The Future-Facing Femininity of Robert Wun
The global health crises has forced designers – both big and small – to rethink the ways in which they run their businesses. Fashion weeks have gone digital, and with retail opening and closing like no tomorrow, designers are scrapping wholesale to sell product direct-to-consumer.
Many of these new tropes adopted by fashion folk near and far have been the pillars to Robert Wun’s business since day dot. “I haven’t noticed that much of a difference in how we operate since the pandemic began,” says Wun. He calls me from his studio in Shacklewell Lane, Dalston, which is just a short walk across the street from his home. “[The pandemic] has given me time to think about what I should design, what I really want to do.”
Working with his six-person studio team on a socially distanced rota, the Hong Kong-raised designer has spent the past 12 months or so really honing in on his cutting ability and pattern development. He doesn’t show at fashion week, nor follow the traditional show calendar. Instead, he allows his ideas time to flourish; showcasing his collections through lookbooks so his sculptural creations can take centre stage (without all the extra faff).
His latest offering, titled Armour, is a ferocious display of strength steeped in emotional value. Each of the looks were inspired by a different woman in Wun’s life, in particular his grandmother, who passed away in October of last year. It was his grandmother who taught the 29-year-old designer everything he knew about feminism and empowering women through the everyday. In tribute, his courageous designs appear to be tough, like metal, though are made of soft pleats – cut in streamlined formations inspired by a swallow’s tail; his grandmother’s favourite bird.
Coated in the most glorious shades of yellow, pink, turquoise and cobalt blue, the immense pattern cutting ability that goes into Wun’s designs is the focal point. “I found the passion for [pattern cutting] when I was at university,” explains Wun, who graduated from London College of Fashion in 2012. Growing up in Hong Kong, Wun would avidly scour thrift shops from the age of 13, and through his teens, took scissors to his own wardrobe, working with his grandmother to customise his looks. Upon visiting family in London year after year – two of his grandparents lived in Wimbledon – Wun subconsciously became aware of the fashion possibilities available in the capital. When it came to deciding where to study, it was a no-brainer for both Wun and his parents that he should move to the city.
“I spent every day in the pattern cutting room looking at the patterns and thinking of what I could do differently and turn them sculptural,” reflects Wun on his student life. These days, he does most of his innovative thinking in the shower: “I just like draping in my head. I suppose that as crazy the designer I am sometimes, the way I vision things out is very technically obsessed, cutting is something I truly am passionate about.”
After a short stint working under Lucas Nascimento, in the summer of 2013, Wun was approached by an investor who wanted to help the designer launch his eponymous label. “He helped me set up my accounts and gave me a little bit of a backbone [in terms] of how a business worked,” says the designer. Launching his first collection in 2014, 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 a bit more hands-on to take his fledgeling business up a notch, Wun’s sister – a business marketing and advertisement graduate – eventually bought the designer’s investor out at the beginning of 2015.
Admittedly, things took a little while to get off the ground, but thanks to a growing celebrity clientele – including Celine Dion, Cardi B, Solange, Tessa Thompson and Lady Gaga – Wun has become what some may call a quiet success story, sticking to his future-facing femininity in the face of watered-down commerciality, even when the easier route felt at its most tempting.
“When I first approached fashion, I’m from the era when designers were celebrated for being who they are,” says Wun, name-checking everyone from Alexander McQueen to Christopher Kane. “Some of them were a bit more conceptual, some a bit more fantasy, some of them extremely chic, but that’s how fashion is, people doing different things. I just don’t know how we got closer into this era that people feel the need to be doing the same thing because only one kind of merchandise or aesthetic ‘works’. But I think everything is circular, and people will start looking for different things again. Sometimes you just have to stick with your guns and do what you’re really passionate about.”
Photography courtesy of Robert Wun.