London-based menswear designer Kelvin Kwok tells us all about his passion. The 25-year-old currently works for fashion giant Alexander McQueen in hopes to enhance himself and learn from one of the best there is out there.
How did you start off with menswear?
I remember when I was 16 or 17, the age in which teenagers start to become more aware about their appearance, and when fashion trends and hair styles were influenced by music idols, celebrities and athletes. I had that influence as well, so I started reading fashion magazines and looked at some really cool clothes at shops.
Sometimes I would come up with a few ideas of what kind of clothes I’d like to wear and start re-creating the imagery from the designs I saw and liked. At that time I also read lots of stories about great designers. After a while, I decided London was the place that I wanted to be and Central Saint Martin’s College would probably be the best place to study more about fashion design and learn skills.
Which designers are your favourite and why?
There are few fashion designers that I admire. Big names such as Yohji Yamamoto and Dries van Noten. However, Alber Elbez and Lucas Ossendrijver from Lanvin are my particular favourite. I’ve always been fascinated by their work and the successful partnership between the duo. They always push for new proportions and silhouettes of menswear and add newness and sportiness into tailoring to create a strong modern menswear look.
They also manage to always keep it wearable, approachable and desirable. It’s never just something that only looks good on the catwalk. Elbez and Ossendrijver keep the Lanvin decadent elegance alive and manage to find the balance without being mediocre. A lot of pieces from the collections are something that I would totally love to wear everyday and I’d keep them for long time.
How do you define a good design?
I think fashion is so broad it’s very hard to define what a good design is and what’s not. In my opinion, it’s harder to make a judgment in fashion compared with other design fields. This is because there are so many fashion styles and can be extremely personal. It’s more about personal taste and feeling rather than its function. Unlike other designs, the product needs to perform. The outcome has to be functional or has to fulfill its purpose. A simple shirt could be a great design just because of the colour, fabric or how comfortable you feel when you wear it. The reason can be as simple as that.
What is the most important thing for designers?
The sense and ability of how to create a great story of what they want to present to the audience in the form of fashion/clothing.
As a designer, what is your biggest fear in the industry?
A great thing about the fashion industry is to see it changing all the time and how quick it changes. I think it would be a disaster or the biggest fear to designers if it stopped changing and people became very boring, wearing the same things all the time and no one was interested in wearing interesting clothes.
Where do you retrieve your inspiration?
My initial ideas for a collection usually come from documentaries, vintage items, movies, music, paintings, art pieces or even an observation from daily life. I’ve always tried to avoid beginning my research on fashion trends or looking at anything fashion related to find inspiration because I think that could easily lead my ideas to a very dull and boring end.
Are there any themes that you persist to have in your work?
When I’m designing I always try to keep my work wearable and have some sort of luxurious touch to it. I also have something special about the garments by working on the proportions, details, fabrication and the silhouette. As for colours, I believe in neutral colours and also love using earthy tones and natural colours.
From your perspective, is it difficult to convert something old to new?
Yes. In design development, designers always reference from old vintage garments. The reproductions can easily end up as a new garment but look old – unless that’s the result you were initially aiming for. So for me, the key is to carefully take parts, details, or finishings that I want to reference from and not over design it.
In your opinion, how much research is enough for a project?
Every time when I’m researching, I’m discovering new things and gaining new knowledge. Therefore it’s very hard for me to say how much research is enough. It’s immeasurable. However, I think a good amount of research should be able to support me though the design process and help me produce new ideas for the project.
What were your old projects about? Can you briefly tell us a little bit about them?
My last personal project was my graduate collection from last year and the starting point was simply from a used coffee bean sack that I found in a flea market. I was inspired by the roughness of the texture, the stencil graphics, text (typography) and stripes that were printed on the sack.
Then I moved on to research about the clothing of coffee farm pickers and took references from Latin American tailoring which was influenced by Europeans during the old colonial period. Inspired by the above, my designs concentrated on three aspects through colonial influence, native culture characteristics and contemporary development.
The garments from the collection mainly comprise the materials of different weights of linen, cotton and washed light weight wool, also including washed denim. The silhouettes for tailoring were based on 1910s to 1930s Latin America – the features of the fitted shoulder and loose body cut (A-shape) as taken into the collection and became the main core of my designs.
How do you strike a balance between what the audiences want and what you want to design?
In high fashion, I think what the audiences want to see are actually what the designer wants to express. Audiences are always looking forward to seeing the uniqueness the newness from the works of designers. In my opinion, fashion designers have good connections with their audiences by the freedom they have been given.
What is your next plan?
Looking for a new challenge after my contract finishes with my current company.
Kelvin might have plans to return to Hong Kong to continue his design career. We wish him the best of luck to an unforeseeable-yet-full-of-excitement future!