The great post-pandemic fashion party starts here

FashionUnfiltered introduces Celine Yu Hei Kwan, a designer from Hong Kong who was a standout in the Central Saint Martins BA graduation show this month. She fuses fashion and furniture – and her clothes are non-stop fun, reflecting fashion’s eagerness to start partying again.

“This is a vase boot.” Fashion designer Celine Kwan is speaking over video call from her family home in Hong Kong. Onscreen, she shows a pair of purple boots that undulate in bubble-like shapes down the leg. As she pours a jug of water into the shoe, I realise the name ‘vase boot’ is to be taken literally. “Take your pick of flowers, put them in there, put them in your living room,” she laughs. Clothes into furniture, furniture into clothes – every piece in Kwan’s collection is designed to be transformable.

Kwan showed her spectacular collection, titled Welcome Home, in the Central Saint Martins BA Fashion show on June 8, the first physical show the London art school has held since the UK went into lockdown in March 2020. Half retro-futuristic space-age wardrobe, half colour-popping living room set-up, her wearable looks are designed to add brightness to the spaces that we have lived, breathed and worked in over the past year and a half – our homes. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve often found ourselves stuck in our living rooms and reminiscing about the mundane little things that we used to take for granted,” she says. “However, it is important that we do not forget about the everyday beauty that surrounds us.”

And what beauty there is to behold. A top printed with a psychedelic puzzle of deep blues, lilacs and magentas. A skirt with inflatable peplum offering both flare and flair as a living room ornament when detached. A dress in a chainmail of panels featuring floral motifs carved by a 3D printer, a nod to Paco Rabanne’s intergalactic metallic dresses of the 1960s.

For Kwan, who has worked at Viktor & Rolf and Roksanda, such displays of colour and maximalism are second nature. “I wanted to capture the essence of the 1960s and 1970s within the silhouettes, prints and textiles, but with a futuristic spin – a 2021 spin to be exact,” she says, before a wall resplendent with posters of the surreal 1960s-inspired work of American photographer Alex Prager. “The concept is all about creating this living room utopia.”

References to 1960s and 1970s space-age design manifest in the smooth curves and puffed-out volumes of the collection. Kwan looked to Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus 2001: A Space Odyssey for inspiration as well as to pop product designers of the period from Finnish-American designer Eero Saarinen to French industrial designer Olivier Mourgue, designer of the ‘Djinn’ chair whose futuristic contours famously appeared in Kubrick’s film. This optimistic future-focused spirit runs through all her work.

In 2021, designing for the future requires more sustainable materials. On our video call, Kwan holds up what would otherwise be a simple A-line dress in 1960s-style floral print. Parts of the dress are overlaid with fine transparent fabric on which a series of white dots made of sustainable corn-based plastic are printed in perfectly symmetrical algorithm-powered formation. Zoom out and the dots morph into a floral lace-like pattern that, true to the Kwan aesthetic, bridge the retro and the futuristic. “These are floral prints that I’ve made and then translated from a very retro vintage print into something modern,” she says.

When I meet Kwan in the UK a few months later, our state of mind is less Space age, more down-to-earth. Specifically, we’re in a field full of sheep poo attempting to keep the shoes scheduled to appear in her BA fashion show the next day from becoming too sullied. Hot new British fashion photographer Ruby Pluhar is shooting Kwan’s vibrant collection against the undulating lines of the English South Downs. Despite the temperamental British weather, which switches between thick fog and bright sunshine, far from the steadfast heat of Hong Kong, Kwan remains as optimistic as ever.

With her stint at Central Saint Martins coming to an end, Kwan is thinking about the future again – namely her own. “The dream is to start my own brand, a brand that further explores cutting-edge technology in textiles, fabrics and accessories that can be used in high fashion,” she says. As a young designer starting up in a post-Zoom society, she hopes to create a label that dips between Hong Kong and London.

For now, she’s cooking up ways to commercialise 3D printing techniques by applying them to accessories and jewellery. “I realised the 3D printing technique is not really used in industry because people like to stick with what they know. I really want to challenge that,” she says.

The big dream is 3D printed couture. “3D print within fashion is not new. But I feel like it’s still missing that chic-ness and wearability,” she says. “I want to bring in an element of desirability.” She’s certainly started off just fine.

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