Serving us a vision of unviralled elegance and sensuality, Han Chong is the creative force behind the inimitable designs of Self-Portrait. Though he studied at Central Saint Martins, Chong credits his family for introducing him to the worlds of art that paved his future. Since founding the brand in 2013, the Malaysian-born, London-based designer has dressed everyone from the royal family and red carpet stars to our best friends at summer weddings, crafting a succinct aesthetic that is instantly recognisable as his own.
Timeless yet contemporary, his new SS20 collection reworks Self-Portrait staples of lace and sheer fabrics with layered details, ruched sleeves and hyper-feminine A-line silhouettes. We spoke to Chong about the collection, how he wants women to feel wearing his clothes and what we can expect next.
All clothing Self-Portrait SS20
Hi Han Chong! Looking back to the beginning, what did fashion mean to you growing up?
I grew up in Penang, an island of Malaysia, so there really was nothing there in terms of fashion, [but] I think subconsciously I always had a fondness for clothes and fashion as a child. My memories of fashion always started with seeing my mom and relatives get ready for special occasions, like weddings. The excitement of seeing these women getting dressed up was intoxicating.
When, and why did you get started in design?
My aunt is a local artist and she was the person that introduced me to art growing up, so I went to study art and design in Kuala Lumpur. It was a tutor there that inspired me to get into fashion. I never knew it was a career option before.
What drew you to Central Saint Martins after that, and how was your time there?
My tutor shared with me his tales of London and Central Saint Martins and after hearing his stories, I knew that’s where I needed to be. The experience at Saint Martins was quite intense and rigorous. Though everyone’s work was vastly different, it was still very competitive. What I learned was that you can’t focus too much on what everyone else is doing; you have to really be focused on what you want to say and your own work. Also, be prepared to work really hard! It was tough being a student and supporting myself while going to school. That’s one of the reasons why I started a scholarship with CSM last year, to provide financial and mentorship support to the next generation of talents.
All clothing Self-Portrait SS20
It feels like you’ve filled a niche in the market with Self-Portrait. What prompted you to start your own brand?
I wanted a brand that provided high-quality designs that are timeless and yet modern, all injected with a hint of personality. Also, I sought to make quality designs accessible to a wider audience. The idea doesn’t seem new anymore, but it was about providing high end designs which are less elitist and really making people feel like they could be a part of the brand.
How did you develop its ethos and aesthetic?
I knew to be successful, you have to build awareness from creating a signature handwriting that can be recognised, especially in such a crowded market. I love textures and mixing fabrications — lace provided the perfect canvas.
And in what ways has that evolved over the years?
We were known for our lace dresses initially, but we’ve evolved and introduced new materials, silhouettes and textures. We’ve even launched new categories, such as swimwear.
How do you want people to feel wearing these textures and silhouettes?
I want people who wear our clothes to feel beautiful and confident. I feel like everything we do is with the intention to uplift, empower and celebrate our customers.
What were your initial inspirations for the SS20 collection?
My first feeling for the collection was that it was going to be lighter. I wanted it to feel optimistic, simpler, especially with everything that’s happening in the world.
Where do you go to get ideas when starting a new season?
For me I always think of our women. How is she feeling at that time? Where is she going? And what does she need? I design for her, so this is where it starts for me.
Going into a new decade, where do you see Self-Portrait at the end of it?
I never plan that far in advance, because I try to keep myself open to new ideas and opportunities. If you think about it, a decade ago, there really wasn’t Instagram yet and look at how much that has changed the fashion industry. What I do hope to continue to do ten years from now is make women feel confident and beautiful about themselves with our designs.
Finally, what do you want to be known for as a designer?
I want to be known as a thoughtful designer that cared about women.