Twenty-nine year old, London-based designer Steven Tai first caught our attention when he won the inaugural Chloé award at the Hyéres festival back in 2012 – the one that Yohji Yamamoto judged. Tai was fresh out of Central Saint Martins, just a couple seasons into his eponymous womenswear line and already developing a name for himself with such techy, sportswear-as-RTW creations as silicone-molded jumpers, waterproof tape-mimicking cross-sticked jackets, and colorful, ribbed rubber jerseys. Now, he’s just weeks away from a new season of avant-active chic. We chatted with the young designer about his upcoming FW14 show–and everything it’s taken to get there.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Macao, right next to Hong Kong. It’s like a tiny little town and basically it grew a lot over the years. I think it’s a major, gaggling city now.
When did you first realize that you wanted to study fashion?
It’s pretty random, actually. My family has a sportswear factory; they make clothing. For me, it was always the thing that wasn’t the most interesting to me because it’s your parents’ work and it’s kind of the one thing that you find boring. It was always around in the background but I never really like—I think it was something that just entered subconsciously. During my university years I studied business, which was a very ‘Asian family, get your business degree’ kind of a thing; I realized how much I wanted to do something creative and I decided just because clothing in high school started becoming interesting. What does it mean to be in the in-crowd, stuff like that. I was always looking like that, always being kind of a geek, and just being fascinated by that what they try to emulate as a certain group of people. So it kind of became that and I started thinking maybe I should look into studying fashion after I graduated.
So then what happened next? Did you apply to CSM? How did you take that step from those initial seeds of interest to making it happen?
I found out about school and I thought, I might as well at least try. I was applying for it while I was doing my finals here, and every night I would be studying and then I would draw.
That’s so intense!
The thing is, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know anything. I had no idea what they were expecting. I was thinking like afternoon, granny how-to sew classes with all these old ladies. So, yeah, then I went for an interview and I guess in the traditional way, I got my butt kicked and it was really, really good. I guess they saw something. So I got a letter that I was accepted. I graduated in June and I moved to London in September to start my next program.
What kinds of clothes did you want to make initially and how did your aesthetic evolve as you were at CSM and after?
I was really drawn to grunge, Nirvana, rock bands–those kind of things; there was this kind of deconstructed look that I was really interested in and fascinated by. And Central Saint Martins was a good fit, just because they’re known for being more avant-garde. So I kind of was pushing myself more conceptually at that point. But I think things evolved a lot from the first to second year – you learn to get that out of your system, and you learn to have a more refined taste.
What were the references that you were most excited about initially and what are you looking towards now as you’re developing the new collection?
We always start exploring something new or interesting or something that we haven’t particularly explored and we look in places that are just a little bit more I guess, maybe a little bit more unconventional for a regular textile. For us, it’s a lot about the textile, so we look for materials and things that aren’t normally used. So we would go to construction, hardware or toys stores – things like that. Just kind of random things that I like.
How do you find them?
I think I’m lucky because I get to travel quite a bit. Like in Asia there is so much of that mass produced, industrious cross-production that you can kind of find. It has a lot to do with just walking around and just kind of exploring. And I think it’s a bit more interesting than just online, as well, because sometimes you see something and it’s quite different from real life.
What’s this coming collection like?
The coming collection is actually quite a bit more deconstructed. I would say that the inspiration is shredded paper. That’s the whole idea. So we’re just kind of honing in on a really strong message.
Can you tell us about the materials?
This season, we’re playing with a lot of tweeds and also have a kind of an iridescent vibe in terms of threads and yarns. Also, we have a little bit of eyelash yarns with a fuzzy feeling. It’s all these kinds of fraying, fringy papers deconstructed vibe that comes together.
And what’s the palette like?
We’re always a little bit sporty. I think the palette’s a bit tomboyish. We have a lot of dark navys, forest greens with I guess lighter colors of shades to lighten up the mood.
Can you talk a little bit about working with VFiles?
Oh yeah! It was a big surprise I think, because it was just something we kind of did. We were given like 2 weeks notice.
So what was it like?
It was really good! I was a bit nervous about it. We had been traveling a lot doing shows or exhibitions in Berlin or Milan, Paris…so I was more prepared for the European scene and to go to North America, New York, was a bit scary. I was quite happy to just see the city because I hadn’t been there. VFiles was just a lot of fun.
So, you’re finishing this next collection, but what else are you looking forward to for 2014?
Well, we just finished a jumper collection which is like a mini capsule collection. Last season, we worked with a Spanish collager; her name is Laura Dupré, and we worked on a print together where we had a photo and she printed it out and physically collaged it. She sent the physical artwork back. And we used that as a print. We thought it was such a nice, fun collaboration and we wanted to do something special together. So we focused on her artwork and did a series of jumpers.
As we’re wrapping up, what kind of woman do you see wearing your clothes, who is the Steven Tai woman? Are there people who you would really love to see in them?
Yeah, I think for a girl, it’s someone who is quite comfortable in her own skin, is a bit of a tomboy and is quite humorous. And quite active. With the sporty element, our clothes are for somebody who does a lot; they’re not restrictive. And someone who is quite joyful, quite happy. A person would be Elle Fanning. She is so cute. I really want to like send her something; I just haven’t found the right contact.