Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Harrison Wong
“An urban explorer, to me, is someone that really takes notice of all facets of the city – from art and architecture to culinary and design. You can be utterly devoted to your craft, but it is also important to take some time out to embark on new discoveries that can inspire you in ways you could never imagine. For me, I find pure enjoyment in exploring new eateries across the city. It feeds my creativity and nourishes the body.”
Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
My name is Harrison Wong and I am a fashion designer in Hong Kong.
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue fashion?
I believe my creativity and love for drawing as a child is what really started my path into fashion. During my childhood, I really enjoyed sketching and I would remember spending more time sketching in my notepad than paying attention to the teachers in class. As I got older, I wanted to explore art and design, and even before graduating from high school, I already planned to study design. During that time, I was really influenced by the fashion trends and music videos on MTV at the time. Many European and American icons wore brands like Levi’s and Dr. Martens that channeled the “mod look”, which really appealed to me. Fashion was something you would encounter on a daily basis, so it was clear to me by then that my focus would be fashion design.
Fashion has such a significant influence in the world in helping us express the individual self. What does fashion mean to you?
To me, fashion is a form of expressing oneself. Everyone has their own personality, viewpoint and sense of style that is uniquely theirs and fashion is the platform to really tell the world who you are.
Do you think being a local Hong Kong native has influenced your design sense? If so, in what ways?
Most certainly. At the end of the day, I design with the local audience in mind because they are my target audience. Before I put together a collection, I will factor in the weather because due to geographical location of Hong Kong, it is rather warm and humid. Therefore, I will think about the functionality of the garment and how my clientele will wear my clothes on a regular day. Perhaps, he will put on a simple pair of shorts and tee on a warmer summer weekend, but then he will throw on a light jacket at dinner when he is in an air-conditioned setting. These are all elements I will factor in when designing a new collection. It is about functionality. However, I still think that whatever is in fashion in Hong Kong will still appeal to the rest of the world so I believe that anyone can wear my designs.
What does a day in the life of Mr. Harrison Wong look like?
My day-to-day schedule varies all the time as I juggle between various areas of the business simultaneously. Somedays, I will head into the office to partake in administrative work and meet with my team to see how the business is doing. On other days, I will make my rounds to different stores and café (which has recently opened inside the Harrison Wong boutique at The Mills) to ensure the operation side of things are running smoothly. At least once a week, I will head up to Shenzhen to meet with production and share my samples and sketches with them. To sum it up, every day is so different but I can assure you there is never a dull moment!
What does “Urban Explorer” mean to you and how do you think you fit into this term?
An urban explorer, to me, is someone that really takes notice of all facets of the city – from art and architecture to culinary and design. You can be utterly devoted to your craft, but it is also important to take some time out to embark on new discoveries that can inspire you in ways you could never imagine. For me, I find pure enjoyment in exploring new eateries across the city. It feeds my creativity and nourishes the body.
Passion For Fashion
Having previously launched women’s and men’s seasonal collections on international runways in New York, Milan, Shanghai, Taipei, Sydney and Hong Kong, what do you find so intriguing about menswear compared to womenswear?
When I first graduated from design, I went into womenswear because it was so accessible and there were so many opportunities for me to explore. In fact, I have actually designed womenswear for over ten years but then I came to a point where I became lost in the work. My designs were catering to what fashion buyers wanted and what could sell rather than doing something that I envisioned. So when I decided to start my brand, I wanted to design for myself, allowing me to explore my own sense of style and create pieces that I would wear. Hence, I knew then that I wanted to design menswear.
What are the primary differences to you between menswear and womenswear?
To be honest, in my opinion, aside from the technical design that is needed to cater to the male and female form, there are not actually many differences. In today’s society, the fine line between menswear and womenswear have blurred tremendously. With today’s fashion trends leaning towards oversized apparel and streetwear, many women are buying men’s apparel and vice versa. To me, both menswear and womenswear actually have more similarities than we may think.
We did some digging and found that you graduated with a Master’s degree with distinction at the London College of Fashion. How do you think this experience in London has influenced your sense of fashion design? Having presence in both Hong Kong and London, we at Page Hotels believe that exploring different sides of the world only enrichens one’s life and experiences. Would you agree?
My experience in London has really taught me how to look at design in a different perspective and step outside myself to see how others would view it. This has been a huge learning curve for me as it allowed me to understand from others what is considered good fashion. But in terms of the extent to which London has influenced my design sense, I would say no because I grew up watching MTV and was already very much influenced by the style and musical icons from Europe and America from a young age.
How would you describe your brand to others?
I would describe my design aesthetics as understated elegance. Though I only wear black myself, I really enjoy exploring vibrant, daring colours for my menswear collections. I would say that my pieces are very wearable for the modern man yet you will find a subtle element of surprise, whether it be a pop of colour or a unique construction. Every piece of apparel and accessory is made with the utmost care and of the highest quality yet still very accessible for men at any age.
All designers have their own creative way of thinking and executing. Could you please walk us through the creative process of designing, manufacturing and distributing a piece of garment from your collection, from start to finish?
There is no step-by-step creative process for me, as it really depends on what inspires me and whether I already have a design in mind. For instance, if I am walking down the street and all of a sudden I get inspired by a piece of architecture or art, I will go to different fabric outlets to see where I can combine different elements and textures together that can emulate the structure that I envision. Other times, I may be moved by a sketch or print that I would then want to use for an existing design. Hence, there is no right approach when it comes to creating.
What other fashion brands do you admire?
I really admire brands like Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake, and Comme des Garçons because their style and aesthetics is very distinct and uniquely their own. I have so much respect for these brands.
What are your advice and inspiration for those who want to learn this trade?
If I could give one take-away advice for those who want to succeed in this trade, I would recommend him or her to first gain some experience working for other brands before stepping out on their own to launch their own clothing line. I have said this time and again, and I fully stand by it because there are so many technical training and work experience required to put together a collection, build a brand and essentially start a business. By working under other brands, you are exposed to a wealth of knowledge, opportunities and technical skills of how to properly run a business.
If you had the opportunity to do a cross-collaboration with any fashion brand, celebrity or organization, who would you like to work with?
If I could collaborate with any other brands, I would want to collaborate with lifestyle brands outside of the fashion realm. For me, I can imagine working with a luxury car brand or electronics brand that my target audience will find surprising yet fitting.
What designers, culture and genres of styles have had the most impact on your designs?
Having lived in Hong Kong nearly all my life, I have been surrounded by a mix of different cultures, both local and international. In terms of fashion influences, everything from Japan style trends to western pop culture has become significant in shaping my design sense.
What do you like most about your job?
The best part of my job is the whole creative process of designing a collection and seeing it manifest to life. It is so rewarding and even now, I still get excited when I launch a new collection. I do not really put much stress on the critics and reviewers of my collections because I know that there are people out there that are not going to like your work and there are those that do.
What fashion trends do you foresee in 2020?
For menswear, I can foresee that it will gradually move away from casual streetwear and head towards sophisticated “easy tailoring” that is a more tapered design yet relaxed. The loose, baggy streetwear has amassed a large following over the years, but I think there will be a shift in the other direction coming soon. At the end of the day, fashion comes in a cycle. After a trend has been around for some time, it will change and move the other direction.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I find inspiration in many things, but especially when I visit art galleries and museums around the world. I love looking at the construction of various art pieces and graphic prints that tend to fuel my designs. For instance, if I see an unusual colour used in a certain installation or painting, I will think about how it can be incorporated into my collection.
So where does your inspiration for travel come from?
This really depends on how I am feeling and what my purpose is for traveling. If I want a truly relaxing holiday to replenish my energy, I will go to a resort or beach holiday. If I want to find inspiration for fashion, I may fly to cosmopolitan city like Paris or Japan to witness the street fashion. One time, I was on my way to Paris and I walked past Notre Dame and came across a priest wearing a lavish long robe. I was instantly drawn to its design and pattern and it actually inspired me to create an entire collection out of it.
Which brand(s) inspire you to travel?
I must admit that it is generally resort and hotel brands that inspire me to travel. If I hear of a new hotel that has opened somewhere and have heard good things about it from friends and family, I would make a point to go there myself and experience it.
What other destinations are on your bucket list?
Going to see the Northern Lights has been at the top of my list for some time. I want to be surrounded by nature, the lush trees and mountains.
What do you enjoy most about the city? Are there certain elements or characteristics that are visibly Hong Kong?
I love the pace of life in Hong Kong. It is quite fast and having lived here for most of my life, I am used to the pace of the city. Another thing that never ceases to amaze me is how efficient and convenient it is. Everything is in such close proximity with one another which makes it very easy to get around!
In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?
Dynamic, Breath-taking, Fast-paced