Interview By Stacey Blanchet
The bubbles of champagne have disappeared. The music, lights and models have left the building. It took six months of preparation for only 11 minutes on the grand stage of fashion. Paris fashion week was a week of Couture collections making one’s jaw drop or scratch one’s head asking “How can I wear that???” We look to designers as our guide for style direction, what the future of fashion will look like and of course fantasy.
There is a magical veil that surrounds the world of designers in Paris. They are wrapped in a fabric of glamour, style, parties, jet setting and luxury that is a world most will never experience in their lifetime. Most designers will never attain the status these designers wear with ease. Is there a secret? What is it about this world that makes us all want a ticket to get in? Let’s peek behind magical veil and step into the world of BOWIE WONG!
What type of family did you grow up in? Did they respect your choice of Fashion Designer?
I grew up in a typical Asian family background. Hard working class. Fortunately my parents were quite artistic. My father was a wood craftsman before he started his business and my mother was an opera singer. In terms of fashion as a child I wasn’t into it as we had no money for it. They knew I could draw so they supported my talent in that regard.
As far as fashion is concerned they are not fashion people so they didn’t know how to support me but as long as I was happy so were they.
How is being Asian and living in Australia showcased in your designs if any?
I came to Australia as an adult in 1996 so I never had that childhood influence. However living in Australia has allowed my mind to become free. I still refer back to my Asian roots often with my design.
How old were you when you came to Paris for the first time?
I first came to Paris in the summer of 1990 as a backpacker.
This business is all time consuming, do you have a partner that you are able to share all of this with?
Yes. Matt and I have been together in life and business for 20 years.
What is the importance of choosing the right design school?
I believe that study opens your mind. A good environment helps students and I also believe that the right teacher can open your mind.
What is the major knowledge you need to know to succeed in the worldwide market that you feel comes from education at school?
Be yourself, be creative.
Do you make your own fabric? If not, why and if yes, where do you make them?
Majority of material I make myself, some I manipulate. I create with the supplier in Italy and France. As I am answering this question I am with my supplier in Italy.
When designing Couture are they actually wearable pieces or are you making a statement? How does the average person decide between the two?
Some people like to wear couture even if it may seem outrageous to others. I trained as a costume designer so perhaps that explains my design style. Basically it’s up to the individual what they like to wear – there are no rules. Some pieces are more ‘out there’ than others.
How does a designer make Couture mainstream? Is that possible?
Couture can never be mainstream. The whole idea behind couture is to make people dream, suspend reality. To me mainstream means easily accessible. This is anti-couture
How important is the right fabric to a collection?
Very important. The same design can look completely different with contrasting materials.
Are you a designer that uses themes for each collection?
Absolutely. I can’t start a collection until it has a name and a background story.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Funny that you should ask this but a Parisian friend asked me the same question the other day. He said ‘you don’t drink, smoke or do any drugs, where does your inspiration come from?’ Answer: often it’s the world around me. It can be nature or a certain culture.
As a designer, what story are you telling as the Bowie Wong Label?
That fashion can be very liberating.
Can you give us an inside scoop on your next collection? Theme? Inspiration? Fabric colors?
I like to tell stories. I like to the idea of transformation. My first Paris collection was about transforming the sound of bells to convey beauty. I followed that idea in my next collection by transforming traditional Japanese materials into a modern silhouette. The recent collection was actually about transforming ordinary into extraordinary. It dealt with the life cycle of the cicada. Show it changes into a beautiful creature. The next collection will be about how anyone can create. It will be artistic and extremely luxurious.
Opening a design house is a costly adventure. How many employees do you have?
We are currently a small business. We have 5 employees.
What role does Matt play as your Business Partner? What background in business do you need to have to make it on the Paris grand stage? How many backers to you realistically have to have to make it or a specific amount?
As Matt and I own the company together all business decisions are made equally. You certainly need business knowledge to survive in Paris otherwise you will struggle. Matt has run businesses for 20 years. It is difficult to put a dollar amount on success but needless to say the more support you have the more you can show what you are capable of. Indeed shows in Paris are expensive.
What knowledge and passion do you look for in an employee?
Discipline is very important. Also a good personal connection. You have to like your employees and vice versa so that you have a collective goal.
How important is a Ready to wear collection to keeping a couture collection alive?
It’s the money driver. However, I am pushing my couture more at this stage to increase my profile as a designer of influence. At the same we are pursuing avenues with RTW that take pressure off the business through working with other companies.
How important is advertising, editorials and fashion shows to the overall development of the brand? How do they rank?
Advertising is about what image a brand wants to convey. Editorial is about how others see your brand. Fashion shows are the designer’s opportunity to suspend reality with a close-up visual using makeup, staging and hair in motion.
How are is it to be in Paris when you do not speak or write the language?
I don’t write French but my spoken French is getting better each day. I already speak 5 languages fluently so what’s another!
What was the process that lead you to be invited and part of the Federation? How important is the Federation in your career?
I am not on the official Haute Couture schedule yet. I believe this is a title to be earned…in the end press influence is telling and the Federation watches very closely.
Where would you like to be in 5 years? Are you interested in other markets such as Dubai, China and United States? What is your business plan to expand if yes?
Paris. This is the home of fashion. Asia is also a very important emerging market. The U.S. is a tough market and you need someone to work with on the ground there.
Besides be yourself, can you give up and coming designers some solid advice of schools and how to map out their careers to actually have a career?
1. Don’t get into fashion because you want to be famous or rich
2. Accept criticism both negative and positive
3. Keep learning by absorbing what’s going on around the world
4. Have an idea when you start out which direction best suits your talent and temperament
5. Treat those you work with well. We can’t do it all by ourselves.
I don’t know if there is a secret for success. The decisions you make when you are young effect when you are older. No matter how you look at fashion, it is a business and the ones who play on the big stage clearly made all the right decisions early. But, the secret may be education, a good sense of business, confidence and surrounding yourself by the right people. Maybe it is time we stop living a fantasy and start teaching the next generation the right tools to get on the big stage. It is time to lift the magic veil.
Interview By Stacey Blanchet