The fashion industry is a land of experiments and opportunities that are waiting to be taken. Former Central Saint Martins student and now creative director of her own eponymous label - Celine Yu Hei Kwan -  totally understands it. Born in Hong-Kong but raised in the UK, Celine graduated last year and decided to start her label while spending some time in the city where she was born.
Approaching fashion design as a  tool to tell stories, the young and enthusiastic designer aims “to be part of people's memories”. While speaking to Celine, we can easily be seduced by her eagerness and passionate character. "I truly believe that fashion can be redesigned from cradle to grave”, says Celine. If there is anyone up to the task it is certainly her. Indeed, her graduate collection is a perfect illustration of the potential of the designer but also of fashion design as a whole. For Celine, the best way to create the future is to search in the past and to refresh those traditions by adding a modern point of view. “Innovation comes with knowledge of traditions” she states. She continues “we need to learn and understand what people value and how we can innovate and change for the better.”

Welcome Home is inspired both by past references and modern to futuristic ideals. Celine’s goal for this final collection was to introduce ”a living room utopia” as she called it.  Deeply inspired by product design from the 1960s and 1970s, Celine’s collection  is mainly based on the inflatable chairs from this era. She deconstructed this piece of design and added her personal touch to it - shapes, colours and prints. Using 3D techniques during the development, Celine is convinced that if applied to print, this could solve many issues we currently face in the fashion industry. “It is the future!”
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We are happy to have you at METAL Magazine Celine. Could you introduce yourself to the readers?
Hi Metal Magazine, thank you so much for having me. I’m Celine, a fashion and textiles designer. I graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2021 and started my brand shortly after. I am from Hong Kong but I grew up in the UK, so I am very much a mix of both cultures. I am currently in Hong Kong, starting my brand and working on a new collection!
How would you describe your vision of fashion design?
I would describe my vision of fashion design as being a storyteller - building a narrative with my clothes. To expand on that, I think as designers we are storytellers, we get the amazing chance to show our story through our techniques, our prints and our silhouettes. Clothes can evoke different emotions and I really want to highlight the connection between the wearer and the garment. I really think clothes can create a memory at any stage of their lives and I want to be part of people's memories.
I also think another part of my vision is to look forward to the future in ways of material progression and design. We need to think about who is wearing the clothes and how we can produce with sustainability in mind. I truly believe that fashion can be redesigned from cradle to grave. Clothes should share a special memory as I mentioned earlier, a special piece can be passed down from a generation to another. However, innovation comes with knowledge of traditions, we need to learn and understand what people value and how we can innovate and change for the better. My vision is clear and I hope I get to share that with the world.
In 2021, you graduated from your BA in Fashion Print at the Central Saint Martins. What are the most important lessons you learnt from your time spent studying?
I learnt a lot during my time at CSM, firstly I learnt to be curious and not to be afraid to ask questions. CSM is a place where a lot of different people get together and it is a space to nurture our creativity, and I learned a lot by just talking to my peers, asking technicians or tutors on techniques and feedback. I even went to workshops in different departments. It gave me even more insights and motivation to experiment with different techniques and facilities. It made my work and my work ethic stronger.
I also learnt to manage my time and make sure to take care of my body mentally and physically. People do not talk about what designers put themselves through, so it was important to learn to take some time for yourself to recover. I think that’s when I produced my best work. I just think how is one supposed to create beautiful things when they are not feeling beautiful or healthy. I tell this to my younger peers that just started studying fashion or any type of design, it is important to nurture your mind and body first and to not learn it the hard way how I did. Just to sum it up, Central Saint Martins was honestly amazing for my growth as a designer, I met the most amazing people and I have learnt and grown so much as an individual and I can only grow from there. It’s exciting.
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The year 2021 was also marked by the context of the pandemic, how has graduating in such a context been for you?
It was certainly a very strange year to graduate. I actually did my whole graduate collection at my parents’ apartment in Hong Kong and if you know Hong Kong, space is a luxury. I’ve had many occasions where my upstairs neighbour would complain about my sewing machine running in the evening. So it was challenging in ways, as facilities were not readily available to me, like the print room, heat-press, etc. All my tutorials were done over zoom, even line ups, and fittings. However, it pushed me further as a designer, using what resources and facilities I could find locally. In some ways, it felt like I was no longer a student but a designer making their collection,  and on some days, I felt sad that I spent my final year without my peers, tutors, and technicians. But I got to spend it safely with my family. 2021 was hard for all of us, [from] all walks of life, so I think it is important to really appreciate the smaller things in life and what we have, so I am not complaining. I’m grateful.
You presented your graduate collection Welcome Home the same year. Could you take us on a drive through the concept behind this project?
So throughout the pandemic, we often find ourselves stuck in our living rooms and reminiscing about the small details of normal life that we used to take for granted. However, it is important that we do not forget about the everyday beauty that surrounds us. In my final collection, I wanted to create a living room utopia; a celebration of the beauty and joy that can be discovered in our immediate surroundings at home. My collection draws influence from famous product designs of the 1960s and ‘70s. I have been inspired by the work of Joe Colombo, Verner Panton, and Eero Saarinen in particular since they did not sacrifice function for aesthetic value. I have carried this principle into my designs by creating garments that look beautiful while being worn and can also be admired after they are taken off.
In regards to research, I have developed a strong focus on 70s futurism and the space race style. Films such as Woody Allen's Sleeper and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey provide a rich source of aesthetic inspiration and depict a future where cutting-edge materials of the 70s, such as thermoplastics and PVC, are used in abundance. In my collection, there is a crucial focus on using modern materials and experimental production techniques to develop advanced textiles and accessories that are aesthetically beautiful, ethical, and sustainable. By using 3D printing, I wanted to capture the essence of the 60s and 70s within the print and the textiles, but with a futuristic spin. 3D printing is also less wasteful and lower cost than traditional plastic manufacturing since it is an additive process that yields no waste material.
My goal is to produce transformative clothing that is functional in unexpected and humorous ways, whether it is being worn to an elegant dinner party or proudly showcased in a living room. Garments that dramatically transform, inflate and change shape to create a sense of drama will challenge the norms of functionality in clothing and will allow me to capture the beautiful shapes of furniture that I admire so much. I honestly wanted to create a collection that had social relevance and it is also important to know that fashion is ever-changing and that we as designers have the ability to produce work that is relevant in the current context of the world. I hope my colourful and energetic take on my ideal living room utopia can bring a smile to someone sitting in their own living room right now.
Welcome Home draws inspiration from interiors from the sixties and seventies. Most of the designs are inspired by an inflatable arm couch from the sixties, actually. How did you start researching for this collection?
Yes, so I have always loved the 60s and 70s product designers, so I was looking at a lot of 60’s furniture and of course - inflatable chairs from the sixties came through in my research. However, I had no idea how I could apply that inflatable aspect to my designs so there was a lot of experimenting and using different materials. Let’s just say there was a lot of trial and error. So for early experiments, I actually used foam and sponges to mimic the big exaggerated inflatable shapes and silhouettes, but it was not successful at all. Therefore, I did some research online and I actually came across a fun inflatable product called banana air bed. In order to use the banana air bed, you need to simply open its mouth and start running a few steps to catch the air inside. Once the air bed is filled, immediately roll the mouth closed and securely clasp both ends together. This transformable product led me to experiment with fun ways to blow up my garments. I worked with waterproof and durable fabrics to prevent air from leaking and used small pumps to make inflation easier.
The inflatable aspects to my designs really give a sense of wonder to my clothes, which I really love, especially during the time when we were all locked away in our living rooms. I wanted to create something fun and exciting while capturing the beautiful shapes of furniture that I admire so much. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to create a collection that can put a smile on someone’s face whilst sitting in their own living room, fashion is fun and I tend to have a humorous and light-heartedness in my narrative and concepts.
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This collection is very colourful and plays with interesting patterns. Could you walk us through your process of developing such prints?
Well, I am a print student after all and print has always been such a focus in my designs. I actually start developing my prints by collaging and drawing a lot. I think my print is strongest when there are hand-drawn elements to it. Since I was influenced by Verner Pantone, I adopted the bright colours and the boldness of his work into my prints. It is quite organic how I develop my prints, so for this collection, I actually started with creating my own living room utopia, my dream living room taking inspiration from beautiful silhouettes and shapes of iconic products and furniture designs of the 60s and putting my own twist to them. Creating my own living room utopia gave me the freedom for me to experiment with different colours and textures, which then informed my collection's colour palette. I love to draw and I love to use different materials  that can give my prints more depth and dimension, this gives my prints a more hand-drawn aspect to them. Eventually, I did more drawings, collaging, and experimenting which led to the prints that I have developed for this collection, from florals to furniture prints.
You moved back to Hong Kong after graduating. How have things been since you came back? And what are you planning on doing for this new year?
Well, I did not move back permanently actually, I will be traveling back and forth from Hong Kong to London, but due to Covid-19, it has been really difficult since I need to quarantine in a designated hotel in Hong Kong for 21 days, but it is nice to see family and friends. But I also miss London, so I will back very soon.  However, since I have been back, I have some good news, I have recently been selected and sponsored to present my AW22 collection at Paris Fashion Week! It’s very exciting, especially for a designer just starting out a brand. It is daunting starting a brand but it is what I felt was most right for me. So for this coming year, I will definitely be working on new collections, experimenting with more technology-based textiles, and hopefully collaborating with different brands not only in fashion. I want to expand my horizons to products and furniture perhaps. My plan for this year is to firstly start and grow my brand, I will be producing small-scale and intimate collections first but collections full of heart, wonder and story.
Technological advances can truly facilitate textile and fabrics creation. As a former Fashion print student, what kind of improvements would you like to see in this part of the industry? And what are your hopes for the future of print-making?
The improvements I would like to see for fashion is to use further technology like 3D printing and other technologies in general. I wish fashion could actually incorporate 3D printing techniques into high-end or commercial fashion and textile. My hope is for more textiles and fashion industry [professionals] to collaborate with technologists and 3D specialists since technology is so exciting at the moment. From my experience working with specialists and product designers, I got to interact with people from other industries and it can welcome input from other designers of different fields, which in ways can break down the tradition of secrecy in the fashion industry.
I also have hopes for the future of printmaking to be more sustainable of course. I think if you are familiar with printing traditional techniques, it is not the most environmentally friendly process as it is quite wasteful, giving more material progression to this area will be positive. I think again with innovation there should be an understanding of tradition and as a print and textiles designer I want to honour that tradition of print-making by giving it a modern and cutting edge technological twist.
Last year, you also experimented with 3D printing techniques a lot. How are you planning on exploring further these techniques in the future?
I have actually experimenting with more 3D printing recently and it will for sure be one of the main focuses for my brand.  So for example, my plans are to look at tensile integrity in textiles, which can be created with 3D printing with pre-stretched fabric, and even looking at algorithms that can create patterns which then can be translated to beautiful 3D printed textiles. My overall plans are to really expand public knowledge with 3D printing in a fashion context, I think it is a very pliable technique that can create beautiful textiles and shapes with really cutting edge materials. I want to make 3D printing beautiful and understandable to the world.  It is the future!
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