positions: east asia cultures critique 11.2 (2003) 511-520
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Making Fashion Work:
Interview with Sophie Hong
Hong Lifen, also known to the Western world as Sophie Hong, graduated from the fashion and design department of Shijian University in 1977 and went on to study design in Japan, New York, and Paris. She is now a well-established fashion designer both in Taipei and abroad, and she often travels to show her designs in Europe and the United States. She is also a painter, a sculptress, a jewelry maker, and a shoemaker; her own paintings and art pieces (from the door of wrought iron to the cabinet folders) as well as artwork done by her friends decorates her studio in downtown Taipei and resonates chromatically with the clothes hanging on the racks. In this very colorful setting, we spent three hours talking about fashion, watching videotapes of her newest collections, and touching and appraising the shade, weight, design, and softness of various fabrics and dresses. Below I have transcribed and translated the words that convey the ways in which Sophie Hong envisions her fashion work, especially in terms of her relationship [End Page 511] to Chinese traditional clothing. The visual and the acoustic parts of our conversation—the colors, the music of Taiwanese aborigines she selects for her shows, and the touch of the fabric she spends months investigating and creating—unfortunately cannot be conveyed through the written medium. Hopefully the pictures included here will give readers an idea of the kind of texts and bodies Sophie Hong is creating with her fashion and her artistic vision.
Paola Zamperini: When you are designing a dress, do you think about a man's or a woman's body? Or do you just think about the dress? In other words, does gender play a role when you are designing clothes? [End Page 512]
Hong Lifen: No, because for me clothes are worn by people. I want my clothes to speak and to do so with and to everybody. I have been doing this work since 1977, the time I graduated from design school, so I feel very at ease when I design; the shape of the body is inside my head. The only thing I think about is that it is something that will be worn by someone who lives in this day and age, and I want it to be beautiful, elegant, simple. That is what I want to accomplish. I look for the overall effect. My clothes can be taken apart and rearranged according to a person's height and size; there is not just one way to wear them or just one body type to fit them. Of course, when I began my career, I was designing mostly for women and it is only recently that I have started to design clothes for men, so most of my customers are still women. Taiwanese men are a bit conservative when it comes to clothing. It is only recently that they have started to wear clothes like the ones I design, and the men who do so are “creative guys,” like architects, or men who like to feel comfortable in their clothes. My designs also are not cheap [laughs], because they are all made of silk, so, in this sense, perhaps, they are not for everybody.
PZ: So you don't think this is a dress that will be worn by a Chinese person or a Western person….
HL: No, it must be international, something that anybody could wear. I do not have an ideal body in mind. People are all different, tall, short, fat, thin. Also, I do not want my clothes or anything that I design, for that matter—shoes, jewels, hats, and so on—to be worn just by people of a certain age. I want them to be wearable by young as well as older people. What is most important is that the dress is beautiful, that a person can wear it well and comfortably.