SGFW Special: Interview with Han Chong of Self-Portrait
For the uninitiated, the beautifully crafted dresses from Self-Portrait appear to be unattainable at first glance — surely something with such a flattering cut and intricate detailing must be prohibitively expensive? However, you'll be pleased to know, they are not.
Helmed by the Malaysian-born (but London-based) designer, Han Chong, Self-Portrait is renowned for its luxuriously crafted yet surprisingly affordable frocks. With prices ranging between £150 to £320, the label was born to bridge the gap between high-fashion and high-street without sacrificing on quality. And, with the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Kendall Jenner and Kristen Stewart all having worn his pieces, the former creative director of contemporary brand Three Floor has enjoyed tremendous success since his solo debut in Fall 2013.
Here, in a Buro exclusive, we speak to the designer about his label, design inspirations, and the current pace of fashion.
Why the name Self-Portrait? Has this got anything to do with the selfie-era we are living in now?
I can't deny the obsession with taking selfies and the impact it has had on social media, but the name plays with the idea of creating a personal identity with the clothes we wear. When I design the collections, I build upon self-image. I want women to feel good in our clothes.
Where were you working before Three Floor and Self-Portrait? Have those experiences helped you with your label now?
Before Three Floor and Self-Portrait, I lived in Kuala Lumpur and worked for Syeba Yip Atelier. All my experiences within various key fashion houses and retailers have helped me garner important skills and knowledge needed to launch my own brand. Learning from past experiences allowed me to understand exactly what kind of company I wanted to create. At Three Floor, I had three other partners, which naturally meant that I had to often negotiate and compromise on ideas. I wanted a company where I didn't have to do that and I could design exactly on my own terms. I have to admit I'm a bit of a control freak [laughs].
Describe the label's aesthetics.
Feminine, detailed and contemporary romanticism.
What inspires your designs?
When I design any collection, I always think about what a woman wants to see in her wardrobe and how she wants to feel in her clothes. I go to a lot of galleries and exhibitions and absorb everything around me. In the pre-fall 2015 collection, I went for a much lighter feel with more movement in some of the pieces. I wanted to create a collection that was easy and effortless. The fabric always comes first and then I think about the most suitable silhouette. I also look back at my previous collections — I like to see my designs evolve from season to season.
You've been described as the "red carpet label normal people can afford". How do you achieve this?
One of the most important things when launching Self-Portrait was to offer an attainable and affordable range of clothes without compromising on quality. It's important to keep the authentic creativeness but they have to be wearable at the end of the day. I've done a lot of research and made trips around the world to find the right materials to achieve the right prices. It's possible to keep things affordable just as long as you don't turn greedy and keep your profit margins realistic. It's really important for me to create something that makes women feel extraordinary without breaking the bank.
Your following has continued to grow since your first collection in fall 2013. What do you think made people sit up and take notice?
I think women took notice of the brand because each piece caters to each woman's individual style at a reasonable price point. Beauty shouldn't only be attainable for the privileged few.
Who is the Self-Portrait woman?
A modern girl who dares to stand out and not blend in. She is proud to be a woman yet not afraid to embrace her androgynous side.
What message have you always hoped to send out to women with your clothes?
I hope it sends out the message of confidence and power. I believe the right clothes evoke positive emotions and thoughts.
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion has a huge potential to be used as a tool for self-expression by means of visual statements. We communicate through our clothes. We create dialogue without having to speak, simply by the clothes we wear.
If you could change one thing about fashion, what would it be?
I could do without the rapid changes in the fashion industry. I sometimes wish the pace was slower, allowing for more time to reflect. This time can be used to build a stronger vision and consider sustainable quality. Designs based on trends really don't interest me.
What can we look forward to at Self-Portrait?
The team and I are constantly working very hard to form the base of the brand. We want to perfect and solidify the brand before expanding. If there is really something to look forward to, it's the introduction of separates, knitwear and outerwear into the collections.
If you could take a we-fie with anyone, who would it be?
I'd much rather take a selfie or get a self-portrait done [laughs].
Self-Portrait will be showing its spring/summer 2017 collection at Singapore Fashion Week on 30 October at 7.30pm.