Styliste is a new fashion boutique that houses four labels from four of KL’s most well known stylists: Allien Gan, Calvin Cheong, Teng and Ken Wong. avantGOD, A.L.L.I.E.N, Fabrique, and Cloth & ier may be under one label but they are by no means the same. Although these stylists possess the same unifying love for fashion, each have vastly different experiences and equally different influences that make their labour of love unique.
In the age where anyone can ride the popularity wave by claiming to be stylists, every Tom, Dick and Harry can also just as easily claim to be a “fashion designer”, unfortunately. So what makes these four any different? Like every profession in the fashion industry, the hard work and long exhausting hours that is put into their job is often overshadowed by the illusion of fame and glamour. One thing is for sure, they most certainly didn’t take the next step from being a stylist to starting a label for the money; these are people who have genuine passion of wanting to make other people look good.
Hanger digs deeper than just their stylish surface as you simply cannot appreciate the final result without understanding the process. We sat down with Calvin, Allien, Teng and Ken at the Styliste boutique on 144-01, 1st Floor, Patent House at Jalan Bukit Bintang to get a proper education.
avantGOD by Calvin Cheong
After 8 years in the business, Calvin Cheong has an impressive portfolio of clients like JUICE, HSBC, VISA, Western Union, BMW, Volkswagen, Toyota, Estee Lauder, SK-II, Nivea, Nokia, SONY, Panasonic, Pepsi, Nestle, Nescafe, Maggi, and Martell. And that isn’t even half of it!
This Electronics Engineer undergrad works with passion and enthusiasm to be where he is today.
It was only natural to take the next step after styling by creating a RTW line that has his signature style of gothic and punk rock. It isn’t hard to tell that Calvin is a big fan of Vivienne Westwood, as he says “avantGOD is my friendlier version of King’s Road Seditionaries, beautiful but dark.”
Hello, how are you today?
It’s just 13minutes after Tuesday. I guess there’s no difference between yesterday and today- yet!
You have very strong personal style which is very apparent when anybody meets you, do you wear what fits your mood for the day?
That’s one of it. It could also be the music, movies, magazines, and even the street.
Does your personal style reflect your newest collection?
I rather not call them as a designer’s ‘collection’. It’s my first time setting up a store and I thought it would be great to throw in everything that I love into this ‘collection’ so yeah! When you see my stuff in the shop, you definitely see me.
How did you begin, first as a stylist and now slowly coming into your own as a fashion designer?
Again, I’d rather not be called a fashion designer- I am a fashion stylist and I just have the eye for it. Things that I love always turn out to be the hottest trend the following season so I’m just using this gift of mine to start my own label. You see, whatever I touch turns to gold.
Is it a whole different ballgame?
Retail is. The rest is just the same s**t. When I am doing styling jobs, I have to style it according to client’s requirements. When it came to avantGOD, I just need to pick stuff that I know people will like. Same same but different!
Did you always know that you were going to have a career in fashion?
I used to read my older sister’s CLEO magazine because she had a monthly subscription. What’s more, my mom bought fashion mags too. And (pauses) I made tiny clothes for my toys with my mom’s sewing machine when I was in primary school. That says it..
Tell me all about your newest collection. What was your inspiration? (elaborate on why you chose that certain colour palette etc)
The stuff in the store is pretty much what I want people to wear that are not typically mainstream. It’s a little bit of Goth, punk, rock, disco, vintage and bondage. The shop is stocked up with PVC thigh-high stockings & lace-up corsets, altered vintage clothes, studded body harnesses, cool crazy glasses & edgy neo-punk accessories. My inspiration is mainly from Malcolm McLaren & Vivienne Westwood’s boutique, Seditionaries. Stylish, fashionable and bold.
Which fashion designer do you look up to, international or local?
I love the ‘horror military’ look in Katie Eary’s collection, Iris Van Herpen’s crazy detailing, Sandra Backlund’s super knitwear. Bold Christophe Decarnin for rocking it hot on the runway this season. Maison Martin Margiela’s collection wows me every season. Thank you Gareth Pugh for existing on Earth and last but not least, the mama of punk, Vivienne Westwood who is now an aggressive environmental activist.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? Would you still see yourself doing this?
Oh I love to style! I’ll never quit styling! In 5 years to come, I hope my ‘baby’ will grow a lot bigger into a fashion hotspot and then ‘multiply’!
Lastly, what is fashion to you?
Its art. It can be beautiful, it can be ugly. It’s all really up to individual interpretation.
ALLIEN by Allien Gan
Allien Gan is someone you should remember. Already a force of his own, he’s quickly gaining popularity as a stylist around South East Asia. With only 3 years of experience under his belt he has already gone on to style for Daniel Chong at the Bangkok International Fashion Week 08- The Romanticism of Red Shoe, and have worked under famous Indonesian designer, Nicoline Patricia. It has been said that “this talented individual continually gives the fashion world sophisticated styles for everyone with just the right amount of silhouette and cutting, with a touch of buttons and pockets for detailing”. Allien Gan, even though self- taught his raw talent is undeniable. He is definitely one to watch out as the future of our fashion industry.
So how have you been? Still modeling?
I’ve been busy with a lot of things. No! I’ve stopped for 2 years already. Now I’ve been styling for fashion or commercial shoots blah, blah, blah. I’ve been very busy these few months. After the opening of Styliste I have to take a break. Its good but very tiring. This few months I have jobs overlapping one another- maximum 3 jobs a day and I usually work 23 hours a day, from 1 morning to another.
Your collection is very much like you and how you dress. Its unmistakable!
‘Minimalism’ is my concept- less is more. I concentrate on the details. For example, my t-shirt looks like any other plain t-shirt but I’ve actually changed the cutting. That’s the secret to my collection.
So this current collection is actually your 2nd?
You could say its my 2nd, You see, we just opened, and we had the 1st show in Kuantan during the early September and the collection I brought over was sold out! So I made another collection- a quick one for The Styliste’s grand opening so you could say technically this is my 2nd because both collections are totally different. I think the 1st one is more unisex whereas this 2nd one leans more towards women’s wear. Except the pants, they are still unisex. I produced 12 different designs in the collection and I was so surprised it sold out in 3 days. It was kind of good for me to start afresh with the new collection but it isn’t at the same time because I want everything to be produced locally instead of outsourcing to other countries.
Its certainly very versatile, you can mix and match every piece. I like how the collection keeps everything minimal. That’s really hard to find.
Of course. My target market is not really the younger set rather more for people in their early 30s. They will prefer the quality of the fabric. Comfort with a bit of shadow and silhouette. That’s what they look for. Sometimes its very hard for me to design something. I cannot overdo it and yet it can’t be too simple. You also have to see how its put together, like I had a show last night and after I put my clothes on a model she said “Wow I love your clothes!” but when they went to the rack they didn’t even notice it! You see, my stuff is simple as it’s mostly black and white. Other people like loud prints but I don’t.
So what was your inspiration behind this collection?
Well my own wardrobe is mostly black and white and I always look for good cutting and in Malaysia that is very hard to find. I look for women’s wear because I myself wear them sometimes- there’s nothing wrong with wearing Zara Women. So from there I decided to DIY that piece on my own whenever I cannot wear it, I make it into something unisex or to my style at least. That’s how it started. I actually still prefer Goth fashion, I always apply that into styling as well. My styling and my collection always relate to the same concept somehow. I like lines and symmetry so whenever I design something I think of that maybe because I have a background in graphics. I actually studied film and animation so whatever art and philosophy I’ve learnt from that I apply it to my fashion styling.
Wait so you were a film and animation student, then you became a model and then a stylist cum fashion designer? How did that transition happen?
It happened like this: 3 years ago when I finished my Bachelors in film and animation and was waiting for my results, there was a model search that I just walked by and participated because there were stylists present that day that said I should compete as a model. Unfortunately I was kicked out in the early stages but it didn’t matter because I was just doing it for the sake of doing something in my holidays. I don’t know how but I ended up being the lucky one that got hired for a lot of magazine shoots after the model search finale. After a year of modeling I started to do styling as an assistant. So all in all I’ve been styling for 2 years. I’ve been so lucky, I even did styling for Bangkok Fashion Week before and that was only in my 1st year of styling. I was really happy before MIFW when I did a show in Bangkok for the whole of December. Fourty outfits!
Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
I think I still have a lot more to learn when it comes to styling so I really can’t say for now where I’ll be and especially when I’m not from a fashion background. I’m still at the learning stage. I’ll give myself 5 years to get a better portfolio so I will be able to go to London to study styling for Giorgio Armani then try myself in another country to see how it goes. You know I’ve also worked in Indonesia last year with Nicoline Patricia. I was so happy because my style is androgynous and it’s a little different from what Malaysia is used to so when I went to Jakarta they really appreciated my work. They even wanted me to stay there. Its all these comments that keep me moving forward to today. MIFA actually invited me to have my own slot for this coming MIFW and I’m surprised because I am not a designer. I have 3 shows next month so its impossible for me to finish a collection in time. I’ll probably do it next year. I can wait, I have time.
Favourite designer and model.
At the moment its Alexander Wang. His idea of how he creates a dress is really cool, Very simple and he made it all about the cutting. That’s what I want to do. For models, locally I really like Gwen. Internationally, I still really like Kate Moss, She has really inspired me a lot from her taste and lifestyle. Even Beyonce, I love how they dress up and present themselves.
Any advice for people who want to follow in your footsteps? Your story is very inspiring.
Its all about timing, your personality, and the way you think is very important. You have to always be willing to learn. A lot of people complain that its “too tough” to be an assistant. I don’t know why so many of them like to be glamourous before they have really achieved anything. You can’t be a wannabe, okay? You must know what you want then go for it. You can’t give up half way because you still have a long way to go. I was also struggling for a year but I still persevered. Financially it may be hard to sell your collection at the beginning, so you have to forget about money. Overlook that, and passion will get you all the way. Passion is really important.
Poetic by Teng
Yee Teng is by no means an amateur. Having been in the business for almost 10 years, she knows what works and what doesn’t. Its been also said that she is also 1 of the top 3 stylists in Malaysia,. With a background in business, she started from scratch to learn the business by becoming fashion coordinator for Istan where it gave Teng the opportunity and the right training to lead her in the fashion industry. If fashion is your calling, then get ready for an education. Teng is as wise and as experienced as it gets. Teng explains her humble beginnings to where she is now. Her collection, Fabrique is modern, minimal and she explains “poetic”. Her quirkiness and attention to detail is how she expresses her style.
So tell us about your new collection. Congratulations, by the way!
My brand emphasizes on ‘unisex’ as most of the items are unisex. Even the women’s pieces are rather oversized so if a guy wears it, it still looks good.
What was your inspiration with this collection?
For me, it starts with a single piece of clothing and from there it evolves into a whole collection. There’s really no proper planning (laughs)
How did you decide to become a fashion designer from being a stylist?
I’ve actually always wanted to open a shop of my own but because the economy was always unstable I was really scared to start my own business. But because Deric Lim from DIVA Production offered the space for The Styliste so it was a great opportunity and its good timing because I’m not young anymore (laughs)! Well I think its just the right time to start. I’ve been a stylist for 8 years.
Did you finish high school knowing that you wanted to be a stylist?
Actually I was always interested in fashion but the economy was really, really bad in the 80s and I didn’t even dare to take any fashion course even and it was kind of expensive overseas. So I studied Business Admin instead. When I finished school and it was time to go for job interviews I thought that I should do something fashion related, like styling at least but they didn’t have any job vacancies at that time but there was an job opening as a fashion coordinator at Isetan, so I started from scratch lor.
Did you start liking fashion because of a particular designer you were really inspired by in the 80s?
When I was young, I already loved to sketch designs and liked dressing up. Now, not so much (laughs) but I like to dress people up.
How long does it take to get outfits together for a project?
3 days. Sometimes a few months if its an advertisement job or if the client doesn’t like the selection or if the concept suddenly changes.
Do you source everything locally or from around South East Asia?
Locally and usually around South East Asia. For now, I’m only sourcing from Bangkok.
Who’s your favourite designer? Favourite model?
Comme des Garcons! I also like Dries Van Noten. For model I like Tao Okamoto, the model who opened for 3.1 Philip Lim
How do you forecast next year’s trend?
I think big MC Hammer trousers will be big.
How do you explain fashion to people that don’t understand fashion and terms like silhouette, cut and draping?
I think the easiest way is to put on the clothes and see it for themselves so they can see how it looks on them and show them references so they can understand more.
Which is your favourite item?
My favourite would be the t-shirt I’m wearing because I like bows (which is the signature of the brand). The bow on this t-shirt is not the cute-sy kind.
Any idea how your next collection is going to be?
For Christmas there will be a bit of ‘bling’, for Spring I plan to have more colourful stuff but my basic colours will always be black and white. I already have something in mind.
What trend do you absolutely hate?
Off season stuff or worn at the wrong season. Sometimes people are too lazy to dress up.
You’ve taken the next step already, what’s next?
Retirement? (laughs). Well, maybe in the future I’ll just be concentrating on designing for my brand.
What will you tell people who want to follow in your footsteps?
You really have to have passion because it isn’t easy to get into the industry as there aren’t a lot of job offers. There’s a lot of competition and it’s a very tough job. It might look glamourous but it isn’t easy. I think the easiest way is to be a voluntary assistant for a stylist or designers because there are a lot of things you don’t learn in school.
(Cloth & ier) by Ken Wong
Ken Wong, a graduate from Carven’s school of fashion design, is has been working the backstage as a stylist for MIFW for the past 2 years- among other projects he has done under his belt. After so many years from working with production houses to commercial shoots, he still admits that he’s still learning everyday. Ken talks about why couture doesn’t work here, his inspirations, and his wide collection that takes inspiration from all things English.
How have you been?
Good. Everything’s been good, business is good!
What’ s your collection about?
My collection is more for teenagers because my target age is between 16 to 36 and its affordable for everyone because most teenagers have the spending power to even buy a RM100 t-shirt. Why don’t you get something cheaper than that so you can get more things? My trousers in this collection are only RM59.90 as this is my 2nd line. My main line is RTW whereas my 2nd line is more DIY.
This is quite a lot of pieces for a collection.
Yeah, because everything is meant to be mixed and matched. My collection has cardigans, jeans, jackets, dress, skirts and blouses- everything can be found here from top to toe. I even have accessories! I bring in the hats and bags from all around the world.
What is your signature style for this collection?
Very English with a lot of ruffles and lace. That will be my trademark. It also depends on the season because if its AW09 and SS10 will be totally different from one another.
How long have you been a stylist?
I actually graduated in fashion design 10 years ago. I’ve worked with a lot of production houses and magazines for about 6 years. Right now I’m designing again.
What have you learnt after so many years under your belt?
I’m always learning, even now because to everyone, fashion is like a statement. I’m still learning to wear a hat or jacket in different ways. I’m still learning about cutting as well. Until now, it’s been my style to keep learning how to make people look great.
Who’s been your biggest inspiration?
Vivienne Westwood. She’s absolutely great. You may not know what design is, but you will know that her dresses are very nice. When she says “show piece” ahe really means it.
Is that the reason why you became a fashion designer?
No, the reason why I wanted to become one was because of John Galliano. He’s my biggest inspiration to be a fashion stylist because every time I see his show its very loud and edgy. I never miss out Galliano’s show every season.
Do you see yourself doing couture in the future?
A lot of designers here are couture, even the young designers but for me, couture in Malaysia is nothing like Paris and Milan because Malaysians uses all their money to buy cars or condos rather than clothes because its not worth it from their point of view. For couture a single piece is thousands and thousand so they will think “Why should I pay for couture? I should just buy a Chanel or a Louis Vuitton bag.” That’s why couture in Malaysia has taken off, but when I see designers like Bernard Chandran do very good couture, its always a topseller, Melinda Looi, Eric Choong are all inspired by couture. All these people are couture kings and queen of Malaysia.
Who knows maybe in the future you’ll see yourself being part of ‘KL 6’ one day?
No, I’ve never thought of that! I just do my job and I’ve never thought of being famous. I’m doing this for myself and I just want to make everyone look gorgeous. That’s my job.
When’s your next collection coming out?
Like other stylists, you must be really busy with a few jobs crammed in a day?
Not really. I all spend my time looking at magazines, doing research for the latest fashion trends on Fashion TV or Style.com.
Any favourite model?
Myself, of course! (laughs) I try to be a woman because it is part of my job!
You’re quite an established stylist and must have had a lot of different types of clients. Which job was the most fun?
Sloggi for MIFW 2007. That was very fun! The clients made the boxes and asked me if I wanted to use them. I gave them what I had in mind and they were sold. They were so happy and excited when the whole concept was so un-Sloggi like. I know Malaysian fashion is still stuck and isn’t on an international level yet. Malaysia can actually be on that level but it just depends on how people here really perceive the fashion industry.
What will be your advice for the next generation of stylists and fashion designers?
Do a lot of research on fashion. Its not just about the clothes, its everything from top to toe. If you say you really love fashion then everything from hair to shoes is a must.
Check out The Styliste at Jalan Bukit Bintang or online at www.the-styliste.com