Interview by Mark Benjamin for RAIN online.
Samson Leung (@samsonleung) is a fashion designer and recent graduate of Central Saint Martins, London. His graduate unisex collection “Dear you, he said.” debuted on Vogue Italia this past year. Taking inspiration from films he first creates, Leung reinterprets their themes and ideas in a multi-disciplinary approach that blurs the lines between art, fashion, and filmmaking. We speak with Leung about his latest show, process and vision in an exclusive interview for RAIN online.
Where are you originally from and how has that informed the first works of Samson Leung at Central Saint Martins?
[I was] born in Taiwan, raised in Hong Kong. I come from a family that works in the entertainment and film industry. I grew up around film sets, and developed an interest in both fashion and film. Within my practice, I aspire to merge my own films or moving images into my body of fashion work. Often inspired by fine art and moving images, my final collection at Central Saint Martins was partially inspired by Chinese traditional self portraiture. Western-style self portraiture is presented through pictures of faces, whereas in China, it’s presented in the form of Shan Shui painting (landscape painting) as a metaphor of one’s self. Hence I used “landscape painting” to present myself within my collection.
Many greats have walked through the halls of Central Saint Martins including Lee Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton, Hussein Chalayan, John Galliano, Craig Green, Christopher Kane, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, Ricardo Tisci, and countless others. What do you want to accomplish with your work?
Cliché as it sounds, I want to make my audience feel. In every piece of my work, I want to create a poetic statement through my artisanal craft. I remember being told by my friends that two of the audience members cried as they watched my collection come down catwalk at the CSM show this year. It was emotional to them. That’s the moment I realized that I have achieved something right with my work by relating to the audience. I want to continue to do that in the future. P.S. I went up to them and thanked them afterwards!
What change would you most like to see in fashion in the future?
Respect for artisanal craftsmanship and more opportunities for young foreign designers living abroad like myself.
You’ve been all over the world. First in Tokyo working for designers like Taro Horiuchi, in New York with Proenza Schouler, and in London with one of my favorite designers, Craig Green. What did you learn from fulfilling their brand’s codes? How will you take what you learned and apply it to your own work?
In each of my internships I learned many different things. For example, in London with Craig Green I really learned about the business side of a fashion label, working with stockist orders and a lot of sewing! While in Aitor Throup, precision in pattern cutting is crucial. I remember when we were just 2mm off, we had to start again from scratch. At Proenza Schouler I was really looking at how a big fashion label runs differently compared to how one runs in London. Tokyo with Writtenafterwards and Taro Horiuchi was insanely creative- so much freedom and access in creating and designing products (probably because I was working as the designer’s assistant) and we worked our way back to commercializing some pieces for the market.
When it comes to my work, I try to keep my identity as a designer separate from these companies I worked for. I didn’t want my work to be seen as “influenced by” or “knocked off,” if you know what I mean. I see it as, “if I am them, what would I design?” I feel like what I learned from these companies were more of the technical skills and the sense of professionalism. I am a perfectionist type of person, so when it comes to creating the collection, I was very precise and did whatever it takes to get it right while managing my time. I remember getting my helpers to redo stitches until it was perfect or even tiny things such as hanging the garments in the right direction with the hangers. It’s the tiny things that influence the way I present myself as a designer in other people’s eyes. I got that professionalism probably due to my personality and when I was in Japan working at Aitor Throup. In Tokyo, even if you pack a box to be sent to the factory, the box has to be in the particular color (for the particular purpose) with the matching tape and the label has to be placed precisely in the center and can’t be slanted. If the box is ripped from the tape, we just get a new box and do it all over again. It’s all about being professional and organized.
What is the Fred Perry & Amy Winehouse competition? What did this recognition mean for you?
During the foundation course back in 2014, Central Saint Martins collaborated with Fred Perry and the Amy Winehouse Foundation in redesigning shirts and polo shirts for Fred Perry, inspired by subcultures of England. They selected 30 people across the pathways and asked them to pitch their design ideas to a panel of judges from the Amy Winehouse Foundation and Fred Perry’s design team. The designs were then mass produced worldwide. Unfortunately, I didn’t get selected, but getting shortlisted and being able to present to the panel of judges was a really good experience. It was my first experience working with real clients. An opportunity to understand how to work with real people and design to their requirements.
For Prada’s Fall/Winter 2018 collection, Vogue wrote about the work of several Prada collaborators including architects Rem Koolhaas and Herzog & De Meuron. Specifically that, “Herzog & De Meuron rustled up a bag printed with a jumble of letters because, as Prada explained, ‘They spoke about text and words being something from the past. Now they don’t represent any more ideas and content and concept, but are pure decoration.’ Hmm. Words sure beat poured concrete and glass when it comes to communication, but fake news–wise, you sort of knew what they were getting at.” Your Fall 2018 “Dear you, he said” collection featured just that, words, jumbled up, literally blown up and walked nearly as art installations on models. Do you agree about what they say about text as decorative. What did it mean to you?
As ugly as it sounds, I do agree that text has been seen as decorative. I hate the idea that people or brands use texts as a decorative element in garments. Often it’s like they have something to say to their audience but they don’t care enough that they do it so literally and then slap it onto products and “Wa-la, here’s your product.” Not everyone, but some do it. It loses the mysteriousness and uniqueness of the garments. The way I used text, I was hoping to bring the film I shot to life. “Dear you” followed by “Paper Boys,” these two films that I shot was the prequel and sequel of my story. However, the video/footage of the catwalk show back in June, CSM Press Show, served as the 3rd installment sequel to my first two films. So when people take pictures or film my collection walking down the catwalk, it looks like it is taken from a film. Almost like a moving catwalk gallery. I wanted to use text as the way it should be, like a film, a way to communicate to others, almost like a dialogue between myself and the audience.
How are the words “sub texts” or “sub titles” to the collection?
Based on the feeling of being overwhelmed, I redirected the emotion into a mood in the film I shot in Japan named, “Dear You”. My project follows the sequel, a second narrative film shot in Hong Kong named “Paper Boys” which follows a “paper” boy who felt overwhelmed and decided to leave his life behind, however, after reaching the epiphany (explosion), he realizes in the end that he is still very much a paper boy at heart. I collaborated with friends at the Royal College of Music, we composed a poetic soundtrack specifically for my body of work. These films serve as a form of a self portraiture of myself. The subtitles of the collection are actually taken from the films I shot, as if it had come to life in 3D. However, mistranslation often happens in the real world, therefore I intentionally made the subtitles in the collection a bit odd, such as an extra gap between letters, or making the order of the text grammatically incorrect.
Many designers including Ralph Lauren, Raf Simons, and Tom Ford use film, cult films or popular movies, as a medium to translate into a runway collection. But you created and shot your own movie “Dear You” and then “Paper Boys” in Japan and then created your namesake collections from it. I think that’s an additional layer that should be appreciated. What are these films about? How is it a self portrait? Was it more of a challenge to create the film from nothing or to create the collection inspired by it?
Those films that I shot were really about my emotional state, the idea of being overwhelmed, taking a vulnerable side of myself and the way I see myself, capturing it through a film and translating it into a collection. If you watch closely, a lot of metaphors were used in the films! It wasn’t a challenge for me to create the films, it feels very natural to be honest, perhaps because I have a very strong narrative and way of story telling. But also I work with moving images all the time, and it often inspires and motivates my body of work. I wasn’t interested in telling people’s story and films through my runway collection. I am interested in telling my own narrative, most of my inspirations are actually from my day to day conversations with others. I am very much a conceptual person. I often find it difficult to communicate with others about what exactly I want to do. I remember I used to hate the idea of working with films (back when my father wanted me to be a director). But one time back when I was in foundation, I was stressing out so much. Suddenly I just drew these story boards and picked up a camera. Ever since then, I found moving images are the way for me to communicate. If you look at my portfolio or sketchbook, it looks like a story board or a 16:8 film, as well. Almost like you’re flipping through a screenplay.
Your shapes, textures, and color palette are all organic and natural. Qualities one would find in nature walking alongside a riverbed even. Does it seem more honest to you?
Absolutely, I believe my aesthetic is very organic-like or I prefer saying “raw.” I believe there is something very down to earth and raw with the colors and texture I create. Maybe it’s also because I was inspired by Shan Shui Painting (landscape painting) as I mentioned earlier. But perhaps it is also because the starting point of my collection was about presenting myself in a vulnerable way, hence why it seems very honest.
How do you see your collection evolving and changing? Could you see yourself creating for a fashion house? Or will you always have Samson Leung?
Each of the pieces in my collection takes a tremendous number of hours to make, as I make the slime, prints and textiles myself. I developed my own material within this collection, slime, a malleable material that when cool, stays stiff, and when it’s steamed, it’s soft as leather and can be moulded and stitched. Therefore according to the location, high maintenance is necessary.
I also developed an oil paint print transfer technique that allows me to build layers of colors and opacity. I can then transfer onto the surface of any fabric as well as onto my slime. However, because this process takes a lot of time to create one individual piece, I am interested to see how I can create some commercial pieces for the market that still retains my unique craft and work.
I do see myself creating for a fashion house, or at least creative consulting. If there is brand that wants to work with me! (HIRE ME!) However, I do, in the future, hope to establish a design studio to continue to develop my ambitions in fashion and moving images as my cross-disciplinary creative process.
What do you hope to accomplish with your accession to completing the Master’s program at Central Saint Martins and when is your next show?
My next show will probably be in early 2020 for the MA fashion Show. I aspire to design through the lens of an artist or a moving image designer. I will continue to explore the transition between the two dimensional world of moving images and three dimensional tangible forms such as sculpture and fashion. And by creating a poetic statement within my narrative.
Explore the collection below.
Look book credits:
Designer: Samson Leung
Photographer: Simonas Berukstis
Make Up Artist: Kristina Pavlov
Slime Photographer: Oliver Vanes
Credits for Press Show Photos:
Designer: Samson Leung
Make Up Artist: Mariko Yamamoto