With a unique flair for cuts and an unparalleled imagination, Leonard Wong is the Chinese-born Tokyo-based designer that will send you off into an otherworldly reverie.
Young design talent Leonard Wong graduated from Bunka Fashion School in 2013, before swiftly going on to found his label in the same year. A mixture of futuristic slickness, bearing all the weight of tradition, and of architectural strength, Wong’s designs are biotechnological wonders. “After graduating school, the usual thing to do is to work as an assistant under a professional designer,” he tells us, “but as a ‘hands on type’, I was compelled to plunge myself into the fashion race and test my abilities. Challenges are always present around every corner, but I was very lucky to meet people who saw potential. Thus, I soon found sponsors.”
Whilst coming first in the graduate race to success is no mean feat, Wong had garnered himself attention worldwide before even finishing his course. Winner of Up-and-coming Designer Grand Prix in Tokyo, the Ministry of Culture Award and the Air France Award, Wong’s exceptional work was rewarded with the recognition and platform called for to start his label. “The award that changed everything was the Up-and-Coming Designer Grand Prix award in 2012; despite being complimented for my designs by other students and teachers, I wasn’t sure if they were serious or merely being polite. It gave me courage to try new things and not be paralysed by the prospect of failure.” Two more awards were to follow in the same year, the Bunka Fashion College Design Award and Bunka Fukusou Gakuin.
With a particularly free and out-of-this-world approach to design, Wong breaks conventional boundaries by creating surreal lines and futuristic volumes. “I think that all creativity stems from childhood memories,” he explains. “When you were a child, there was no limit to your imagination. You wouldn’t stop to think, ‘oh no, that’s not possible because…’ As you grow older, you start to learn the ‘rules’, ‘limits’ and ‘boundaries’, and that can trap you with a mediocre design. That is why it is important to be a child at heart if you want to be creative.”
Divided chronologically into steps and challenges overcome in his own life, Wong’s collections are inspired by captivity, release, overthrowing tradition and the act of transcending space and time. “I was exploring the notion of something timeless; a design so perfect, it never needs to change regardless of its surroundings. With Cell Segregation, the idea of evolving into a biotechnological form intrigued me.”
Although Wong works predominantly with forms and shapes, textiles and textures are also key. “When I am examining a piece of fabric, I move it through my fingers seeing its flexibility, strength, texture and weight,” he explains. “Whilst doing this, I meld it or fold it into various shapes, then a design often pops into mind. Leather is, without doubt, my favourite material. It is easy to make the sharp curves and the slick lines I aim for in my designs.”
With stockists in Europe and Japan, both the LEONARD WONG Collection and the Experimental Line are conquering hearts worldwide. Having shown during Paris Fashion Week, Wong is keen to break the national boundary and expand further afield. “Tokyo is an interesting city for fashion,” he muses. “It is diverse, but at the same time, the complete opposite. The ‘Should’ and ‘Should Nots’ are very pronounced, especially with age.” Taking his cue from the duality of Japanese fashion – and its contrasts between contemporary and traditional culture – Wong creates with both spheres in mind. “If you look at a traditional piece of clothing, you’ll notice how extremely intricate and detailed they are,” he explains. “What is considered futuristic is basically minimalistic. The further in time we go, the simpler the design gets.” While some designs recall the lengths and lines of conventional dress, Wong’s sleek cuts and rigid silhouettes add a technological edge to his work. “When I blend a piece of armour (i.e. the traditional) with the minimalistic, I try to keep the same power of nobility and the grace the piece exudes, and warp it into something that has a different type of nobility and grace.”
With only two years’ existence, the Leonard Wong brand is well set to be a lasting presence on the industry radar. As for the future, his ambitions, true to his signature duality, are both ambitious and modest. “There are many plans, but the ones closest to my heart are the catwalk in Paris, and to have a branch in my home town.”