Born in Vancouver and based in London, Steven Tai didn’t know anything about fashion until he enrolled at Central Saint Martins. After graduating, he did internships at Stella McCartney and Viktor & Rolf, and worked for Hussein Chalayan and Damir Doma. Two years later, he launched his own label and won the 2013 Hyères Festival, mostly thanks to Yohji Yamamoto, who fell in love with his work at first sight. Now he has launched six collections, each one of them being less commercial and more poetic than the previous one. He finds inspiration between calm and hustle. His biggest obsession is experimentation with fabrics and textures. His style? Sporty but chic. He says his clothes are a reflection of himself: casual and awkward. And I must say charming, too.
It was a bit of an impulse in fact. It was during business school when I realised I wanted to focus on doing something more creative. At that time, a friend of mine just got accepted to Central Saint Martins. Although I always liked fashion, I didn’t know anything about the industry and the school. It was probably after 10 minutes of research that I decided to give it a shot.
I had absolutely no technical knowledge. I took some evening sewing courses with old ladies with biscuits and tea prior to attending the school. But I learned a lot regardless.
I think fashion strikes a very strong balance between the fantasy and the finance. I don’t particularly think it is a negative or a positive thing. The only problem I have with it is when someone views it only from one perspective and is ultimately disappointed to discover otherwise. I have seen students who give up fashion upon discovering the reality behind these established houses. And on the other hand, I have seen businessmen investing into fashion, thinking that it will be an easy way to make quick money.
I don’t think I had a vision of who I was as a designer. At the school, we were just pushed to our creative limits. And that was all that was in my mind: to try to be as creative as possible. I did enjoy researching fashion a lot. And I think a lot of Japanese designers have always influenced me. For example, Junya Watanabe, Yohji Yamamoto or Jun Takahashi.
I think I still have the same referents, but maybe now I am also more open to historical street styles.
Yes, because it is a great and exciting place. It is always inspiring and I love how the city embraces creativity.
London gives me freedom and art. However, coming from smaller cities like Macao and Vancouver, sometimes I do want to get retreat into somewhere quieter. I suppose it is just finding a balance between the two extremes.
It often begins with dealing with work texts that were sent to me from Asia over the evening. From there I would go to work and check on everyone’s progress from what they did the evening before. I would then arrange each person’s duties that day and set everyone off to their tasks. I would either have meetings or appointments during the afternoon. If not, I would have time to work on my e-mails and also designs. In the evening I might grab a drink with some friends or watch a movie. Then it is back home to try and finish more work before Asia wakes up.
It is really hard to say exactly where it starts. It could be a recent experience or something from my childhood. Other times it could be an artist I enjoy. However, whatever the inspiration, it often sparks off the textile experimentations first. From there, the clothing designs follow.
The clothes are often slightly awkward and casual. I suppose I am like that too quite often.
A woman who wears steventai is humorous, offbeat and humble yet confident.
Not always. I think it depends heavily on the purpose of the garments. It could be costumes for performance or for an exhibition.
I hope so, although I think that is quite an unlikely mission.
When I was a kid, I used to love people with glasses. So I thought I had to read in poor lighting so that I would need glasses too one day!