Shao Yen Chen never planned to become a knitwear designer. The Taiwanese native had plumped for a career in jewellery design, then set his sights on womenswear at Central Saint Martins before being placed on their knitwear programme instead. “I realised later this was by far the better choice for me because I could experiment more,” he says.
Experimentation remains Shao Yen Chen’s primary focus. This is a designer who presented an all-white MA graduate collection of cheerleader pompoms sprouting from mini-dresses in 2010 and sent models down the SS12 runway, breasts exposed in barely-there wool dresses. He is also the latest young talent to have created a bespoke piece for Björk.
This season his label is venturing into new territory. “My brand expresses an experimental spirit but I also want to make it accessible to more people,” he explains. The collection is inspired by Catalan artist Joan Miró and Giuseppe Castiglione’s portraits of the Chinese Emperor Qianlong. As such, it has achieved his ambition of combining more wearable clothing with eccentricity. With a 2009 Fashion Weekend/Le Vif Award under his belt, and Selfridges’ “Bright Young Things” recognition in 2011, Shao Yen is worth keeping an eye on.
What’s in a name? Everything if you are Hwan Heo. The Korean designer’s label, Heohwan Simulation, reveals him as a creative who is more likely to be found in a library poring over books than making pretty clothes.
“The ‘simulation’ in my brand’s name stems from Jean Baudrillard’s book Simulacra and Simulation,” he explains. “As a new designer, I wanted to emphasise concepts and philosophy behind the work rather than visually pleasing aesthetics.”
Not that it’s all lofty ideas and political theory. “I used to always watch fashion shows on television,” he says. “I would ask my mother to record them and would sit there watching them on repeat. My interest in pursuing a career in fashion blossomed then.”
A graduate of the RCA, Heo established his label three years ago and has since won acclaim from Fashion Scout, who nominated him as part of their “Ones to Watch” programme. He was also the winner of the Merit Award for his SS13 collection – achievements Heo sees as a huge leap forward towards his “The Decade Project”, a 10-year undertaking inspired by his reading of fashion’s history.
A tall order maybe, but Heo is determined. “I know it is very difficult to keep up for 10 years as a designer but I want to achieve that goal.”
Lowell Delaney and Kim Trager have asbestos, turpentine and an old Victorian hospital to thank for their debut collection of sophisticated sportswear.
“We had just moved into our new studio,” explains Delaney. “It was once an old hospital and we decided we needed to redecorate.” While scraping away at layers of asbestos and paint on the floor, they doused the place in turpentine. What followed was a hallucinogenic game called the “Scraping Olympics”.
“It was a fake radio show where we would invite people from our ’90s childhood onto to the show. Made total sense to us,” they laugh. So Dennis Rodman, Free Willy and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles became the season’s references, subtly worked into the prints.
Delaney, a London-bred statuesque blonde, and Trager, a Danish gent sporting a buzzcut and full red beard, first met over a pattern-cutting table at Central Saint Martins. During their BA degree they racked up valuable experience with a number of international designers, including Céline, Alexander Wang, Haider Ackermann, Josephus Thimister, Ann Demeulemeester and Henrik Vibskov. Plans to form a label didn’t materialise until both decided to turn down places on the school’s prestigious MA programme.
“Saying ‘no thank you’ was super hard,” says Delaney. “Everybody we knew was asking us, ‘What are you doing?’ But we decided the time was now to set up on our own.”
Iceland’s Ingvar Helgason presents a faded photograph of himself to illustrate the moment he decided fashion was for him. In the picture, a little red-headed boy wearing trackpants and a towelling T-shirt is sitting at a sewing machine as his mother helps him guide a strip of fabric under the needle.
Compared to her business partner and boyfriend, German-born Susanne Ostwald was a late developer. She can pinpoint reading an issue of Vogue at 13 years old and seeing a Versace campaign shot by Richard Avedon as the moment that kickstarted her plans for a career in the industry.
The teenager and the small boy in the photograph, now grown up, are well on the way to achieving the goals they both established during their childhood.
Together, they form Ostwald Helgason, a label launched in London in 2008 that is fast earning a reputation for its deft use of colour, pattern and cut. This season the brand showed for the first time in New York on the Milk Made schedule and is finding exposure on the streets in several fashion capitals.
“Natalie Joos saw our presentation and asked if she could wear some pieces for Paris. She was spotted by Mira Duma and it just spiralled from there, with Anya Ziourova wearing our clothes too,” says Helgason.
“We design for an adventurous, independent woman, so to see girls like Natalie, Mira and Anya wearing our work is a real compliment.”