Interview: Han Chong, Designer and Founder of Self-Portrait

We sat down for a chat with Han Chong, the Malaysian designer and founder of London-based contemporary label Self-Portrait that closed Singapore Fashion Week 2016 with flourish.
Reading time 5 minutes

You were an artist before you were a fashion designer. How did the transition from one field to the other occur?

I kept doing both initially and then fashion took off around 2008, and I couldn’t focus on two things anymore. I also started fashion label Three Floor but left after two years because I wanted to have more control. Upon reflection, art didn’t give me the same satisfaction as much as fashion does. Dressing women is so much more rewarding!

What’s rewarding about dressing women?

To witness how special and powerful they feel. Since the beginning, I’ve wanted to do what makes women feel special. What really interests me is making something at a contemporary price point for normal people with a normal income who can also dress like they would with a luxury brand. I don’t like to design for my own creative desire.

How sustainable are affordable price points for luxury items in today’s market?

I think it’s possible if you put in more effort, do more research, go on more trips, keep on sourcing fabrics. There are always possibilities if you’re not so greedy about profit margins. I come to Asia often because that’s where my production and fabrics are located. I also want to be here to experience and understand the lifestyles of my customers. The more you travel, the more you understand cultures.

How different are women in Asia, in terms of attitude and buying power?

Women in Asia are actually very open-minded because they have a lot of things to aspire to and I really like that. Asia is huge! As a designer, you actually don’t have to enter European markets – Asia provides enough business. The economy is big and there are enough people to form a substantial customer base.

What do women look for in your designs and how do you approach your design with regard to this?

When I’m designing, I always think of putting in just the right amount of detail so that when my customers wear my pieces for an event or a dinner, they get the attention they want. Not too much, just enough; sexy but not overly exposed. Just the right balance. How sad is it when you wear a new dress and nobody notices? (laughs)

Since the beginning, I’ve wanted to do what makes women feel special. What really interests me is making something at a contemporary price point for normal people with a normal income who can also dress like they would with a luxury brand.

Speaking of making someone feel special, you’ve also tapped into affordable bridal wear which is still a relatively huge gap in the market.

Yes, the response has been really good. It’s much better than I expected. Prior to the capsule collection, we had a lot of customers buying our pieces to be worn as wedding dresses. I really like that idea – it’s effortless and they can have fun and not get stressed out. I hate the idea of a woman getting really stressed out for months about one single-wear, expensive dress!

How does social media come into play in your creative process?

Social media came in at such a good time for small brands. We don’t have the budget to advertise in print. It makes the world much smaller when you can reach out to so many at your fingertips. It also affects a lot of creativity when you can view the works of more artists and architects for inspiration. More importantly, it makes you more reactive to current situations.

What’s your take on the instantaneousness of fashion today, especially with the ‘See Now, Buy Now’ trend?

I’m not too sure because it’s still at a really early stage and you need more time before you can really analyse it. Everything is always changing every day. You need to keep your eye and heart open. But last season, in light of recent reports of counterfeits, we didn’t release our imagery to the press until the collection was online, to protect our customers.

What’s next?

We have a collaboration with Robert Clergerie which launches in February. When I get home to London I’m going to work on Fall/Winter 2017. Now I’m travelling a lot and I just collate all the images in my head. I’ll do a mood board, see if it all works together.

Is there a formula to creating something desirable? If so, what’s yours for Self-Portrait?

It’s very crowded out there. You need to create your signature. The fabrics and materials we’re using are very recognisable so that you remember us – that’s why people associate us with lace. I like it because it’s delicate and has a lot of detail. Then, when the time’s right, you combine this and that. Things just work out, in a weird way.

This story first appeared in L'Officiel Singapore's December/January issue with the title "Man In the Mirror".


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