Made In Hong Kong: Ryan Lo On What Makes A Hong Kong Girl
Hong Kong born designer Ryan Lo has taken his eponymous brand to London Fashion Week and beyond, and has been one to watch ever since his first showing in 2015.
As an Asian designer based in London, Lo is the epitome of east meets west fashion. We spoke with Ryan Lo on how this has affected his approach to fashion, his definition of a Hong Kong Girl, and the inspirations behind his past collections.
You often talk about being a 高級港女 (Hong Kong Girl). What makes a 高級港女 so unique?
Every Hong Kong Girl has her own distinctive sense of style; they are smart, strong-minded individuals who really enjoy fashion.
I will never dare say Kimbee Chan is a typical Hong Kong Girl; nevertheless, her carrying a designer handbag with a penguin doll key chain is a perfect example of why this city is so unique. Mixing high-low culture, sophisticated yet fun, even her birthday cake was Fendi monogram x Penguin. A grown-up lady can still love all things cute.
Or the late Nina Wang being the richest woman in Asia, her memorable pigtail braids and wardrobe were certainly polarizing. Everything she wore was extremely precise and well thought through. She had displayed great confidence in herself.
Liza Wong was also a trailblazer when she turned her Louis Vuitton pashmina and custom made it into a qipao for her 60th birthday. It was bold and forward-thinking. These endlessly inspiring women only exist in Hong Kong and I hope a new generation can follow their footsteps.
How would you best embody the 高級港女?
I am always fascinated by the stereotypical Hong Kong Girl attributes and like to elevate these characteristics into something polished and beautiful, a high-end Hong Kong Girl (高級港女)!
Say the 2002 film Marry a Rich Man with Sammi Cheng; aspiring marrying up, finding a Prince Charming come to rescue is quite common locally. I still remember the Hong Kong-born Alexandra Manley who married a Danish Prince in 1995. So, a few seasons ago we had a Cinderella moment with a princess bride and her White Knight in shining armour closing the show. Then, the next season we even topped it off with the couple pushing a Silver Cross royal pram as the Rom-Com’s phase two. First comes love then comes the baby.
Another idea that came to me was Ladies Who Lunch (去食 tea) or Camera Eats First (相機食先). The decadence of dressing up for tea time feels quite Downton Abbey 1920s old English, but also very Sex and the City hanging out with your girlfriends.
Collaborating with Sketch café in London for a presentation was the epitome of luxury! The pink gallery room was filled with David Shrigley’s illustrations and India Mahdavi’s lovely furniture. Their chefs provided the prettiest pastries for us to decorate the room. We did a mixture of mannequins and real models that season with eight different sections: French maid, Dim-sum Girls and art deco The Great Gatsby to name a few. Sam McKnight made all the wigs differently to suit each character and Isamaya Ffrench hand-painted all the doll’s faces. Everything was the crème de la crème over-the-top with ‘I want Candy!’ as the background music to go with the Marie Antoinette vibe.
In terms of the actual clothes, I definitely dumb things down a bit on purpose by making it straight forward and obvious. Whether or not the viewers can understand the story behind it, they can still see a beautiful image on the surface level.
What messages do you aim to convey with your work?
Young heart! A sense of romance, sugar-sweet girlishness.
How has growing up in Hong Kong affected your approach to fashion?
Hong Kong is a cultural melting pot. As a late 90s early 2000s kid, I was obsessed with the Japanese Lolita fashion and Mong Kok's street style at that time. I also read Winifred Lai’s writing for New Monday religiously, her witty intellectual articles about the shows in Paris or the collections in Milan really opened up my eyes. Being an inbetweener of the east meets west, I have definitely tried to reflect my Asian heritage in London.
When Sanrio approached me to do something with Hello Kitty, it was a no-brainer being a life-long fan! However, while the Sanrio archive and Hello Kitty graphics were super great to work with, I felt like I needed to put my own spin on it as a celebration of my childhood for that particular era.
I threw in some of the 2000s Mong Kok street style references, A Bathing Ape’s influence and some of the Japanese menswear obsession with American Hip Hop and skate culture. Even the Hello Kitty prints had a brown fake tan similar to the Ganguro from Harajuku Tokyo.
Hello Kitty frilly dresses, camouflage organza, stars and stripes knit were all clashing with leopard and Hawaii flowers prints. To top it off, based on a Bob Marley hat he did for Galliano’s Dior, Stephen Jones made me an updated version bucket hat in fluffy faux fur with plastic chains and giant pearlized buttons.
Till this day, the Hello Kitty collection is still my favourite and closest to my heart. It was a Hong Kong version of the Japanese, and their reflection on American culture, executed by an entire British team in London; you cannot get more international than that!
What's your favourite street to shop at when in Hong Kong?
The landscape has changed so much in the past ten years.
Whenever I am in Hong Kong, I like to look at books, toys or figurines. There is a tiny bookstore in Causeway Bay just opposite Lee Gardens, they focus on vintage Japanese books and magazines. I love their amazing selection, it is always a treasure hunt digging through the pre-internet era; especially as I am getting older, I really appreciate the importance of print.
Your work often features themes of romantic fantasy. What made you so fascinated with this theme?
Quote Tracey Emin - "Love is what you want!"
See also: Made In Hong Kong: How Karmuel Young Is Redefining Masculinity