Proud to present the designer behind the self-portrait lookbook I shared yesterday. Click here to see the work. A truly inspirational story that I am sure will only get better…
After 6 months of launching her business Phoebe S Wang’s designs have already been snapped up by fashion retailers (including the well-known Dutty), walked the catwalk and sold 100s to delighted fashionistas everywhere. No surprise really as on her arrival to England she was accepted onto the world-class university fashion course at Central St Martins in London, nurturer to the likes of Giles Deacon, Christopher Kane and Stella McCartney. Yet Phoebe didn’t go. Here is the story of her motivation to design, a childhood and love in Beijing and that refusal of St. Martins all those years ago. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Phoebe S Wang.
Phoebe Aisihuazelei Wang
Lives in: Bristol, England
Explain your collection in a sentence
With the rose day collection I’m bringing the countryside back to the city with feminine designs.
What your creative process?
I start with the fabric not with the design. I like to show the fabric at its best. I think the fabric has a soul and deserves attention. This may seem an unusual approach for a designer but the fabric determines everything the way the dress falls etc. I really love fabrics. I go and stare at the fabrics in shops and wait for the connection. Like they are talking to you!
What motivates you in the morning to start creating?
Every morning I’m anxious to make my dream come true. When I was younger I would make everything from dresses for my Barbie to customising my mum’s pink shoes. Then I was told I had to wear a white coat for the rest of my life: my mother wanted me to be a doctor and follow an academic life. I wore black at school, I cut my long hair off. I forgot what I liked. I forgot my dream. Then I fell in love and it changed everything. Now every day I can actively move closer to my dream by waking up and designing beautiful clothes.
What is the last piece of clothing that you wore and where?
I’m wearing one of my dresses today in London. Roses in Wonderland is the dress I have on. I wear them everyday. I love my dresses.
What is your favourite dress then?
Tell us about Phoebe before Phoebe S Wang?
As I said before it started when I fell in love and had that belief that I could make my dream a reality with my own two hands.
I studied medicine at university in Beijing for four years but I stopped before I finished because I wanted to leave home and leave that life behind. I had a vague idea about applying for fashion school.
I knew nothing about that world though. My friends had encouraged me to apply for Central St Martins going on their recommendations not my own research so I was quite unprepared – I did not really even know what a portfolio was.
But I was selected for an interview so I must have done something right and I flew to London.
When I arrived at the interview with my fellow interviewees we were asked to leave our portfolios in a room. I left mine on the piles and piles of work on a huge table. At that point I wanted to give up because the portfolios looked so intimidating. You could tell they had all studied fashion before and I didn’t think I would be as good as them. We were called back at four in the afternoon. They called 80% of the people into a room and after a five minutes they came out crying. The teacher told us that they had been told not to apply before because they didn’t have the talent and they would be wasting their time. I didn’t expect them to be that honest but I appreciated it. The fashion world is cruel and you need to have talent to proceed. I was happy that I wasn’t in that round but felt nervous because I had no idea what they would say next.
The next round went in, about five people. They came out and a guy told me that they had said they would offer them another course and they thought they had talent but not in fashion. I was in the next round of six people. we all had to go and stand by our portfolios. The interviewers went to talk to some of the people but not me. It was very strange and I was sent back out again. I was waiting outside and after five minutes then I was called in again this time with another guy who was applying.
The headteacher was there and had come to decide our fate. I realised it was because neither of us had trained in fashion before and they were worried we wouldn’t have the basic skills needed to get a job after the degree. But they told us we were very talented in fashion and offered us a place. I felt very encouraged by this news. It made my day. What hadn’t told the university was that I would never be able to study there because my parents and the culture I was brought up in wouldn’t support it.
That is heart-breaking, what did you do instead?
I made the decision to stay in England but I studied Psychology in Bristol and trained to be a counsellor and actually did well. I suppose with counselling and art I can use my emotions for both. I found counselling helped me understand people and what they needed when I came to design. It helped me to make clothes and work out the best designs for different people.
So when did you start designing again?
It came from the logo and the name. I designed it specially. With my independence I created world and a place from my own decisions. I wanted to create a brand and then I needed something real for that brand so that I could show it to the world. The first creation I made was this cute bubble dress out of this unusual cherry fabric (it wasn’t popular back then). The fabric shop were surprised when I came in wearing it as a dress. They didn’t think it could be made into clothes. I later found a tutorial on their website on how to make a dress using that exact fabric. Now see this fabric everywhere in Bristol. Haha!
What kind of girl do you see wearing your designs?
Natural and genuine. The kind of girl who is following her passion and it radiates beauty without her knowing it.
Apart from your own clothes what shops do you buy from?
Since I started to make my own clothes I go to the shops and never find anything. I always think I can make it better. I try to find unique pieces if I do buy outside. I find the high street shops just copy each other.
If you could have a catwalk show at one of the fashion weeks, Paris, London, New York, Milan where would you show and why?
Paris, because I like the French language but if I could choose I would have it in Copenhagen along the seafront. The Hans Christian Andersen mermaid monument may have swayed my decision! Haha!
What is you favourite season?
Do you mean England’s seasons? Do you really have four seasons? Haha! I like the seasons in Beijing because they are all very different. But Winter in Beijing…that is my favourite: I have a lot of memories.
What is your favourite colour?
What inspires you?
Disney. (Yay) I get a lot of my ideas from other films as well, because I like the story behind clothes and the emotions that seeing these can evoke. Disney in particular because the fantasy depicted by the wonderful animators inspires. I wouldn’t ever copy anything directly but I can take that magic, that feeling, and put it into my clothes. As you can see in my Classic Rose dress I’m taking vintage designs and bringing elements to my work. My pieces are a mix of everything that deeply inspires me.
Name three favourite designers or brands (famous or not).
Coco Chanel, classic Burberry styles and Karl Lagerfeld
Have you taken any inspiration from your home town Beijing?
Beijing is very open and we respect other cultures and I was exposed to lots of different styles including a more Western style. A large range of styles inspire me from my time in Beijing. People don’t know that there are a lot of talented designers in China. The whole label of ‘Made In China’ means people associate my country with mass-production unoriginal styles, but that isn’t true. I want people to know that we can design as well. We don’t only make other people’s designs we can make our own designs. That is why it is so important that my work is original and hand-made.
What are your plans for you new collection?
I want to keep dresses and skirts as my main staples but adapt them to the cold in Winter. I’m also planning to paint my own fabrics.
Which photograph do you like from the Diana Patient: Photography?
I love all of the self-portrait work you did for me but this one you look so playful and happy I’m going to choose this one. Thank you Diana Patient: Photography!
You can purchase your Phoebe S Wang dress and look at a whole range of the self-portrait photographs I took on Phoebe’s website.
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