Lui Hon is an independent Australian fashion designer who creates beautiful, structured and texturally intriguing pieces. Having been listed as a finalist in the L’oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival Design Awards 2011, his path towards carving a name for himself in Australia’s fashion landscape seems clear.
We met in his studio in Melbourne, surrounded by dress patterns of collections from past and present, in a nostalgic art deco building and discussed his work as a designer, inspirations, and the challenges he’s faced in a notoriously fickle and unforgiving industry.
Tell us a little more about your background.
Lui: I was born in Malaysia and my mum was a pattern maker in a factory. I came to study in Australia in 1994 and decided to participate in Project Runway in 2008. After graduating from RMIT, I started a label named Von with a school friend of mine, Evian Lee. After Project Runway, I decided to create my own label and that was how Lui Hon was born, in 2009.
What inspired you to be a designer? Did you always know that you wanted to be a designer?
I was told that during my first birthday, as part of a tradition my mother put a pen, scissors and drumstick on the floor in front of me and I picked the scissors. But that’s just a myth.
Growing up amongst women, with my mom and sisters always around me, I started sketching when I was twelve because I was so inspired by the beauty of women. As I evolved as a designer, I felt that I would be able to use design as a tool in order to tell a story of what I wanted to say.
What is the best part of your day as a designer?
The best part for me is when I’m making the garments. I enjoy pattern-making too, as it’s hard to tell how things would turn out from 2D (pattern-making) to 3D (when it’s been placed on the mannequin). It’s very interesting, sometimes it would turn into something which you did not foresee would happen; sometimes it doesn’t lead to anything at all. But as part of the process, sometimes you need to be able to walk away and come back to it and look at it from a different angle.
What keeps you going as a designer?
I always use fashion to express myself. Things that keep me going are when I encounter interesting people and I have an urge to use fashion to express it. It’s a really good tool for me to express myself through my work and how it can be used to translate itself into a series of collections. I find my work very enjoyable.
What was the most challenging point in your career and how did you overcome it?
The most challenging part is having to pull back and look at the big picture. Even though I now have a business partner to help me manage the business side of things, sometimes our roles overlap. It’s not just about patternmaking and drawing alone. It’s also about how the garment would be put together, which links to how the machinist is going to put it together.
Which is your favourite collection to date? And why?
A lot of my collections are very close to my heart. But I do love the new collection, Estherian. It’s about a woman who’s struggling to balance everything in her life, from being a mother to being a careerwoman. That sense of tenacity is really inspiring. Essentially, it’s about the strength and tenacity of women.
What are the sacrifices that you have had to make in order to reach this point in your career?
I don’t really see it as a sacrifice, but you need to cut off a lot of excess in your life in order to focus on this job. But then again, the moment you think of fashion as a job, it becomes an indication that you need to work somewhere else. Fashion should not be a chore but a part of you.
Is there a motto that you live your life by? That grounds you amidst the stress of being in a such a fickle industry?
Be true to yourself and be honest to yourself in the design process. Sometimes people like to offer their own ideas and at the end of the day it’s your design and the story that you want to tell. So some good advice can be considered, but you always need to know the middle ground.