Saturday 24th March

| BY 10Magazine

SUSIE BUBBLE: THE GIRL IN THE BUBBLE

It has got the point where Susie Lau, aka Susie Bubble, fashion’s first and foremost blogger, almost needs no introduction. For over five years her daily posts on stylebubble.typepad.com have chronicled her own eclectic outfits, international fashion weeks, her love of weird food and everything in between. Lau has fronted a tsunami of blogging culture that’s literally taken fashion to the world. Though based in London, Hong Kong has been a lifelong inspiration to the British-born Chinese twentysomething. Here she shares her thoughts on the city’s brave new fashion future and some of its more elusive customs.

Skye Sherwin:How does the pace of life in Hong Kong match up to London and New York?”

Susie Lau: “As fast, if not faster. With all the people squished onto Hong Kong island, where I spend most of my time, things feel like they’re moving at a faster pace. Go into any fast-food chain and you’ll find robot-like efficiency. People work voraciously, yet the working days are longer. Then you don’t bother going home because most people’s homes are quite small and it’s almost not worth hanging out there. You stay out walking around malls and restaurants. It’s pretty standard to have a fourth meal – something between a midnight snack and a supper – and you can get a bite to eat in the early hours of the morning. You might get three or four hours’ sleep before the day begins again. It’s definitely exhausting.”

Skye Sherwin: “You’ve written that lots of lobbies are painted white in Hong Kong to make up for how hectic the city is, even though white symbolises death in China. That’s something that would likely be completely lost on the average Westerner. Do you find there are many cultural codes like that, which get lost in translation?”

Susie Lau: “There are a TONNE of things that are lost in translation that I find difficult to explain without sounding like a lunatic. Some are easier to understand, like the colour white meaning death and the Cantonese word for ‘four’, which is bad luck because it also sounds like the word for ‘death’, so in high-rise blocks, you won’t get a fourth floor or a 14th floor, etc. Then there are some other slightly odder things, such as the constant concern with ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ foods, which doesn’t mean temperature. It means that some foods have a ‘fiery’ nature, mangos for instance, and some have a ‘cooling’ nature, like a certain type of herbal tea. It’s about cleansing the body and balancing out your diet depending on your state of health. I’ll turn into my mum sometimes and say to my boyfriend, ‘No don’t eat that! You’re ill – and that’s a hot food.’ And he’s like, ‘But errr… it’s a mango.’ I love the whole process of explaining these ‘quirks’, though. Why does my mum leave half a cooked chicken at my grandfather’s altar? Why do we wear little white flowers in our hair on funerals? Why is there a red envelope underneath the pillow on Chinese New Year’s Eve?”

Skye Sherwin: “What are your thoughts about the impact of Western imports like Chinese Vogue?”

Susie Lau: “It’s just the title that is a ‘Western’ import. Vogue China came at a time when China was coming into its economic prowess. Whilst the construct and the origin is Western, what the magazine has come to reflect is the strength of Chinese talent in fashion – through writers, photographers, models and, now, increasingly, designers. Of course what Vogue China largely promotes – along with most Asian fashion magazines – is Western fashion. That’s undeniable and I don’t see that changing that dramatically so long as Paris, Milan, New York, etc, set the fashion agenda for the whole industry.”

Skye Sherwin: “Do people respond differently to your style in Hong Kong from here?”

Susie Lau: “In Hong Kong, I’d say I get a few more raised eyebrows than I do in London. Judging people on their appearance is pretty normal there – which is why logo handbags became such a visual status symbol. If I’m walking down a local market, of course people are going to stare. In Hong Kong’s Central or Causeway Bay areas, where there are a lot of young people out shopping, I’d say there’s minimal reaction. You’ll also get the most unexpected compliments – like seventysomething ladies coming up and saying, ‘I adore your shoes.’”

Skye Sherwin: “Do you find people are more into experimenting with their look there now, or is it still quite big-brand focused?”

Susie Lau: “I’d say that, in Hong Kong and cities in China, there is definitely more experimentation going on, which I think is indicative of people reading blogs and devouring street-style websites. There have always been experimental pockets, but in Hong Kong, it’s always very confined and when people talk about ‘designer’ clothes, they are mostly talking about the obvious big brands. But when you look at the stores in Hong Kong – places like KniQ, which stocks Louise Gray, the IT group and Joyce, which do take chances on younger labels – you can see that people are getting educated. I’m finding girls who dabble with vintage more and more, which is truly impressive, seeing as vintage shopping in Hong Kong is virtually nonexistent. Chinese people think old clothes are unlucky because dead people have worn them. They also generally think vintage is another word for dirt.”

Skye Sherwin: “Who and what do you think leads the way with fashion in Hong Kong?”

Susie Lau: “If you go into the smaller boutiques in Mong Kok, where teenagers congregate, you’ll see a lot of signs saying ‘Imported from Japan’, ‘Imported from Korea’, with lots of FRUiTS-style pictures of Japanese girls to illustrate whatever trend, be it arm warmers or mini kilts. There aren’t that many ultra fashion-forward celebrities in Hong Kong. Hilary Tsui, the wife of the hugely famous pop star Eason Chan, owns a boutique called Liger in Hong Kong. She has a tonne of followers on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter or Facebook, who follow her daily outfits. She managed to make MBT sandals into a microtrend in Hong Kong.” 

Skye Sherwin: “You’ve said before there’s a lack of support for local fashion designer talent. Is there any sign of things changing? And where do local designers look for inspiration?”

Susie Lau: “I think this is definitely changing. In Hong Kong, at least, local designers, like Daydream Nation, are getting well known enough to have their own shops. Generally speaking, Hong Kong designers look at the quirkier side of life for inspiration, our childhood, things that feel familiar. There are no lofty desires to create couture or to dress goddesses. A lot of local designers I know just want to present their own individual take on wearable clothes that aren’t necessarily trend-led. In China, designers with real couture sensibilities are emerging. Huishan Zhang is one – stocked in Browns. Yiqing Yin is another – nominated for [an] ANDAM [award]. They have benefited from education abroad and that’s going to have an effect on the type of designers that emerge in China.”

Skye Sherwin: “Your blog is all about freedom of expression. Is there anyone you’ve encountered doing the same thing for fashion in China or Hong Kong?”

Susie Lau: “I know there aren’t that many who have risen to become ‘famed’ individuals. There’s definitely a lot of online journaling, blogging and thoughts being documented. I’ve not come across anything that really stood out in my mind. I love writers like Wyman Wong – he’s a radio/TV personality, a very good song lyricist, an actor and a fashion journalist; only in Hong Kong could you multitask in that way – who really critiques fashion in a way that is honest and bitingly funny.” 

Skye Sherwin: “Have you been to mainland China and how does it compare to Hong Kong?”

Susie Lau: “I have, but not in a long time. I plan on visiting Shanghai before the year is out because friends have told me it has changed dramatically and I fully anticipate it to be a completely different beast from what I had seen in my teens.” 

Skye Sherwin: “I guess, for most people in the ‘West’, China is still an unknown quantity. We get broad-brush stereotypes, veering from the excitement of a newly powerful economy and urban development to workaholic, wealth-driven new consumers, and at its most pernicious, slave capitalism.”

Susie Lau: “The bucket-loads of Chinese pouring into London, Paris, etc, and spending a fortune on designer goods are probably more than aware of these stereotypes, but they’re not denying that. They have money and they want to flaunt it. End of. With China now having an economic upper hand, perhaps these negative connotations just don’t hurt them that much. It isn’t exactly stopping countries like the UK and US wanting to trade with China. I buy into those generalisations as much as the average Westerner and I end up having horrible slanging matches with my parents about China’s government policies. That said, when we’re talking about one-to-one relationships, getting to know individuals, of course, none of that media-fed bullshit really matters. I look forward to seeing perhaps a different side to China when I go this winter.”

stylebubble.typepad.com

by Skye Sherwin