Being originally from Chongqing (China), Sean Suen has followed a path through different Chinese metropolises and educated himself in different art forms along the way. After practising painting and graphic design, he’s now an emerging menswear fashion designer who works in Paris, where we attended the presentation of his Fall/Winter 2018 collection. Inspired by the life of Puyi, China’s last emperor, it reflects on the idea of how social standards can define what we wear. After a harmonic and sensual show, we had the honour to look behind the curtain and sit down for a chat with him.
Can you tell us a bit about what introduced the concept of your latest collection, recently shown in Paris?
The idea is something I have been thinking about in the past. Puyi is a famous character of Chinese modern history and his story looms particularly large in Beijing. It’s certainly a familiar subject and one that has been re-examined recently as maybe he is being considered in a different light. Re-watching the Bertolucci film again (The Last Emperor) was the catalyst for me wanting to explore and express the deeper meaning behind this man.
What are other sources of inspiration for you in general?
I take a lot from the past as well as from art, people and everywhere in general. It’s always important to be receptive to new inspiration because you never know where it may come from.
Is there a specific starting point when it comes to producing a whole new collection? Are there any patterns in your creative processes?
I often have several ideas in mind, which I have collected over the time. Then, I like to spread them out and take a closer look, pick them apart and see how the concept can develop from there. Once I have this, it flows and turns into the details of shapes, patterns, and colour.
Your Fall/Winter 2018 show has taken place in the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Paris. What was it that made you choose this location?
Les Beaux-Arts is a really beautiful setting, it feels historical and rich. Also, somehow, the atmosphere can be played with to create a sense of drama in the show.
In a press release, it has been stated that this collection also explores how our realities are embodied outwardly through the clothing we choose (or are made) to wear. Have you ever felt like you yourself are pressured to dress a certain way?
I think so. I’ve felt like I had to dress a certain way, especially when I was younger – whether it would be for family or amongst my peers. Now, I certainly consider how I dress but I am free to choose. Actually, I think more about the clothes I make than about the ones I wear. The statement given with the collection reflects on the idea of the clothes society can choose for us or put us in. My feeling was about the clothes Puyi was forced to wear throughout his life, from imperial garb to a prison uniform.
Being originally from Beijing, has travelling and working in Europe influenced you and your work a lot?
Yes. Of course, as a designer, I am touched by things I see and feel when I am both travelling and when I am in my hometown. This was something I really touched in this collection by mixing traditional Chinese elements with what may be considered traditionally European silhouettes. It's important for me to be able to play with these ideas.
You always work with a lot of interesting shapes and silhouettes combined with certain features that remind us of class and wealth. What aspect of the clothes you make is the most important to you?
The most important element to me is what the clothing can give to someone who’s wearing it, how does it make him look and how does it make him feel.
Is there any particular reason why you only do menswear? Can you imagine yourself designing womenswear or even unisex clothes in the future?
Even though I am a menswear designer, I do not necessarily design only for men. We have a lot of female costumers who are interested in the brand, and I think a lot of the bold silhouettes complement the female form. I think it is the people who must wear whatever clothes they want, however they want.
Is there something special you still want to achieve?
I am quietly working on my craft. I think that once you finish one collection you must always look forward and consider how will you elevate your design and what will you bring out. So it’s not necessarily a specific aim; I just want to keep growing, experimenting and sharing my ideas through my clothes.