted at by my tutor. ‘No recent fucking collections!’ he said.”

Look from Robert Wun’s spring/summer 2023 haute cou- ture collection

“If you’re the best designer, then be the best designer and design like them,” he adds. “You need to talk about your reputation and how you’re seen on the global stage – that’s extremely important.” He then explains how designers need to move away from labels such as “the best Chinese designer”, “the best Japanese designer”, or “the best designer from the continent”.

In an industry as competitive and fast-moving as fashion, such pearls of wisdom from someone who’s attained his lofty pedestal through sheer talent, will and determination are simply invaluable. As with all knowledge, it’s meant to be applied relentlessly and shared passionately.

Source: Prestige Online

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