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Dynamite in a Small Package

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Jasmin Chang

Jasmine Chang is so unlike her designs for the Taiwanese fashion house she founded. While she is petite, almost dainty, decidedly Asian in demeanor, her designs are strong, urbane, sometimes even jaded in the manner of Old Hollywood

Jasmine Chang is not a morning person. But she greeted us with a bright smile on a sunny winter morning at Hong Kong Fashion Week in January.

Sensing that neither were we morning persons, she chuckled, “It’s too early, isn’t it?

Chang’s deep voice is a surprisingly pleasant contrast to her petite frame. Right off, we knew she was anything but ordinary.

Her fashion line is a testament to her propensity to go off the beaten track. That she even chose to become a fashion designer despite being raised in a traditional Chinese household says a lot.

Chang and sister Iris are behind the Taiwanese fashion house HUI. They established the brand in 2008 after Jasmine graduated from New York’s Parsons School of Design and Iris, from Shih-Chien University in Taiwan.

HUI’s designs were featured during the Taipei INStyle fashion show, a regular highlight of Winter Fashion Week organized yearly by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. An intimate conversation with the creative force behind HUI follows.

China Business: How did you get into the fashion industry?
Chang: It’s weird. I just love art. But when I was a kid, my parents didn’t allow me to learn anything about painting. As Chinese parents, they think you need to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher; and so I got my Bachelor’s in English Literature back in Taiwan.

Why English Literature?
For me, if you can’t speak English or read English, everything you can’t do. So I told my dad: I wanna go to New York and study fashion.

So I called Parsons. It’s one of the very famous schools in the world. I say, okay, I need to get into this school. I applied and did everything myself. I started to draw, to learn how to draw. Then I handed in my portfolio and I was there. And I finished.

How did you adjust to the culture? What was it like when you first got to New York?
My mom always tells me, “Among those Westerners, you look tiny.” But I’m brave. I’m not afraid of anything. I tell myself: I wanna do this. This is my goal, my dream. I need to finish it and be a designer in the future. When I was there, I think with my personality, I really made a lot of friends who were not Taiwanese.

Did it help that you had the Chinese culture behind you, like when you were designing?
They thought I was very different from their culture. New York is a melting pot. Friends wanted to know all about me, my culture, and everything about Asia. So I made a lot of friends.

So how did you launch your brand?
After Parsons, I worked in New York for about two years.

With other designers?
Yeah, as a designer’s assistant. With Urban Outfitters, Forever21, some junior-wear labels. At that time, I wanted do something for myself. But I knew I was young, and it was a little too early.

How old were you then?
At that time, I was 27. Not young for my age but for the industry. I knew I needed to push more. So I worked, [all the while] thinking: Why don’t I start my own brand and learn the whole process by myself? I knew it was expensive but I said: I wanna do this!

You were able to get investors for your first stores in Taiwan?
Yes. Taiwanese.

Where do you get the inspiration for your creations?
Movies! Hollywood movies, classic movies.

For example?
Casablanca. Yeah, I like vintage stuff. Fashion is a cycle. Everything always comes back. I love old movies— and paintings. I love them! So I went to Paris, London, Berlin, Greece, and New York. I just got back to Asia. For me, traveling is a very good way to get inspiration. Meeting people, you talk to them, you learn more about different cultures. That’s what I like.

How did the Taiwan market react to your designs?
Well, the people are very globalized. They might take fashion from old movies. Designers like Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, they’re doing the same thing. Girls see them and they wanna wear something like that, but it’s too expensive for them. That’s why my contemporaries and I, well, our price is better.

What’s your price range?
It’s about US$150 to US$400. It’s affordable.

How would you describe the Taiwanese fashion market? What makes them different from the markets in China and New York?
I think in Asia, we’re a little bit more conservative than Europe or the States. The Taiwanese are more similar to the Japanese [in fashion taste], because we were colonized by Japan. So we were hugely influenced by the Japanese. China, they get more from Europe or the US. But I have some buyers from Hong Kong and China. I think China will be a very big market [for my designs].

So what do your parents think now?
(Laughs) They don’t understand! They are really very traditional and conservative. My dad fully supports me: Okay, you’re a good girl. As long as you’re not doing anything bad. But my mom is more traditional than my dad. She says, “I really don’t understand why you can’t just be a teacher, feed your kids, and your husband.” I’m like, “No, mom, no! I don’t want to be like that!”

Are you a single?
Yeah, yeah.

Have your parents been to your fashion show?
No, unfortunately.

Have they seen your work at least?
My mom, yes. For her, it’s for young girls, she doesn’t understand. But it’s okay. She’s kinda’ like trying to tell me, “You should do this, like Chinese costume.” I say, “Mom!” I mean, I love my culture, but I want to, maybe in the future, mix things together. Maybe Chinese fabrics with a Western style. Like, a Western nightgown, with a dragon on the top!

Is your collection now influenced by Chinese culture in any way?
No, no. (Laughs) I’m not ready yet.

Print ed: 03/11


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