Steven Tai may only have graduated last year, but he's already nabbed the inaugural Chloé design prize at this year's Hyères festival. At Berlin Fashion Week, he impressed with his runway show of blonde and beautiful geeks. Wonderland talks industry recognition and unusual inspirations with the Canadian designer.
When did your interest in fashion begin?
My parents both worked in manufacturing of cycling-wear so I grew up next to seamstresses, fabrics, and pattern cutters. However, maybe because it was around me all the time and I was just a boy around 6 or 7, I never realized how extraordinary the factory was. Instead I was playing with the wooden rolls that fabric used to wrap around and pretend they were swords with other boys from the factory. It was only when I was in university studying commerce that I realized how much I wanted to work in the creative industry.
You were born in Canada but came to Central Saint Martins – what were your impressions of London?
I always felt like London was the cool place to visit. It was where sophisticated royalties meshed with safety-pin adorned punks. But when I moved here, I realized that before I see any punks or royalties, I had to survive in London first. The rhythm of London was definitely a lot faster than Vancouver, where I grew up.
What did your first ever design sketch look like?
Cringe! I have it stored somewhere but I dare not look.
Who would be your ideal client?
Women who appreciate the craftsmanship behind their clothes.
Do you have any unusual influences or inspirations?
I like going to the most unusual toys, hobby / craft stores for inspiration. B&Q, Hamley's, Forbidden Planet are all places that I frequent.
What are your design signatures?
A focus on texture, clean shapes and a touch of sportswear inspiration.
You've gone from graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2011 to being the toast of Berlin Fashion Week – how does it feel to have such a sudden rise?
It feels amazing. On one hand there is a great joy to feel so welcomed by the industry. On the other hand, I have to remember that I still need to find a way to support myself after all this. It’s made me realize it is possible to do what I love as a career but at the same time it has also taught me that I have a lot to prepare for.
You won Chloé inaugural design prize – what does the award mean to you?
It was my first time focusing completely on a brand and thinking about the Chloé woman as oppose to the unlimited creative freedom I was accustomed to. So it meant a lot to me that I won, because it not only indicated to myself but to the industry my adaptability.
Your SS13 collection at Berlin featured the amazing 'pen nib' dress – how did you create that?
I worked with a creative technologist, John Nussey. We worked together when I was still at uni. In particular, a Louis Vuitton project where we created a laser cut monogram lining that lights up when the user opens her bag so she can find her keys. From there, I wanted to create something mechanical with these gold nibs so I approached John. It was great because we were able to combine our knowledge between electronics and clothesmaking.
What does the rest of 2012 hold in store for you?
I will be participating in Camper's sponsored shoe workshop in Majorca this July. And then I will be going to Milan during fashion week for the Milan White Young Talent showroom. And finally I will be going to Athens to present my latest collection at 4FashionShake event in November.
Words: Zing Tsjeng