Embracing the challenges brought upon the fashion industry by the coronavirus pandemic, ever-fun Hong Kong fashion designer Vivienne Tam launches two exclusive collections with M+ for the Year of the Tiger, and shares her top fashion tips for a socially distanced Chinese New Year.
Despite the so-called fifth wave of the pandemic leading to the cancellation of the live launch of her latest exclusive Chinese New Year collections at new visual arts museum M+ on January 7, homegrown fashion designer Vivienne Tam is all smiles. She tells Tatler, in her typically cheerful voice, “I love bringing sunshine to the world. My latest collections are full of colour; colours bring energy, and the bright future is like a rainbow.”
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The first collection, named Pop Pop Tiger after the sound that firecrackers make, features a friendly-faced tiger motif on unisex T-shirts, tote bags, foldable nylon bags and lai see envelopes in a range of shades.
The Tiger Together collection includes a netting top, a qipao, a modern take on a traditional Chinese padded jacket and scarves, all printed with four pop art-style tigers characters in a checquerboard pattern. According to the ancient Chinese zodiac, 2022 marks the year of the Water Tiger, which symbolises love and harmony in family life; Tam’s tiger family—Mother Tiger, Father Tiger and their daughter and son—is inspired by that symbolism. The use of pop colours and playful images also pays tribute to one of her most famous early works, the checquered Mao collection that wowed the fashion world in 1995.
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Both Lunar New Year collections are available at M+ Shop. The Tiger Together collection will also be available at Vivienne Tam stores from January 14.
In this exclusive interview, Tam tells Tatler about her inspiration, her first M+ visit, and how to get wardrobe ready for a potential Covid CNY.
Tatler: Can you tell us about your first visit to M+?
Tam: When I first saw the façade of M+, I loved how the sunshine and shadows cast a romantic feeling onto the grey building. Concrete supposedly exudes coldness and emptiness, but that’s not the case with M+ at all. It looked very warm to me.
I visited M+ for the first time in August 2021 [before the official opening last November], not knowing what to expect. But when I got in, the space was full of surprises. There were so many angles, shapes, holes, depths and dimensions. The spiral staircase felt magical and inspirational; it’s like being in a metaverse. I thought it would be really cool to do a fashion show here. The space was like a giant canvas where I could do lots of things.
Tatler: How did the idea of doing a collection with M+ come about?
Tam: Every year, I do a zodiac collection for Chinese New Year, so I was already planning on a Tiger collection. After my first visit to the museum, I had a meeting with the M+ team and showed them some of my designs. They said, “Wow, that’s perfect to celebrate Chinese New Year and the first year of the museum’s opening.”
Tatler: How has M+ inspired your designs in these collections?
Tam: M+ is different from a contemporary art or art history museum. It’s a visual cultural art museum. I love the East Galleries in particular, which showcase artists and designers from Asia. I saw Thai and Japanese artists who use bamboo differently than we do in Hong Kong. This museum experience inspired me to observe the colours in the city: the packed clothes of homeless people, trains, and the green mesh covering the bamboo scaffolding are all an interesting mix of colours. So, in this collection, I play with colours and shadows to make the Tiger collections feel lively.
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The Tiger Together Collection is also inspired by my Mao Suit, a suit printed with Mao’s figure in black-and-white checquerboard patterns from my Spring/Summer 1995 Mao Collection. It’s now displayed in the East Galleries. The Tiger Family members are similarly printed in a checquerboard pattern. Each character has a different design: Tiger Father wears glasses, Mother Tiger wears a cheongsam, the son has a little cap, and the daughter has a ponytail. So, by putting the whole family of tigers together in my work, I convey the message of unity and good energy, because there have been many “broken families” since Covid; people cannot visit their families, and our society, in a way, has been broken too when people cannot continue running their businesses.
Tatler: What is your favourite piece from the collections?
Tam: I have two: the qipao and the quilted kung fu jacket. Both have the checquerboard Tiger family print. I’ve modernised the traditional shape and patterns; for instance, the jacket is oversized and has a more fashionable take on the silhouette, and the cut isn’t as tight so it’s more comfortable to wear. The material is also lighter. And the fabric buttons are dangling, so it’s a more playful twist on the traditional element.
Tatler: This is a collaboration between a designer and a visual culture museum. How do you distinguish between fashion and art?
Tam: Fashion, to me, is art. Since the very beginning, I’ve been adopting an artistic approach to fashion. By this, I mean that I love playing with prints, shapes, textures, and the way the fabrics are draped on the wearers. I do a lot of research and pair different sewing methods, such as embroidery or appliqué, to different styles, and prints to different textures to see how the fabrics move. Even if the design is the same, the lines, shapes and energies are different on different wearers. Anyone who wears my designs are like my moving art pieces. Visiting M+ made me realise even more that I am an artist; I think it’s a great museum because it celebrates both artists and fashion designers.
Tatler: You had your first virtual runway show in Ngong Ping 360 last October. How would you compare it with a live runway? Which do you prefer?
Tam: I like both. Each has their uniqueness. To prepare for my first virtual runway, I went to Ngong Ping to scout for locations, such as Wisdom Path, the Big Buddha, Ngong Ping Village and the cable car. The models didn’t necessarily have to [do a typical walk down the] catwalk. They experimented with different movements and used props in creative ways. There were no boundaries, so it broke all the traditional rules of a runway.
But I do miss the live runway. I miss the excitement before the show, the moment of waiting for the audience to sit down and the second the models start to go out. And after the show, people would come into the backstage to greet you. It’s intense and I love it. Live shows also give the audience the actual feel of the clothes on models. I remember at the live runway of my spring-summer 2018 collection, I walked on to the stage with the Monster Hunt character Wuba at the end of the show, and the crowd was screaming. The energy and excitement were incredible. You can’t find the same reaction from virtual runways.
Tatler: Will you be working on more virtual events?
Tam: In a perfect world, we would work with both live and virtual runway shows. I’m looking more into virtual runways because of the call for social distancing during the pandemic. But another major reason is that people are [more involved in] the digital world nowadays, with things like NFTs and the metaverse. Something that seems as simple as how fabrics appear can be very creative in the digital version. It’s a new way of business.
Tatler: What challenges have you and the fashion industry as a whole encountered during the pandemic?
Tam: The pandemic has driven us to rethink, regroup and re-strategise. How can we attract and engage new, younger customers who buy from the digital world? At the same time, we have to think of our existing customers. How we merge these two together? What’s the right product? What’s the right approach? These are the questions I’m working on.
Tatler: What trends do you predict for the Year of the Tiger?
Tam: Athleisure wear, so that people can look great at home or when they practise yoga. But when the city opens up again, you’ll want to dress for parties. So this year definitely emphasises two different aspects of fashion.
Tatler: What are your top three tips for what to wear in the Year of the Tiger?
Tam: Nice colours bring people energy. When I designed the Ngong Ping 360 collection, I used the bright colours of flowers in a green forest. So, mix bright colours with neutral ones. And if you don’t know how, look towards nature which offers the best colour combinations.
But the times of Covid also calls for flexibility. So, for my third tip, it’s good to have a jacket for when you are on a business call, and one or two lovely dresses for cocktails and parties in case social restrictions loosen.
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Tatler: Your collections are inspired by local elements, including Lantau’s natural landscape in your fall 2021 collection, and now, Hong Kong’s visual culture. What other Hong Kong elements do you have in mind for future projects?
Tam: I want to bring back qipao and Tang suits [Qing dynasty outfits] with modern twists. I had a denim Tang suit in my Ngong Ping collection and now a qipao in the Tiger collection which doesn’t get wrinkled easily, is stretchable, light and are easy to wash and dry. It’s equally great for staying at home, going out, partying and travelling. These concepts [have endured since] I started with my career with a vision to design for working women, and so in the future, I want to explore more along this direction.