This interview of the young creative fashion designer Kit Seng Lei is exclusive: the first one of a series, the first of a new talent trained at IFA Paris both in China and France – explanations, facts and details.
Michel Temman: You were born in Macao. Could you tell us more about your childhood and adolescence there? Why did you leave this territory to move to Shanghai later?
Kit Seng Lei: My name, Kit Seng Lei, is the transliteration of my Cantonese name. Yes, I was born in Macao, China, and raised in Macao, a very small special administrative region in the south of China. As it is known to all, Macao is named the “Oriental Las Vegas.” It is famous for its casinos and developed tourism but it doesn’t have anything to do with fashion design. That’s why I left for Shanghai alone at the age of 18. As I always dreamed about Shanghai as a cosmopolitan big city when I was in high school, it didn’t take me a second to decide to start my fashion design dream there. After finishing my Bachelor in Fashion Design at IFA Paris on Shanghai’s campus, I was fortunate to earn a full scholarship from IFA Paris for their Master of Arts in Contemporary Fashion Design program on their Paris campus. And since, I have been living and studying in Paris for more than a year. I have now graduated from the Master of Arts Contemporary Fashion Design at IFA Paris.
M.T.: What are the precise elements that drove you to fashion and creative design?
Kit Seng Lei: I love fashion since I was a child. I think that my passion for fashion came naturally to me when I was little, although I don’t remember anything special happening to me that made me interested in fashion all of a sudden. But I was one of those kind of boys who loved playing with Barbie dolls and dressing them up. And I was begging my mother to buy me fashion magazines and VCDs of fashion shows instead of toys in my childhood. I grew up with a fashion dream in my mind, and fortunately it didn’t change. To me, probably the freedom of how one dresses up and the excitement of creating new fashion lit me up, because I believe both styling and designing are sort of self-expressions. And fashion is one of the easiest way to express oneself, because we need to wear garments every day and we have limitless choices and styles. Also, fashion design is a very visual way to tell stories and concepts, but it is different from other ways. Fashion has always been at the service of human life, so I think it is more accessible and approachable.
M.T.: How do you define your style and creativity? And may I know your references in fashion, your icons?
Kit Seng Lei: My signature, in terms of creativity in fashion, are my design prints and my combination of colors. I see my garment as a blank canvas, and then I use digital technology to make prints on it to achieve a certain visual effect. I had an internship in a fashion company in Shanghai during my bachelor studies there, and I needed to make prints after prints every day for several months because I was the assistant of the print designer. That experience showed me how different prints on the fabrics change the visuals of the garments and it made me fall in love with making prints. And also I love using and mixing colors. Maybe it is because I am from a relatively conservative country, and when it comes to design, I would like to do the contrast. I like something that can draw attention easily with the prints and colors. I don’t have a specific reference or icons in fashion. For example, my last collection Polly Pocket was all about 90s’ style. And I took inspirations from the daily outfits they had in the pictures and tried to redesign the elements in a contemporary way. Different from Polly Pocket, I had a women’s wear collection before named Street Samurai which took references from traditional Japanese armors. The consistency between my collections is my skills of making prints and mixing colors.
M.T.: What did IFA Paris bring you, in terms of know-know, knowledge and vision?
Kit Seng Lei: I really appreciate IFA Paris due to all the skills, techniques and knowledge the school has taught me. The Bachelor in Fashion Design & Technology course taught me the basic skills and knowledge of fashion design in the Shanghai campus, then the Master of Arts Contemporary Fashion Design course in Paris opened my views and made me think deeper in fashion. In the Bachelor course, I got the basic ability to be a fashion designer such as sketching, draping and marketing. In the master course, we had some classes that would not only just focus on design, but also styling and fashion photography and much more. IFA Paris really helped me to explore my creativity in a different way and let me absorb the diverse fashion cultures, and not just stay in my own bubble as a designer. The business classes such as branding, positioning and distribution also made me understand more about how the fashion brands work in the industry nowadays. It was extremely useful for me to absorb this know-how before heading to have my own fashion label or to work for fashion companies in the future.
M.T.: What were the challenges of your last Collection? What were your desires and objectives with it?
Kit Seng Lei: For me, the biggest challenge in my last collection was that I had to stop overthinking. We were given 5 months to finish our final collection. It was quite a lot of time to make a collection. But in such a long process, new ideas kept coming and I always wanted to add elements on the garments or redesign the previous garments. Obviously, overthinking could easily lead me to overdesigning. And having too many ideas in the looks could weaken the design in a way. But under my mentor’s direction, Jean-Marc Chauve, I tried to narrow down my ideas and had a collection I was satisfied with in the end. My graduation collection was named Polly Pocket. It was inspired by one of my favorite toys that only existed in the 90s. I saw this collection as the last expression of myself as a fashion student. I wanted it to have a personal link to myself. The 90’s style and the free love spirit in the collection did represent me as a person. While I was making this collection, I kept telling myself the words I heard before about fashion design “This is not a job, this is a life!”, then I should have fun with it. My objective was delivering the message of love and joy through the collection.
M.T.: Any new projects from now on?
Kit Seng Lei: So far I am not designing any new collection but trying to find an internship in Paris. I would like to get involved in the fashion industry as soon as possible after my 5 years of studies. Although I had some internships before in Shanghai, I would like to gain more experience in Paris. As long as the environment in Paris is totally different from Shanghai, I still wonder what I can learn and provide here.