The second of the Asian nominees for this year's Woolmark Prize hailing from Hong Kong is the label ffiXXed, which is the brainchild of Fiona Lau and Kain Picken. With a studio and in-house production team at the base of the Wutong Mountain in Shenzhen, this duo is definitely not your average design team! Originally from Melbourne, the two then travelled to Berlin, where ffiXXed was born. Eventually, they briefly moved to New York before settle down in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. While Kain comes from a fine art background and Fiona from a design discipline, the two work seamlessly together to create a unisex collection with localized production values. Their excitement about being nominated for this year's Woolmark Prize is infectious and we're confident that their enthusiasm will be aptly reflected in their designs.
ES: Tell us a little bit about how you work together.
F: We come up with our ideas either separately or together.
K: It's very organic.
F: It's not linear at all.
K: And there's no formula to it. One of the things is that we never actually intended to start working together in fashion and I think because it comes from that starting point, it's not very strict.
F: Maybe I'll come up with an idea and then I'll have to pitch it to him and then I make a small sample and show him, then he gives me feedback and we might change it. It's a lot of dialogue between us.
K: In the beginning, we used to always work together to come up with the initial idea, but now the collections are getting much bigger and we're doing so many projects so it works faster now that we each have our little ball of ideas that we start with and then start to work on it together. Or we might just come up with something and say, "Let's do this."
F: Or we might both at the same time say, "That's terrible!"
ES: What happens if one of you doesn't like the other's idea?
F: I have to really fight for it! I might make some samples to prove to him that it's good. He might then give me some feedback about whether I should continue or not continue. And it goes the same for him. We have to get each others' opinions.
K: If we have two ideas that we can't agree on, we might try to combine them.
F: Or ditch them both.
ES: Is there anything that ends up in the collection that only one of you likes?
K: No. There has to be a level of consensus.
F: Maybe we both like it, but one of us likes it more than the other!
K: There are a lot of factors, but if I really couldn't stand an idea, it would never get through.
ES: Would you say that your styles individually are quite different from each other?
F: There's some general similarity.
K: There's a framework that we work with.
F: Sometimes I think Kane can be a bit quirky, but then sometimes Kane will think my ideas are a little bit more technical than you'd prefer?
K: We both have our different directions and, of course, Fiona comes from a fashion background. I studied fine art.
K: I come from a completely different place.
F: Kane's not so into pattern making.
K: She has more sympathy for it! If you ask me to make a pattern for something, I probably couldn't do it, but I have a general understanding of how it works. I'm not into this idea of overworking the pattern. It's just a way to realise the idea.
F: I'm the same, but sometimes I'm a bit more sympathetic to a more interesting cut.
ES: I think it's interesting because you're a girl and you're a guy and I understand that ffiXXed is largely unisex.
K: Well, we do both men's and womenswear.
F: When we started and we were living together, we didn't have that much money and I would always wear Kane's clothing and I like to wear oversized. We just thought, "Why make two sets of clothing when we can just make one!" And I'm into quite masculine clothing.
K: So it works quite well and a lot of the pieces can be work by either men or women equally, but we do do some more dedicated womenswear pieces.
F: Just a few.
K: And maybe there's a piece in the menswear that needs to be adapted a bit to make it more wearable for a women.
F: Our sizing goes from XXS to L, so if a women's shop comes in to buy, they might buy a piece in XXS to S, but a men's shop will buy M to L.
K: I think it's not actually that difficult to navigate.
ES: So tell me about how you met.
F: In Melbourne, the social scene is really small if you're into design, music, fashion, etc., you go to the same venues and Kane was working with a friend of mine, and his twin sister went to school with me, so that's how we became friends.
ES: And how did ffiXXed come about?
K: That was when we were living in Berlin.
F: When we were in Berlin, I was doing an internship with a label and Kane was working at a gallery. Kane got invited to be a part of Art Rotterdam and he wanted to make some fabric sculptures and he thought it would be a good opportunity for us to make it together, and he didn't want to be "Kane Picken and Fiona Lau" so we just made up any word to be under this title, so that's how it happened.
K: That was the first time we ever used the name ffiXXed. We enjoyed working together and it developed from there.
F: We started in clothing sculptures and we developed the line from there. Then we decided to come to Hong Kong and do it more seriously, but keep it still under the banner of ffiXXed.
ES: So why 'ffiXXed'?
F: Well, that was because Kane was doing these 'X' paintings at the time...
K: And I always thought it was strange how your email was Fiona Lau, but "Fiona" with two F's.
F: In the beginning, really, the project was not that serious so we just thought, "Oh, just choose a name."
K: But that's the beautiful thing about making something up because it invites all these other meanings to come to it.
ES: Tell me about the ffiXXed brand. How are you different from the other nominees?
K: I think we have a different approach to fashion; we're not particularly interested in the glamourous or sexy side of fashion or any super conventional idea of fashion. I think we come from a more conceptual point of view, in terms of the ideas, but in terms of the designs we come from an everyday basics idea.
F: It's classic, with a difference. For example, Kane today is wearing these jeans, but it's a trouser on the other side, but if you reverse them they become a classic trouser. Combining different fabrics. We don't want to make it crazy, because that's not what we do. We want to keep it within the framework of clothing you can identify, but subtly different.
ES: Will you continue with this approach for your collection for Woolmark?
F: We have two avenues we're working towards; one is that we're trying some knitting.
K: But working with surface patterns with the knitting. For us, the fabric has to be champion of the piece.
F: We don't want it to be too complex. We want to see the wool. Not a design that could be made from any other fabric, because then it wouldn't be utilizing the special characteristics of the wool.
K: Keeping it simple is really difficult! The temptation is to become more technical.
ES: What's your concept of 'simple'?
K: Not simple as in dull or plain, but simple as in not a labour-intensive idea.
ES: Do you think then for this prize you need to push it further?
K: We've been given now these opportunities and contacts to work with new yarn suppliers, so we have this opportunity to do something that we wouldn't ordinarily be able to do. But we don't want to do something that wouldn't fit in our next collection. We want to explore techniques, fibres and fabrics that we wouldn't ordinarily be able to do.
ES: Have you worked much with wool in the past?
K: We have.
F: We've always worked with wool from the very beginning, because we work with a lot of natural fibres, but we haven't done that much machine knitting and we also didn't know that much about it. Coming into this competition, we've be able to learn a lot and visit a lot of factories, so it's been really great. Even the different approach to thinking about construction and how knitted fabrics go together as opposed to how woven fabrics go together. It's a lot of learning!
ES: I can tell from your energy that you're truly excited about all this.
F: Yeah, for sure. We're such nerds! When they said we would be visiting this yarn factory in China, we were so excited and I don't think anyone else was that excited by it!
See more from ffiXXed here.