After graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2011 (with internships at Stella McCartney and Viktor & Rolf under his belt), Steven Tai, 28, won the inaugural Chloé design prize at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography earlier this year. His collection, which also walked at Berlin Fashion Week in July, was inspired by book-binding techniques. He used stacks of fabric to make “pages” and pen nibs to create an electronic dress that flickered on the runway (Yohji Yamamoto, head of Hyères’s fashion jury, particularly liked this design). Despite the “nerd” treatment, as Tai refers to it, the dresses and separates look surprisingly wearable. Up next? A presentation at the Milan White Young Talent showroom during Fashion Week in September. Click through to see more from our interview with the designer and zoom in on his designs in our slideshow. Plus, see a video of the electronic dress in action.
On his collection: “I wanted to make more wearable clothes as a challenge, just because you’re always under the pressure to do something that pushes the boundaries. I’ve been doing that for so long, it’s almost another challenge to think about what people want to wear.”
On showing at Berlin Fashion Week: “Actually, my collection for Hyères was an extension of my graduate collection. And [Berlin] was like another extension of that. So, in my mind, they’re kind of like one continuous collection but shown in three separate mentalities. [For Berlin] I was thinking about bringing the clothes into a more realistic environment. I think that was a challenge and the fun part of it.”
On once being an intern: “I was in Paris with the Stella McCartney team, getting ready for [Fashion Week] when someone came up to me and said, ‘You need to go with this PR lady, and you’re going to Alicia Keys’s house to do a fitting.’ And it was just me in charge of the garments. It was amazing. I mean, we went there, and I was trying to be cool. But she was so lovely and so kind.”
On his look book model: “The modeling agency said, ‘What do you think of this girl? We don’t know how you feel about it because she has braces.’ And I thought, That’s great! During the photo shoot, she was very conscious of her braces, and she kept wanting to smile without opening her lips, but we really encouraged it. Her mom was there, and it was her first shoot, so it was really fun.”
On getting started in design: “My family is from Shanghai and always believed in the accounting, doctor, lawyer-type professions. So, before I did my degree at Saint Martins, I was forced — well, not really forced — but very encouraged to get a bachelor’s in commerce in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. It was actually there that I realized that I wanted to do something more creative.”
On Yohji Yamamoto: “I had been warned that he doesn’t say much and not to get too nervous about that. When I showed him the electronic dress [at the Hyères Festival], he looked at it and kind of nodded at me. Like, It’s good, you can take it back now. But when I was walking away, he said, ‘Oh, save the battery. Don’t waste it all.’ It was very sweet.”
On being a new designer: “What I’m doing now takes a lot of resources, as far as time and money. I really enjoy doing it, but if I want to do what I’m doing well, it will be tricky. But I think perseverance is very important. I’ve learned that everybody makes their own path and there’s not one way to do it. And that’s hard kind of in and of itself because it would be nice if there was a cookie cutter way to make a living.”