a chat with shaun samson

London Show Rooms in Hong Kong

Shaun Samson: I'm originally from California, but my parents are from the Philippines   I went to the Fashion Institute in Los Angeles.  So if anyone watches The Hills, that's my school!  But I went there before it was on The Hills.
Electric sekki: Was it full of those kinds of girls, then?
Shaun Samson: All of LA is full of those kinds of girls!  And boys.  Actually, during that course I came to Hong Kong for the first time.  We went to Europe first, then we go back to the classroom to design the collection, then we go to Hong Kong to see how things are produced on a mass-scale.  It was really informative.  It was 2003 and it was my first time travelling overseas.  I'd been to Philippines before, but that doesn't count!  I finished the course in 2004, but I felt like I didn't know enough yet to really go out and work.  Maybe I was afraid of the real world?  I applied to St. Martins and got in, so I moved to London.  Did my Foundation, my Bachelor's, a gap year and then my Master's at St. Martins, so I was at school for a further seven years.

Shaun Samson: I think I was just very lucky or fortunate with my timing when I graduated.  My graduate collection was, you know, my graduate collection, so I didn't really think about selling it, but stores were picking it up.  It was three stores: Opening Ceremony, Trading Museum (which is a Comme des Garcons store in Tokyo) and another store in Tokyo.  So then I thought, "Okay, let's start a label!"  I applied to the ITS Competition - because all graduates apply to that - and I won it.  Then right after my graduate show I was contacted by the BFC saying, "Take part in the London SHOW Rooms.  Come to Paris!"  That's how it all started.  In a matter of a few months, I had to form a label.  I didn't know how it worked!
Electric sekki: So when Opening Ceremony came to you and asked to buy your collection, how did you pull that off?
Shaun Samson: I had no idea what I was doing!
Electric sekki: Did you panic?
Shaun Samson: I was freaking out.  I made their order and it did really well and I've been working with them ever since.  They're so great to work with.  It's easy.  That was three seasons ago and it's only been one year since I graduated.  I'm working really hard to keep that momentum going.  I'm not the kind of designer that likes to tell people what to wear.  I really like it when people can take something of mine and interpret it in their own way.  That's why my ideal customer is just some guy hanging out on the street, because he could just put an outfit together without thinking too much.  It would just come naturally.  In terms of my ideal customer, I guess there really isn't a name I can name or a celebrity.  I also don't really want it to be a fashion-fashion label.  I just want it to be cool clothes for cool people.

Electric sekki: There's a bit of a sense of irony in the collection as well, no?
Shaun Samson: What, like a subcultural, urban street-reference?  But the price is on the pricer side, because the techniques I use are really labour-intensive.  These [points to his cat-print tees] are all laser cut and then the [earrings] are all hand-wrung.
Electric sekki: So, why cats?
Shaun Samson: You know, that's the exact same wording that people use whenever they ask me about cats, they say, 'Why cats?'  Here's the story with the cats.  The collection is generally 90's alternative rock, Wheezer, geeky, high school, piercings and that general American culture.  Rather than making things so literal, I wanted to mix it up a bit and say, "How do Asians interpret American culture?"  Because I'm Asian, and we're kind of into the cutesy things.  So I thought, "Oh!  Okay, why don't I put Hello Kitty on a T-shirt?" because that's cool and Asian. 
Electric sekki: So Hello Kitty was your inspiration?  
Shaun Samson: Yes!  This is like Hello Kitty's boyfriend whom Hello Kitty's dad doesn't want her to date.  That's where the cat comes in.
Electric sekki: Awesome! So why this particular cat?  Why this breed?
Shaun Samson: We were playing around and researching.  I wanted a cat that wouldn't look too much like a "real cat", so I made it black and white and cut its eyes out.  Now it looks almost alien or possessed.

A model (second from left) in Shaun Samson.

Electric sekki: One thing that I've found quite interesting in talking to each of the designers here is that they wouldn't necessarily actually wear any of the clothes that they've designed.
Shaun Samson: No, I wouldn't wear it.  I'm not cool enough.  Maybe the shorts, because they're really basic.  When I'm designing clothes, I design for this fantasy man who probably doesn't exist anywhere, and if I try to put myself in my clothes, it twists things around and I can't get my own self out of it.  I need to create this ultimate fantasy person, and that's not me.  So I don't think I'd wear it.
Electric sekki: These pieces here [the felted wool to lyrca sweater pieces] are probably the most wearable.
Shaun Samson: Well, my previous collections have been very obvious in the way that I used this technique, but this time around I wanted to make it more conceptual and not make the [felting] technique too obvious.  Actually, the interesting story about these pieces is that it actually came from a project that I did for Margiela.  When I did the ITS Competition, the design director of Margiela, Nina, gave us each a piece from the Margiela archive and we had to reinterpret it in our own kind of way.  The archive piece I got was the Margiela lingerie digitally printed dress.  What I did is I took a picture of a sweater, digitally printed it and then felted the actual knitted part on top.  They actually have that piece I made in their archives now!  They have the original idea of where this came from.   That's where it all came from!

Towards the end of the evening on the last day of London SHOW Rooms, Shaun decided that it would be a fun experiment to try on one piece from each of the menswear designers showing in  Hong Kong this year.  This is the result:



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