CENTRESTAGE — Hong Kong’s premier fashion trade show — is launching its fourth edition from September 4 to 7. In anticipation, The Daily profiling a handful of the show’s most notable designers through weekly Q&As. Up first: Anais Mak of Hong Kong-based fashion brand Anaïs Jourden.
What inspired the collection you plan to show at CENTRESTAGE?
The Pre-Spring 2020 collection is a continuation of Autumn Winter 2019. Driven by retrospection and affirmation, it is an homage to the brand’s roots that muse on the transformative power of clothes, while challenging the concept of nostalgia. Its rendition of ’90s silhouettes reflects on a decade that sourced and subverted the past irreverently, offering a final synthesis of the century’s legacy.
What is it about CENTRESTAGE that makes it such a good showcase for your brand?
CENTRESTAGE has put spotlights on both Hong Kong-based and Asian designers over the past seasons and has been a great platform with generous support for emerging designers in manifesting their vision and speaking to the industry and public. Being able to present the collection in my hometown always means a lot to me, both emotionally and commercially.
Tell us about your design background.
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, where the brand is based, and I moved to Paris to study fashion design at the Studio Berçot. But it was back on my home turf, while putting my ideas into practice in the ateliers of local garment makers and tailors on regular trips back to Hong Kong during my studies, that I got to forge my skills as a designer, confronting my creative dreams with reality. This has a lot to do with the fact that Hong Kong has a proud history of garment making in the early twentieth century.
It was through learning from these artisans — and, in turn, pushing their boundaries — that I was able to find my own voice: a subtly perverted take on formal femininity, hooked on controlled volumes and fabric experimentation.
Did you always want to be a designer?
I’ve always been interested in clothes. My mom was also interested in dressing up and always reading Vogue, so I was exposed to fashion at a young age. That being said, I had my doubts about a career in fashion. I thought it was maybe just a passion that every girl had. But at some point, I realized that clothes are what give me the most emotions, and they are the way I feel the most comfortable expressing myself. As a kid, I was introverted and not good with words. I had a lot of ideas though, and whenever I dressed up in random vintage clothing or pieces that I made myself, it felt so good expressing myself that way.
Yours is one of the few Hong Kong fashion brands to ever show at Paris Fashion Week. What was that like?
Being able to be on the PFW official calendar and speak to a wider audience helped me clarify my goals and confront my own identity. I was looking up to the Western fashion scene before, and I still look up to it now, but I feel more comfortable in myself now. I’m not trying to become someone else, but just be honest about who I am.
What do you love about the Hong Kong fashion scene?
I grew up here in Hong Kong. There is a lot of energy and emotions in the city that inspire me. We are always working with boundaries and limitations — culturally, intellectually, and geographically. I think the journey is always to discover and find new context for these dilemmas.
Hong Kong is a city where everyone is interested in trends and shopping in general — a lot of curiosity and eagerness. I think it’s a very honest energy and it’s brave. If you’re at a museum, you have distance — a comfort zone between the work and yourself — but when you actually put something on yourself, even if it’s an experiment, I think it takes a lot of courage.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in growing your brand?
I didn’t believe in competition before, because I think there’s a disconnection between celebration of creativity and actually making a brand sustainable, as well as having a real appeal in the market and being commercially successful.
What is your brand’s signature?
I am always interested in feminine aspirations and what women like — who and what they want to be and how they are attracted to things. I combine that with a very traditional way of making clothes — lots of embroidery, smocking, ruffles, gatherings, and pleating. It always comes down to textures and these are achieved very traditionally. When we use school techniques in unexpected ways to create new textures, it creates a new context. The formula is to never stop listening to what girls want. I always start my next collection based on the feedback of the previous.
In a creative approach based on the recontextualization of looks of the ladies-who-lunch set, the collections takes the codes of traditional formal luxury and feminine archetypes, nudging them into more subversive terrain to provoke a new desirability.
What has been your proudest accomplishment as a designer?
I met Sarah from Colette back in 2015 at our showroom in Paris, and she picked us up on the spot. It was our fourth collection and we were extremely lucky to be picked up by stores such as Colette and Opening Ceremony. It was a nerve-racking moment when I presented my collection to her, but she was really encouraging. It was definitely a dream come true for me. She has given me some insightful advice along the way, and always tells me to stick with what I believe in.
In 2015, we were also nominated for the LVMH Prize semi-finalists, with 25 other brands including Vetements, Off-White, Jacquemus, and Chinese brands such as Sankuanz and Simon Li. We presented our collection in Paris for three days, where they had a panel of judges, consisting of editors, buyers, models, bloggers, and designers — real pillars of the fashion world. It was really monumental for me.
If you could take the reins at any European fashion house, which one would you choose and what would you like to do there?
I would dream to develop a capsule collection for Christian Lacroix!
Check out Anaïs Jourden’s newest collection at CENTRESTAGE, September 4 – 7 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Admission is free and buyers can register through the official website. Buyers are also encouraged to download HKTDC Marketplace app, which facilitates registration to all the fairs organized by HKTDC and keeps buyers abreast of the latest industry news and fair information.