Hong Kong’s Up-and-Coming Fashion Designers

Kate Springer and Katie Kenny meet five up-and-coming local designers to get a dose of what’s haute in Hong Kong this season.

Sarah Lai

Sarah Lai founded her eponymous ready-to-wear women’s label in 2013: it’s all about contemporary designs, sophistication and versatility.

HK Magazine: Who are the muses behind your designs?
Sarah Lai:
My brand is very much influenced by the women in my family. I adore my grandmother’s exquisite taste and elegance, and I admire my mother’s poise, sense of purpose and determination. The way I weave their inspiration into my designs is more intangible. It’s their aura: the balance between flashiness and subtlety with different colors, laces, fabrics and embellishments. www.sarah-lai.com.

HK: How does Hong Kong inspire you?
I love Hong Kong’s skyline—in the midst of the modern skyscrapers hide old temples and buildings: like Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road and the Police Headquarters.

HK: What’s your favorite under-the-radar shop?
I always enjoy visiting The Refinery at PMQ (S410, 4/F, 35 Aberdeen St., Central, 9545-9393). It is a sweet and cute space, and I especially love the accessories—like the Bernstock Speirs beanies with veils! Is Liger (Shop A&C, Vienna Mansion, 55 Paterson St., Causeway Bay, 2503-5308) an under-the-radar store? I like its diversified designers from different countries—London, Korea, US, and Hong Kong. Very different offerings from the usual department store! The new silhouettes it introduces may be difficult to wear, but it’s all about balancing out.

HK: What’s your all-time favorite Hong Kong accessory, and why?
I love Bertrand Mak’s leather goods. His designs are elegant and subtle but with fine, unique details.

HK: How would you describe Hong Kong fashion?
I think the trend is the ability to adapt to a new style or “wind” quickly, and eventually find our own zone through mixing and matching different styles.

Grace Choi

Model-turned-designer Grace Choi of fashion label Yi-ming creates gorgeous cheongsams that blend old and new, casual and couture. www.yi-ming.asia.

HK Magazine: What about Hong Kong do you find inspiring?
Grace Choi:
There is so much to be inspired by in Hong Kong. The mixed-culture scenery: the architecture, people, street fashion, and the political situation. I incorporate architecture into my designs: for example, some of my dresses have a circular drop back, which I saw in the rounded archways in the parks.
HK: Where do you like to shop?
I love the pop-up style shops, especially those featuring Hong Kong local designers. The big one for me is PMQ—I want to support local brands, and that’s a great place to find them.
HK: Who are your go-to Hong Kong designers?
There are so many great independent designers in Hong Kong, and I love mixing unique items with everyday wear and elegant evening wear. One item I love right now is a clutch bag by local designer Mountain Yam which adds some glamor to a casual daily outfit. Another local designer is Blind by JW: their hand-drawn prints always have some cool story.
HK: What’s in style this fall?
Winter capes are coming back—match this trendy outerwear on a night out with a sexy cocktail dress. These also go well with jeans and a simple top to create a chic look without wearing a traditional jacket.
HK: What countries influence Hong Kong style the most?
Hong Kong style is heavily influenced by other nearby countries such as Korea and Japan. One thing that surely influences my designs is the classic oriental style: my designs reflect old Hong Kong with a modern, western twist.

Melissa Bui

An artist from an early age, Melissa Bui honed her craft at the London College of Fashion before taking on the fashion world in Hong Kong with her couture creations. www.melissabui.com.

HK Magazine: What are your Hong Kong design inspirations?
Melissa Bui:
It really depends on how I feel and what I see, as I draw inspirations from my daily experiences in Hong Kong. For example, for the Fall/Winter 2014 collection “Kaleidoscopic Skies,” I was inspired by one of the most amazing sunsets last year overlooking the sea at Cyberport.

HK: What is your all-time favorite Hong Kong accessory?
My HaChill sunglasses (various locations including 3/F, 154 Des Voeux Rd. Central, 2581-1986), because they are affordable and have the classic cat’s eye shape. A pair of these will dress up any outfit.

HK: Any Hong Kong trends you particularly dislike?
There is this one trend where Hongkongers wear trucker hats a few inches above their heads—I’m happy it’s finally dying down!

HK: And your favorite?
Right now, I’d say the brightly colored hair. If you walk around the streets of Hong Kong, anywhere from Central to Mong Kok, you’ll see people with a variety of hair colors: from shades of purple to bolder hues of blue.

HK: What is your favorite under-the-radar shop?
The cute little shop V Wardrobe (Shop 2, G/F, 21 Yiu Wa St., Causeway Bay, 2893-9139) sells easy, simple and fashionable Korean clothing. You’ll have to sift through the racks, as it’s always jam-packed with pieces!

Lauren & Karen Mead

Mother-daughter duo Karen and Lauren Mead are behind Louella Odié, which launched its Hong Kong-inspired bags and scarves last November.

HK Magazine: How’d you get into fashion?
Lauren Mead:
I was previously part of the branding and marketing startup team that launched Jack Wills in Asia. My mom Karen comes from the art world and came to fashion through a passion for printmaking.

HK: How does Hong Kong inspire your designs?
The contrast between sharp glossy modernism and the natural textures of old Hong Kong is a constant source of inspiration. Karen is particularly inspired by the environment and the juxtaposition of man-made and natural patterns and textures.

HK: What’s your favorite Hong Kong accessory?
We thought about this question for a long time—by definition, accessories change so our most enduring Hong Kong accessory would be a hastily purchased 7-Eleven umbrella and a bag of egg waffles!

HK: What’s new with your brand?
We’re introducing hand-printed leather clutches to Louella Odié, with a slew of new designs that Karen has created and printed in our studio on Lamma Island. Hand printing allows us to indulge our quirky sense of humor—the new clutch designs include an elephant taking a selfie, and an octopus drinking champagne!

HK: Causeway Bay is a fashion mecca. Do you shop there?
As tall women in Hong Kong, hardly anything in Causeway Bay fits us! Consequently we tend to home in on accessories. We particularly like the eccentric little shops that are tucked away just off Caroline Hill Road, including Bunkaya Zakkaten (now located at 22 Kimberley St., Tsim Sha Tsui, 2721-2227), which sells all sorts of fun and unusual homewares and accessories from Japan and further afield.

Fé Valvekens

A Day With Fe’s comfy-chic resort and active wear is designed by Fé Valvekens, a French expat who studied engineering before getting into yoga and then into fashion. adaywithfe.com.
HK Magazine: How’d you get into fashion?
Fé Valvekens:
When I worked in consulting, my business attire was formal: black, blue or gray. With my daily yoga practice, I was looking for active wear that was feminine and not too athletic—no neon colors or thick stripes. So I designed my first collection embracing elegant colors and feminine cuts.
HK: How does Hong Kong inspire your designs?
Hong Kong is a city of extremes. I enjoy playing with the idea that finding your balance between two opposites is where you create beauty: a sophisticated color palette and minimalist designs; high performance gear and feminine cuts; fashion and spirituality.
HK: What is your favorite under-the-radar shop?
I always find little treasures with a story in the shop Hulu 10 (10 Glenealy, Central, 2179-5500). I love the “Chinese wishes” set of cards explaining auspicious symbols. It demystifies so many questions, such as why peanuts are a symbol of fertility and longevity.
HK: What is your all-time favorite Hong Kong accessory?
I love my Emi & Eve Justine clutch made of bullets and bomb casings, designed by Cassandra Postema (emiandeve.com). The whole idea of upcycling to make meaningful accessories resonates with me.
HK: What is your favorite Hong Kong trend?
Revisiting the Chinese classics with a modern twist is my favorite. I absolutely loved the collection born from the collaboration of local label Tangram and iconic G.O.D.—Chinese-inspired patterns in casual modern designs.


The stylin’ Arnault Castel, owner of lifestyle and design store Kapok, is always tracking down awesome new gear from all over the world. He shares his picks for must-have menswear and accessories this fall.
 Saint James Naval II shirt

Truly indémodable [timeless], this is the French equivalent of the basic white T-shirt. It’s a must-have this season and for 10, 20 or 100 more years, as it will never go out of fashion.

$1,008 from K-11 Art Mall, Shop 101, 1/F, 18 Hanoi Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui, 3122-4113,www.saintjamesboutique.com.

Mismo Sprint backpack

Nothing beats the practicality of a backpack, but they rarely look elegant… Here Mismo reinvents the backpack with an elegant fabric and beautiful high-end trim to reach true sophistication.

$4,800 from Kapok, 5 St. Francis Yard, Wan Chai, 2549-9254, www.ka-pok.com.
Smith & Norbu buffalo horn sunglasses

The luxury of horn sunglasses is married to a true contemporary shape by Hong Kong-based Smith & Norbu.

$3,490 from Smith & Norbu, S404, 4/F, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen St., Central, 2541-8118, www.smith-norbu.com.
Maison Kitsuné fox pullover

The comfort of lamb’s wool and the humor of the kitsune fox… because being stylish doesn’t mean taking yourself seriously.

$3,455 from Hypebeast, hypebeast.com.
Common Projects Achilles sneakers

The Achilles is the quintessential reference model for all luxury sneakers: Common Projects updates this model with a modern-yet-understated black mesh finish.

$3,600 from Lane Crawford, 3/F, IFC Mall, 8 Finance St., Central, 2118-3388,  www.commonprojects.com.

This article originally appeared in print as the cover story of HK Magazine.