London Fashion Week has long been a cradle of new talent, such as Alexander McQueen in the 1990s and more recently J.W. Anderson. During the autumn/winter 2019 shows, the name making headlines was Chinese-Vietnamese designer A Sai Ta.
He had already made waves as part of the Fashion East collective, but this season saw him host his first stand-alone show - to rave reviews.
"I really want my brand to resonate (with) the zeitgeist. My first few collections really embodied this free flow of ideas and chaos. It was this young brand with no resources, not much experience or knowledge. In my latest show I'm taking a step towards being grounded. It's very emotive and about a woman too close to me," he says.
One of a family of seven, Ta grew up in south London. His mother was a seamstress who would make clothes for his sisters. He followed her lead and started to customise his own outfits when he was a teenager, using them as a means to express his identity.
In 2009 he decided to pursue fashion as a career and won a place to study at Central Saint Martins. He spent the next decade studying at the famous London fashion school.
"It was the first time I (had) left home and met people from different cultures and backgrounds. I felt a part of something. I did an internship at The Row and then, during my MA, Kanye West picked me out.
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"The Row gave me insight into how fashion businesses operate, but at Yeezy (Kanye West's brand with Adidas) I was more involved in the design process, working on fabrications, dyeing, and fine-tuning garments to the point where they don't feel overdesigned. It was a great experience," says Ta.
In 2016, he felt it was the right time to launch his own label, and hoped to "break the borders of style". His Chinese background would become a huge source of inspiration.
"I consider myself a British-Chinese person, so for me, it's a study in diaspora. I am expressing how Chinese culture was fed to me, not my experiences of being Chinese. I explore Chinese elements because it's my way of trying to understand my culture and the perception of it.
"In China there isn't a rich history of fashion in a sense, so it's interesting to see how fashion and expression plays out. I feel that a true Asian aesthetic is rising and it's finally been given a spotlight," he says.
Ta's references run the gamut from the abstract - including the five elements of nature - to the kitschy (some of his pieces are packaged in Chinese takeaway-food boxes). He loves to play with Chinese iconography - dragons are used to make clothing feel more exotic, while qipaos and slip dresses are given a modern twist. One collection paid homage to what he calls the "auntie look".
"It was inspired by these older ladies who throw on pairs of leggings and T-shirts with words spelled wrong. I love it because it shows they don't care and dress for themselves, not for other people," he says.
While his spring/summer 2019 collection has a youthful, streetwear vibe, with reversible patchwork jeans and tie-dyed crinkled blouses with ruffles in colours like acid green, his autumn/winter line-up is more grown-up. Expect tailored looks, including jackets, overcoats, patched waistcoats and trousers crafted from heritage fabrics. A strong element of British style runs through the collection.
"The British vibe comes in the outfit itself, and how it's put together. In London it's about the attitude of the woman, which is extremely bold. I also love playing with this idea of social classes, so you'll see specific dress codes from different social classes such as trench coats or checks," he says.
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Ta hopes that his perspective resonates with audiences in both the West and East (he was picked up by Joyce in Hong Kong for next season). He plans to build a lifestyle brand.
"For me now it's about investment. I've gone beyond my means in the last four seasons. I've been able to grow and show the variety of what I can do; now I need to take the brand forward. Hopefully that will include new categories like shoes and bags, while building the world of Asai and showing the world what we can do," he says.
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