No one should have the right to judge you
SK Tang is a young, energetic, talented fashion stylist from Hong Kong, who is up to having some fun and is not afraid to take his projects to the next level. Starting his career as a fashion designer, SK Tang soon realized that the stiff commercial industry in Hong Kong has not enough potential for the personal growth and self-realization.
During three years as a fashion stylist, SK Tang has already worked on numerous projects, editorials, and short films. The latest editorial ‘Sheung Wan Sensei’ shot in collaboration with a photographer Olya Oleinic for the Chinese brand Marrknull that pays attention to the new rising culture of people expressing their individualism through the deconstruction of fashion.
In this interview, we speak about the new era of self-creation when everything is acceptable, the boundaries between male and female fashion are blurred, and one becomes freer. Beauty is redefined and potentially taken to the unknown direction when mixing and trying is the only way forward. SK Tang is here to stay and leave an imprint on the fashion industry with his interpretation of trends and innovations.
Tell about yourself. How did your career start?
I think it all started in my childhood, I secretly loved how nicely my mother dressed for work when I was still a kid.
I grew up in a very traditional family in Hong Kong and I never really thought that I would be working in anything related to the creative industry.
After I graduated from secondary school and because of my love for clothes, I started studying fashion design and eventually worked as an assistant designer for a few years after I graduated. But the more I worked as a designer, the more I felt bored and insecure about being one, as the "creative" industry in Hong Kong is always more on the commercial side, and I am not fully confident about my talent in design.
One thing hasn't changed throughout these years, it's my love for nice clothes. I became more and more obsessed with fashion editorials. I set up Tumblr and Instagram just to share images I love from magazines and weird stuff as a never-ending mood board for myself. I think it had somehow become the only channel for me to fully express myself in what I love - fashion. Until one day, a young photographer in Hong Kong, named Issac Lam, wanted to collaborate with me to work on a test shoot, and that was how my first styling project was done 3 years ago. We became good friends since then and are working on creative projects regularly until today.
That's how I started my career and became a freelance stylist in 2017.
In what way do you think the Western fashion industry is different from the Eastern approach?
I think the cultural difference between them is the most obvious. Western people are usually more open-minded in things, such as fashion, art, music, etc., these are all very important factors to becoming more creative and easier to adapt to changes, so they can keep on moving, on creating new ideas. Although I can totally foresee a rise of Asian forces which can somehow affect the whole fashion industry not so far in the future, I think in most Asian countries, fashion is still not a very essential thing for everyone or is even considered to be a luxury behavior being aware of how you dress.
What motivates you to discover new directions?
To become more 'me'. I always think it's not that impossible to make beautiful images if you have a great team, good visual sense, and with the help of the internet which provides you with so many different inspirations. But it's always important to make sure you are doing something new and to be true to yourself. My ultimate goal is to make my work more memorable and unique so that people can recognize my works easily by spotting some of my unique elements just by looking at them. It's a long road ahead, but it's very crucial for me if I need to stand out from all the great stylists all over the world.
Today there is an intrinsic merge between masculinity and femininity in the fashion world from emerging collections to marketing of clothes brands to street styling. What do you think the future of styling prepares for us? Will we still be going in the unisex direction or do you anticipate something different?
As the LGBT community is growing bigger and stronger every day, I think the unisex, genderless trend will be unstoppable for sure. Even for me as a designer before, I always wanted to design in this direction. And I would sometimes go for some unisex items from womenswear as the size always fits better on me than most menswear brands. Anyway, it would still be a bigger challenge for the public to see this as a trend, but for me, I will always find it interesting to mix men and womenswear in a single look.
Your hobby? What do you do when you are not working on editorials and commercial projects?
“I can totally foresee a rise of Asian forces which can somehow affect the whole fashion industry not so far in the future, — I think in most Asian countries, fashion is still not a very essential thing for everyone or is even considered to be a luxury behavior being aware of how you dress”.
“I think it’s all about choosing the right outfits for the right spot — I will always make sure the outfits won’t blend in too much with the background.”.
Describe how you prepare for the set. Do you improvise or do you know exactly how the model should look?
For me, as a stylist who has no proper styling background, I always have a brief idea in my head, on each look and how to wear the looks in a more unusual or even funny way, before a set. I will further make touch-ups on set for sure, and there is no guarantee that everything will go as smooth as my thought when you don't have a fitting model.
But that's why styling and being on set is so interesting to me when everything is sort of uncontrollable and full of surprises.
In street styling, you see a lot of combinations of color. Instagram models tend to build their profiles through the extreme but exquisite use of colorful clothes. However, there is still a tendency in the European countries to stick to the pastel tones or keep it all black. What is the secret behind knowing how to dress in color and look stylish?
I think as long as you feel comfortable and confident in what you wear, nobody should have the right to judge you. Stylish or not is just a very personal point of view, even though you are wearing the hottest items of the season, there will always be someone thinking the opposite way.
What are this century's most unexpected surprises in fashion design for you? Name three designers that absolutely blew your mind.
Martin Margiela and Rei Kawakubo will always be the legends of all time. The way they stay true to what they want to do and keep pushing the boundaries of fashion always reminds me how to be a better artist and not just some guy working in the fashion industry.
Also, I would say Demna Gvasalia. Despite the facts that the "Ugly is the new beauty" trend he started will slowly fade out and how he copied the from Margiela archives, he definitely shook me the most. I remember when I still worked as a designer, I was honestly bored by how fashion was going, beautiful dresses for beautiful people. I can totally understand why people had an idea that fashion is not for everyone if you are not born to be rich or good looking.
Until Demna showed up and he showed the world this whole new wave of aesthetic. He changed fashion with his team in such an enormous way, from model casting, fashion images, even how to wear a jacket or a shirt, etc. He brings up freshness to the industry once again and his rebel, anti-fashion spirit always reminds me of the 90s a lot. The only difference is that it becomes one of the hottest trends of the modern world in a very short time.
It somehow reminded me myself, a kid who was over-protected by my parents, not having so many friends growing up to share common interests in music and hobbies, and the strong feeling of resistance to doing stuff to please everyone just to get them to like you more. I think it also reflects in how I see and work in fashion now. A part of me still loves fashion in a very sarcastic and weird way, and I cherish it a lot.
Styling is not only a smart work with clothes, jewelry, hair, and makeup but also seeing the full picture which means finding the right location and using additional elements that will speak the language and deliver the visual aesthetic you planned. How do you work with the chosen location to make sure that your fashion choices are enhanced by the overall atmosphere?
I think it’s all about choosing the right outfits for the right spot. I will always make sure the outfits won’t blend in too much with the background. For example, if the background is already busy or with different objects, don’t try to use an outfit with lots of layers or patterns. Make sure the model with the outfit is the main focus of the whole image, but not distracted too much by the surrounding.
Also, always prepare enough pose references to work with the photographer. Just in case when you can’t do much with the same location, you can still work with the model to make sure the story looks interesting enough.
What is the hardest project you have ever worked on and how did you make it work?
I can't name the hardest one, but most of them were commercial jobs. Working on editorials gives you full freedom while commercial one always has a very limited room to do what you want. The way to balance commercial and your own creativity is always the hardest part, and it takes lots of time and effort to push clients' bottom line of acceptance. Especially sometimes you have to deal with different people before your idea can truly reach your clients. I mean, it won't work every time of course, but it's all about mutual trust. It just feels amazing when the client is convinced by you which means he/she truly believes in what you do. It's a huge boost of self-confidence, and it's very important to me as I never stop doubting myself.
What is your style and the way you dress? How did it develop throughout the years?
I’m a boring person when it comes to dressing up.
I’m one of those guys who dress in black almost 24/7, owning a different kind of items in black with a different texture, length and with small details.
I usually pay more attention to proportion and silhouette than which brands I’m wearing, but I’m quite obsessed with Y Project right now as their items are so wearable but interesting at the same time. Anyway, shoes will always be the most interesting part of my outfits as I don’t mind having one or two small pop color details on them to make me look less serious. Also, big thanks to the fact that lots of good and new coming brands are going for genderless direction also makes me more willing to try on different things.
What is the most beautiful place on earth? What is special about it?
Anywhere with cats. Because there are CATS!!!
The campaign for Marrknull SS19 elaborates on this idea of tourists who make photographs or selfies while traveling the world. How did you manage to bring to life the client’s idea while also staying true to yourself and creating your vision?
To me, this is one of the projects that was so much fun to do, and I'm very proud of. Not just because the whole concept is about one of the most real and funniest Chinese lifestyles that you have probably seen before, but also it somehow represents self-confidence and joy that are presented by the performers so naturally. We are not trying to mock or make fun of this behavior, but to push and share something that truly represents the modern China, in a more down to earth way and connects to the viewers at the same time, not just the stereotypes how Westerns see China which is always about dragons, Buddha, and most importantly, "copycats". From styling, poses, to the design of the items, it's inspired from the true everyday life in China which you won't be fully experiencing unless you are a citizen here. And that's what makes it unique and so satisfying to do because there is almost no way copying can happen and it's all about us.
How would you like to be remembered? A stylist that...
Never take fashion seriously.
What are you working on right now?
A special story for Kara bags.