Designer to watch: Steven Tai

This young designer has worked with Stella McCartney. He's won one of the most prestigious fashion awards. What will he do next?

By Medina Azaldin | Published: 23 Nov 2016

About Steven Tai
Photo: Steven Tai

There's really no one conventional path to being successful in fashion. Some slog through years of fashion school, some take the reality show route, others endlessly intern. If you're Steven Tai, the dream takes form after a stint in business school inspires you to pursue a creative career choice. Tai's subsequent decision to join the distinguished Central Saint Martins proved to be life-changing. First stop: a win at the Hyères Festival in 2012 that inducted him into the Hyères winner's circle alongside previous champions Anthony Vaccarello and Viktor & Rolf.

Tai's London design studio is constantly finding new ways to manipulate textiles with technology. Back in 2012, a collaboration between Tai and creative technologist John Nussey resulted in a dress created with 795 gold pen nibs mounted on tiny motors that shimmered at different speeds and tempos. His collection for A/W '16 referenced the 1976 film Freaky Friday, turning nostalgic fabrics like corduroy and duvet-like skirt suits into youthful, covetable pieces. With collections stocked at Dover Street Market and locally at Cuevolution, Steven Tai is definitely going places.

Steven Tai AW16 is inspired by the 1976 classic Freaky Friday (Photo: Steven Tai Studio)

How did you get started in fashion?
I've enjoyed creating and visualising abstract inventions in my head since I was a kid. But I didn't know I wanted to work in fashion design until I was in my late teens. In high school I was always interested in fitting in, so I was fascinated by what my peers wore in different social groups. But it was in business school I realised that I wanted to do something a bit more creative. At that time, a friend of mine told me about Central Saint Martins and I was fascinated by the diverse and theatrical visions created through clothing. It was from that point I realised this was what I wanted to do.

How do you begin a collection?
I start each season with a story that I want to tell. They are usually experiences that my generation share collectively and are potentially slightly embarrassing. From there I research heavily into materials and experimentation, which goes hand in hand with design research and development.

Technology plays a major role in your designs. How do you constantly find new technology and what are the challenges you face?
The challenges often lie in the construction and finishings of the garments when the materials are so unconventional. In regards to finding new technology, I think it is the case of a lot of research and a thirst for something new. Sometimes it is also about using old technology, but developing it to produce new results.

Did growing up in Canada influence your designs? How does it differ to being in London?
Canada definitely has influenced my designs. Because Vancouver is such a lively city that is surrounded by luscious nature all around, everyday attire is influenced heavily by sportswear. I think that is why all my designs lean towards a sportswear direction. Compared to Vancouver, London is a lot more eclectic and open to pretty much anything. People are a lot more daring in their everyday attire. I think this really fuelled my inspirations during my time at Central Saint Martins too.

Photo: Steven Tai Studio

Describe the Steven Tai woman.
A confident, quirky observer.

What's your favourite piece from the collection?
The navy corduroy woven jacket, hands down.

You've had experience at Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf and Hussein Chalayan. What have you learnt from them?
Always enjoy what you are doing and make it a fun environment for your staff.

What are you currently working on? Any new collaborations in the future?
Yes there is a new project but it is top secret at the moment!

Where do you see the brand in five years?
An expansion into more accessories, a first perfume and potentially menswear.

Follow Steven Tai on Instagram to keep up with his work.

This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of ELLE Malaysia.

Related: Designer to watch: Brian Khoo

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