An Exclusive Preview of Robert Wun’s Upcoming Collection
When he was a child, Robert Wun’s parents believed he would grow up to be a biologist. “I would draw sea life, insects and birds every night before I’d go to sleep,” he says. “At one point, I had a python, 20 frogs and a living room packed with reptile aquariums – it was intense.” The Hong Kong-born designer calls me from his home in Hackney Wick, where he is avidly explaining how his childhood love for all things that crawled, swam and slithered informs the couture-level fashions he creates today.
He’s currently crafting his AW22 collection, which he describes as a second chapter to his winter ’21 offering: a tribute to his grandmother who passed away in 2020. Each look was dedicated to a different woman in his life. With razor-sharp, fan-pleated skirts and armour-like corsetry in vivid red, green and cobalt blue, they resembled birds of paradise in mid-flight. “I started with the idea of birds last season, but, this time, I just wanted to go further and focus on the relationship between human and nature; the artificial and organic,” he says. He began by questioning our existing ideas of certain species – why do we associate wisdom with owls? Death with crows? Or flamboyance with flamingos? – creating a wardrobe that trumps the mundane, favouring that of sheer spectacle.
Wun, 30, has no interest in dressing for those everyday moments. In the last year alone, his clothes have been worn by Lizzo, Naomi Campbell, Pose’s MJ Rodriguez and Doja Cat. Though it’s the beauty influencer and social media star Bretman Rock who is his proudest celebrity co-sign yet. Attending the first in-real-life New York Fashion Week since the pandemic began, Rock came doused in royal purple, wearing a signature Robert Wun sculpted blazer, gracefully paired with a swollen pair of trousers that fell into divine pleated pools of fabric at the ankle; as dramatic as a peacock flexing its feathers.
“Normally I don’t work with influencers, but Bretman is different,” he says. “It was a beautiful moment and I don’t think I can ask for anything more than to have someone that I genuinely love and adore wear one of the most important looks I’ve done.” The sudden influx of custom celebrity orders hasn’t come without its challenges, though. “It is overwhelming. And there is so much more to come. We are trying to get our shit together,” says Wun. “It’s just three of us on our team. We do PR in-house, we do development in-house, we do design in-house. We are very happy, but it can be tough.”
He wouldn’t change it though. “Sometimes I look back at before the pandemic – there has been such a drastic change for me and where the brand is heading,” he continues. “I’m just trying to enjoy it and grab all the opportunities that I can.”
Wun has been in business since 2014, first launching his namesake label alongside an investor who approached the budding talent shortly after he graduated from London College of Fashion. “I was pretty clueless about the whole business side of running a fashion brand,” he says. “I remember that when I was offered [the investment], I was 50 percent sceptical, 50 percent excited about it.” But when it comes to money, he says, “I cannot trust no bitches.” The relationship with the investor didn’t last.
Wun longed to be pushed more in terms of what he could produce and believed he was still designing “like a student” in those early years. “I know that it’s a very important part of the passion to keep carrying on, but also you need to grow and be better, so when you design, you actually have a full perspective.” Looking for someone more hands-on to take his fledgling business up a notch, Wun’s sister Cecilia – a business marketing and advertisement graduate – eventually bought the designer’s investor out at the beginning of 2015, but things weren’t exactly plain sailing from there. “Five years ago, I was at one of the lowest points of my life because I’d made a collection I really didn’t like. I almost gave up,” he admits. “Everyone has moments like that, but you just have to keep going.”
The designer’s take on future-facing femininity is indebted to his fascination with sci-fi heroines as an early teen, from Princess Mononoke and Trinity from The Matrix, to Storm and Mystique from X Men. “It was the first time I had the idea that feminism and fantasy could collide, where these heroes dressed in armour and kicked ass,” he says. “I always imagine that the person wearing my clothing is not from this planet. She would be slaying in a world full of monsters instead.” He would sew with his grandma as a child, but it wasn’t until he was around 14 that Wun began to play with the identity of clothing, reworking vintage pieces he would scavenge from Hong Kong vintage shops and making them anew.
Throughout his childhood, Wun’s family would visit Wimbledon every Christmas to see his grandparents, with Wun eventually moving to the UK when he was 17 – first to Cambridge, then London – to begin his studies. “By the time I moved to East London, I realised that everyone is from everywhere; I knew that it was exactly where I needed to be,” he affirms.
Did he take long to find his design lexicon? “I often think about our first class in my first year of studying, we had to make a dress with scraps of fabric for a Barbie. I remember mine was dark red and I made a gown shape which looked very basic and then I started stripping all the other colours [off], almost as if the dress was cracking and pouring with blood,” he says. “The tutor was horrified. I always had this semi-haunting, controversial style. I still have friends from the foundation year who have known me for 12 years; I met up with them a few months ago and they said my aesthetic is still the same, but now so much broader.”
That anarchist spirit is still ingrained in Wun’s practice today; he’s a designer who shows off-schedule and favours ethereal imagery over the traditional fashion show. “If I were to do something physical, I don’t want it to be a regular runway show. I want to do something meaningful,” he says. “I am never against scheduled shows, I think it would be beautiful one day, when I will have the abilities and the finances. I want to make it worthwhile. Worth the team’s effort, worth my effort, worth all the collaborators’ effort and worth people coming along to see it – I just want to wait for the right moment.”
Emerging from lockdowns, the globe’s pent-up desire to dress up and show out has only amplified the appeal of Robert Wun’s otherworldly designs. He’s the go-to man for those wanting to elevate their post-pandemic wardrobe and rebel against the very idea of an everyday look. Seeking a uniform to combat the ‘new normal’? Robert Wun has the answer.
Photography and styling by Robert Wun. Taken from 10+ Issue 4 – BACK TO LIFE – out now. Order your copy here.