LUI HON

Clothes to col­lect.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Stephen Crafti

EACH SEA­SON WE ARE SOLD A NEW FASH­ION LOOK. WHAT WAS COV­ETED ONE SEA­SON IS REL­E­GATED TO THE BACK OF ONE’S WARDROBE THE NEXT. BUT MELBOURNE-BASED DE­SIGNER LUI HON SEES FASH­ION AS EVO­LU­TION, NOT REVO­LU­TION. HON’S AP­PROACH TO FASH­ION HAS SEEN HIS WORK FEA­TURED IN GAL­LERIES, BOTH IN MELBOURNE AT THE LES­LEY KEHOE GAL­LERIES AND IN THE FULLER BUILD­ING, NEW YORK.

SOFTLY SPO­KEN Like his beau­ti­fully crafted clothes, fash­ion de­signer Lui Hon chooses his words care­fully. There are no large arm ges­tures, as are of­ten seen in this in­dus­try, only thought­ful re­sponses to each ques­tion. Hon, of Chi­ne­seMalaysian des­cent, ar­rived in Melbourne in 1999, in­tent on pur­su­ing a ca­reer in fash­ion. His fa­ther, a sales­men, and his mother, a pat­tern­maker in a cloth­ing fac­tory, were against this ca­reer choice. His fa­ther thought fash­ion was a ca­reer for fe­males to pur­sue, while his mother, through her own ex­pe­ri­ence, put fash­ion in the ‘too hard bas­ket’.

FOL­LOW­ING ONE’S IN­STINCTS Hon’s port­fo­lio was ac­cepted by RMIT Uni­ver­sity’s School of Fash­ion, which must have dis­ap­pointed his par­ents. “You have to fol­low your in­stincts. It’s some­thing you feel deeply in­side,” says Hon, whose need to ex­plore body and form was ini­tially re­alised by ex­hibit­ing at RMIT’S First Site Gallery upon grad­u­a­tion in 2001. The cav­ernous gallery fea­tured Hon’s grad­u­ate col­lec­tion as part of a per­for­mance piece with dancer Mered­ith Lewis, who wore his de­signs and was cap­tured on film. Hon’s hon­ours year project at RMIT in 2003 was equally in­sight­ful. With the mu­sic of Ice­landic band Sigur Ros, Hon lay naked on the floor us­ing the move­ments of his body to in­form pos­si­ble gar­ments.

PROJECT RUN­WAY How­ever, artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tions are usu­ally at odds with the com­mer­cial world. Stints in re­tail oc­cu­pied Hon for the next few years, work­ing in high-fash­ion bou­tiques, while slowly at­tract­ing a small pri­vate clien­tal for his be­spoke de­signs. In 2008, re­al­ity called, with Hon be­ing in­cluded in the Project Run­way se­ries on Fox­tel’s Re­al­ity Chan­nel. “It was like fash­ion boot camp,” says Hon, re­call­ing the iso­la­tion of be­ing placed in a room and given nu­mer­ous tasks to com­plete by mid­night to be pre­sented to a jury the next day. “It was all about the look, rather than the qual­ity of each gar­ment. A crudely glued hem or a sheared off edge didn’t mean elim­i­na­tion,” says Hon.

PER­SON­AL­I­TIES RATHER THAN FASH­ION While Hon didn’t win the com­pe­ti­tion, the re­al­ity tele­vi­sion show pro­vided in­sight into the com­mer­cial side of the fash­ion in­dus­try, fea­tur­ing quick turn-around dis­pos­able fash­ion. “It taught me that a gar­ment has to be flat­ter­ing the mo­ment it’s pre­sented.” Un­for­tu­nately, the ex­pe­ri­ence also made him ques­tion his own per­son­al­ity, “I don’t have a large TV per­son­al­ity. I’m rel­a­tively shy in front of a cam­era.” Hon should have taken so­lace that some of the world’s great­est fash­ion de­sign­ers have re­flec­tive per­son­al­i­ties. Yo­hji Ya­mamoto and Rei Kawakubo are like­wise un­likely to use large body ges­tures or ‘kiss the air’ at fash­ion events.

ES­TAB­LISH­ING A BUSI­NESS Hon started his own la­bel a year later in 2009, still re­flec­tive, but with greater con­fi­dence in where he was head­ing. He started pro­duc­ing two col­lec­tions each year. In 2010 Luka Maich came on board as Busi­ness and Brand­ing De­vel­op­ment Man­ager. “I have a bank­ing back­ground, but I’ve al­ways been drawn to fash­ion.” My mother’s la­bel (New Zealand) ‘The Case is Al­tered’ was part of my life from the 1970s through to the 90s,” says Maich. “At that point, Lui was get­ting help from ev­ery­one, but no one, if you looked at the busi­ness plan at that time. Clothes need to be beau­ti­ful, but the re­al­ity is they also need to find a buyer,” he adds.

KEY BUY­ERS Hon has found a num­ber of key buy­ers, in­clud­ing Arida in Syd­ney, S2 in Perth and An­drea Gold in Melbourne. How­ever, his most re­fined, gallery-like en­vi­ron­ment is the Les­ley Kehoe Gallery at 101 Collins Street, Melbourne. Hon’s re­la­tion­ship with this gallery started with an ex­hi­bi­tion of jew­ellery by Ja­panese de­signer Nakano Kaoru. Her ex­quis­ite crushed pa­per and pre­cious metal pieces re­quired a ‘can­vas’ on which to be show­cased.

IN­TRO­DUC­ING HON TO THE LES­LEY KEHOE GAL­LERIES Les­ley Kehoe, owner of the Les­ley Kehoe Gal­leries in Collins Street, Melbourne, dis­cov­ered her ‘can­vas’, while at­tend­ing a pri­vate din­ner for ‘Sup­port­ers of Asian Art’ at the Na­tional Gallery of Vic­to­ria in 2012. Hon was pre­sent­ing a slide show of his fash­ion. “As soon as I saw the im­ages I thought of the synergy be­tween Lui’s de­signs and Kaoru’s jew­ellery. Both have this won­der­ful sim­plic­ity of form, as well as the way ma­te­ri­als are ex­pressed,” says Kehoe, who could see Hon’s de­signs work­ing in her gallery com­bined with the jew­ellery. “Each en­riches the other and as I of­ten re­mark, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.”

EX­PE­RI­ENCE BE­YOND RE­TAIL As with the in­stal­la­tion piece at RMIT’S First Site Gallery years be­fore, the model at the Les­ley Kehoe Gallery brought to­gether con­tem­po­rary jew­ellery and fash­ion for a pri­vate au­di­ence who would ap­pre­ci­ate both cre­atives. In this con­text, the lines be­tween art and fash­ion were blurred. How­ever, within this set­ting, the two cre­ated a di­a­logue. Kaoru’s sculp­tural brooches, rings and bracelets, ‘talked’ to Hon’s de­signs, in­clud­ing his wool and al­paca coat, with its in­dus­trial eye­let, from his ‘For Now I am Win­ter’ col­lec­tion of 2014. “I don’t want the pa­per I use to ap­pear pris­tine. It’s im­por­tant to re­veal the shadow as much as the light,” says Kaoru. The same phi­los­o­phy could be ap­plied to Hon’s jacket, with its in­tri­cate folds. Some of Kaoru’s jew­ellery fea­tured dyed red edges on the crum­pled forms, beau­ti­fully ‘dis­solv­ing’ into a fit­ted leather red suit de­signed by Hon. Other de­signs, such as a sim­ple black wrap around cape, pro­vided an ap­pro­pri­ate back­drop for Kaoru’s large sculp­tural brooches.

While the com­bi­na­tion of fash­ion and jew­ellery was a first for Kehoe, so was the ex­pe­ri­ence for those who at­tended, all by pri­vate ap­point­ment. The dress­ing room, for ex­am­ple, con­sisted of screens cre­ated by artist Maio Mo­toko, one of Ja­pan’s finest artists. “It was an ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting. I see Lui as an artist rather than a fash­ion de­signer,” says Kehoe.

FASH­ION & ART Hon and the clients who at­tended, ap­pre­ci­ated the am­bi­ence of the gallery. “It’s a unique ex­pe­ri­ence show­cas­ing fash­ion like art, rather than in the usual re­tail con­text,” says Kehoe. Hon also en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence. “In a gallery, there’s no pres­sure to buy and you get to meet the peo­ple who cre­ated the work,” says Hon, who like Kehoe, be­lieves it’s not about be­ing a slave to fash­ion. “I see Lui’s de­sign more like sculp­ture,” says Kehoe, who is in­ter­viewed in Hon’s strik­ing raw silk vest with a well-de­fined sil­hou­ette. And while Kehoe was show­ing Hon’s cloth­ing for the first time in her gallery, many mu­se­ums and gal­leries world-wide have built a rep­u­ta­tion of show­ing fash­ion as art for decades; the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York and the Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum in Lon­don, to name a few.

A COM­PLEX­ITY TO HON’S DE­SIGNS Hon’s de­signs, al­though sold through se­lect re­tail­ers in Aus­tralia, are ide­ally pre­sented in a gallery such as Kehoe’s. Like Kaoru’s jew­ellery, there’s a com­plex­ity to his de­signs. “I try and leave a pat­tern un­fin­ished so it can be ma­nip­u­lated on the man­nequin to­wards the end of the process,” says Hon. “It’s that ma­nip­u­lat­ing that de­liv­ers the un­ex­pected.”

NEW YORK Af­ter the suc­cess of Hon’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with Kaoru, it was a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion for both de­sign­ers to be in­vited by Kehoe to share their vi­sion in The Fuller Build­ing, a premier ex­hi­bi­tion space on Madi­son Av­enue, New York. “Even­tu­ally I hope to have my own gal­leries in New York and Tokyo,” says Kehoe, who pre­sented both cre­atives in March this year, as part of Asia Week New York, some­thing Kehoe has been do­ing with other artists since 1998.

“Les­ley has been show­ing artists in New York for many years, but it was a first time for me,” says Hon, who found the au­di­ence ex­tremely knowl­edge­able about art as well as fash­ion. “These women know how to ex­press them­selves in what they choose to wear. They are con­fi­dent in mak­ing a state­ment, whether it’s cloth­ing, jew­ellery or both.”

STO­RIES BE­HIND THE DE­SIGNS As im­por­tant for the New York clien­tal were the sto­ries be­hind each of Hon’s de­signs, as well as the back­ground of Hon him­self. “The New York clien­tal is ex­tremely so­phis­ti­cated. They may call New York home, but many have come from the United King­dom and Asia. And of course, there were a num­ber of New York­ers,” says Hon. One woman, aged in her 70s, bought both Hon and Kaoru’s work, with a large dou­ble cir­cled brooch at­tached to a gar­ment with a scarf/col­lar. Given the suc­cess of the New York and Melbourne shows, Kehoe is plan­ning an­other show in Syd­ney later this year. And while peo­ple can ex­pect new de­signs from both cre­atives, Hon in­tends to build on de­signs from past col­lec­tions.

THE AR­CHIVES Ti­tled from the ‘ar­chives’, these de­signs con­tinue to say some­thing about where Hon is headed. The most re­cent col­lec­tion for Spring Sum­mer 2015 was de­signed with the idea of build­ing a wardrobe. “Fash­ion can be col­lected like art,” says Hon. The lat­est col­lec­tion also shows a shift in sil­hou­ette to a more tai­lored look, with well-de­fined waists and fit­ted sleeves. “I’m also in­clud­ing a num­ber of fab­rics that you would find in sporty, ca­sual wear,”says Hon, pick­ing up a roll of per­fo­rated mesh sponge-like fab­ric un­der a work­bench. “Fash­ion is like art. It con­tin­ues to evolve rather than end abruptly af­ter just one sea­son. It’s also about the ex­pe­ri­ence, com­mu­ni­cat­ing ideas and hav­ing things for­ever rather than just for the mo­ment.”

Brooch #Long White, Washi, Sil­ver, 24 x 7 x 4 cm, Nakano Kaoru. Gar­ment: Lui Hon. Tas­sel Cape Shirt. Wool and leather, hand frayed, 2014. Photo: Wil­liam Hung.

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