Clara Chu shows us that fashion is bored of gender norms
Born in Hong Kong but having gone to Canada for boarding school, Clara Chu came to London to study a foundation course at the Camberwell College of Arts. Having originally wanted to pursue a degree in fine arts due to her interest in sculptures, the foundation course showed her that fashion design, which in a way allowed her to create sculptures that surrounded the body, was a much more exciting route. Having finished her BA in Fashion Design Womenswear at the London College of Fashion this summer, she is currently pursuing her MA in Fashion Accessories at the Royal College of Art. What instantly caught my eye about Clara Chu, was her most recent graduate collection (see images below), which in every way was unconventional. From the use of materials that range from thermoplastics to foam, to the use of exaggerated accessories that hang on the model's bodies. But what really stood out, was the lack of gender in her collection. The collection features classic-cut, oversized suits in achromatic colors and her use of androgynous models accentuates the genderless nature of her collection. Here to speak about her collection and the plans she has going further, is fashion designer Clara Chu.
Describe a typical Clara Chu girl?
My style is very androgynous. As my pieces are quite bold, you need to be daring to wear it. That's why I combine the accessories with a traditional look. It could be wearable to a lot of people. My ideal customer would be someone who appreciates the craftsmanship behind the piece but also wants to wear some type of wearable technology.
Tell me about your most recent collection?
I have a lot of structural forms in my collections such as the bag straps which can be used in over 20 different ways. So you can wear the suit by itself or attach the structures onto it. Inside the detachable structures are pieces of foam that are perfectly shaped to fit the space, so you are actually able to take this out and use the piece as a functional bag.
This collection allowed me to look at how to integrate accessories into clothing and not just have it stand as a passive item. With a lot of high-end bags or accessories there is minimal innovation, so that is why I really want to focus refining my accessory designs by studing it at the MA level.
You were born in Hong Kong but moved to London, what would you say are the major differences in fashion styles in both of these cities?
Fashion in Hong Kong is very different to London. It is not necessarily that the style is different, but more that the opportunities Hong Kong offers for stylists and designers are much more limited. I was recently speaking to a professor who encouraged people from Hong Kong to go to Paris or London to pursue fashion. In Hong Kong I rarely find fashion exhibitions to attend, there's just so much more going on in London. Of course, Hong Kong still remains a significant hub for the production of fashion and has a lot of investors for startup businesses, but in terms of exposure to fashion opportunities and inspiration, London is much further ahead.
To be fair, I also don't think my target audience is in Hong Kong. In a way, although I hate using that word, the people in Hong Kong are a lot more conservative than the people in London. As my pieces are quite bold, London is a much more attractive market.
If any celebrity could wear your pieces, who would it be?
I would say Anna Wintour because I love her edgy look and definitely think she could pull off wearing my bold pieces. That's why I didn't go for young, model-looking girls for my collection; my models need to have an edge about them.
What advice would you give to aspiring students regarding the first steps to starting a label?
Attending the London College of Fashion was incredibly educational for me technique-wise. I came into my BA barely knowing anything about the different fashion designing techniques, but I learned to master pattern-cutting and sewing. At the beginning, I did not have a clue about what clothes were made from! I actually failed my first term, yet at the end of my degree, I was still selected for the final show. So I would advise students to not stress too much and to really manage their time wisely. During my BA, I spent most of my Sundays in the studio, and now that I think back, I realise I did not have to torture myself every weekend. I should have actually gone out to meet people and gotten inspired with new ideas, instead of locking myself up. I would go to a lot of events, but would tend to do it only after I had finished a project. Especially now that I'm at RCA, I realize collaboration is so important; for example, I now work with students from Imperial College using vibration motors to incorporate into clothing. Nowadays you need help and expertise from so many other people, that it really helps to network.
What inspires you?
A place that really inspired me was Kowloon Walled city, an underground city in Hong Kong notorious for drugs and crime. It has now been demolished, but I always heard about it and my dad told many stories about it. Actually looking at places where I come from, is also an inspiration. I love going back to Hong Kong where you have this brilliant contrast between the modern and dilapidated buildings.
I'm also really interested in analyzing how people react. I am currently working on a project where I am looking into retail spaces and I interview a lot of people on memorable retail experiences. It's a big problem in fast fashion, because we do not remember the retail experience itself; these experiences have to be made much more memorable.
What's your dream?
The goal is to have my own brand. At the same, I would like to work for a company such as Nike in the Innovation Division. I would love to enhance performance and actually make people's lives easier.