Art & Fashion with Sue Wong
June 6, 2015 | Photograph by Sam Fu and Collier Landry
BEAUTY . MAGIC . TRANSFORMATION
SUE WONG LIVES FOR ONE THING:
TO SPREAD GLAMOUR AND BEAUTY!
SUE WONG is a study in contrasts. She appears petite, yet possesses a commanding presence and grand energy that fills an entire room. While there is power and strength in her designs, there is a romantic fantasy and poetic lyricism that informs her work, which nonetheless remain rooted in undeniable pragmatic reality. The elegant economy of her gestures belies the strength and determination with which she has managed her business for over two decades. This collision of polar opposites creates the frisson that fuels Sue Wong’s gorgeous designs and has established the Sue Wong signature style.
Born into humble circumstances in a remote countryside in southern China, at the age of six, Sue was spirited away from Communist China by the courageous leap of her mother, who bribed a border guard with her wedding jewels in exchange for freedom into Hong Kong with her young daughter. Journeying to the United States a year later, mother and child reunited with Sue’s father in Los Angeles. As a child, her initial creative tendencies drew her to art.
As the daughter of struggling immigrants, there would be no budget in the spare family economy for toys; Sue would create her own paper dolls and their entire lavish wardrobe, practicing her nascent interest in Fashion Design. However, Sue started making her own clothes when she was nine years old. In High School she was chosen from over three hundred female classmates to be a member of the May Company Teen Board, and landed the opportunity to work in various capacities including modeling, assisting in window display and merchandising. While she was still trying to earn a fashion degree, she interned with the resource brand Arpeja, after winning first place in a scholarship sponsored by the company, apprenticing under the head designer.
Sue Wong left Arpeja to open up a one-of-a-kind boutique shop in Bohemian Venice, California, and later, another upscale boutique in West Hollywood with a stunning Art Deco interior. It was during this period that her signature vintage style was born and solidified. Sue took details from vintage garments from the twenties, thirties and forties, extracted the handmade detailing such as beadwork and embroidery and redesigned an entire new garment, incorporating the detailing of the vintage embellishments into her new design. These elaborate creations were displayed and hung from wires suspended from the ceiling to create a gallery effect in her boutiques. She attracted a glamorous audience and following including Bianca Jagger and Goldie Hawn, who were drawn to the beauty, magic and uniqueness of her designs.
Ironically, after two design stints with smaller companies, Sue returned back to Arpeja to claim the position of chief designer for the label’s Young Edwardian. She became an immediate stellar success, bringing the company's sales from a mere 2 million dollars in revenues to over 52 million dollars within a three year period—a stunning, unprecedented success for the times.
Her attempt at launching her own line at age 30 was ill-timed. She was in the midst of an acrimonious divorce and raising two young sons. Undeterred, she relaunched her brandfive years later, rolling out an initial collection ofSue Wong day dresses to critical acclaim in1985. Eventually, she introduced more elaborate evening pieces in 1999, a move that would firmly establish her signature style of haute glamour, femininity and romantic vintage sensibilities.
With each new collection, Sue Wong never fails to astonish, employing the revered age-old couture techniques implemented by the finest couture houses in Europe, and evoking the allure and glamour of various eras such as Weimar Berlin, 1930s Shanghai, Precode Hollywood and Manhattan’s gilded Jazz Age. While often adopting vintage style, every design belongs in the now and is decidedly very Sue Wong; exquisite fabrics shimmering with incandescent beads, unique embroideries and layered textures embellished withpassementerie and soutache combine to create works of art that are graceful, elegant, unique and timelessly beautiful.
Sue Wong truly captures and embodies through her work, her mantra of Beauty. Magic. Transformation. It is the Eternal Feminine Goddess energy that Sue Wong aspires to honor in every woman, creating beauty and sorcery that both enchants as it empowers, leaving a trail of wistful romantics speechless in its wake...
INTERVIEW WITH SUE WONG
CKW: Why did you decide to become a fashion designer?
SW: I was born an artist and merely use fashion as my creative medium for my artistic modality of expression. I used to create my own paper dolls with lavish clothing and would practice designing fashion accessories and clothing on my dolls. When I was nine years old, I started making my own clothes. I really wanted to study Fine Art and become a painter, but instead became a fashion designer because my parents did not want to support a creative vocation. They wanted me to play it safe by being a bookkeeper or teacher. However, I was born a creative being and knew that being an artist—a Fashion Designer—was my calling.
CKW: What is your favorite part about being a fashion designer?
SW: Empowering women. I invest my design mantra of Beauty ~ Magic ~ Transformation in each and every gown I design. My gowns awaken the Feminine Divine and honor the inner Goddess that resides in every woman. For this reason, I offer the woman who wears SUE WONG an experience of transformation through the doorway of beauty. By creating transformative, experiential gowns of such great beauty, I empower women in all walks of life.
CKW: What were your inspirations for the designs you created for your latest collection?
SW: I have a deep philosophical side and have always been very interested in thinkers like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. With my last collection—my FAIRIES AND SIRENS Spring 2015 Collection—I wanted to juxtapose the contrast between the light and dark aspects of feminine nature and human nature. Dark is the unconscious, the unrealized parts of our own femininity and light is the ultimate beauty that each and every one of us continuously strives to grow towards. The "Fairies and Sirens" theme examines this dance of chiaroscuro, between our two opposing yet complementing counterparts: Light and Dark, Fairy and Siren.
You can experience my FAIRIES AND SIRENS inter-dimensional runway show video through the following link:
CKW: What is the best advice you would give to someone who is new to the business?
SW: My advice to all aspiring designers is unanimous across the board: never take no for an answer. Never allow other people to limit your possibilities by accepting the projections of their very own limitations onto yourself. Never feel simply satisfied at any given moment in your journey. You’re a work in progress and in turn so are your designs.
Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to take chances and be absolutely fearless about it and just GO for it…BE FEARLESS! You need to discover your voice—your driving, compelling force and inner self so you can best build on intuition and be business savvy—at best.
Have a vision! Hold that vision!
Be true to that vision!
CKW: Do you recommend using a spokesperson?
SW: I have created my very own unique voice and like to keep it that way. I don't really have a need for a spokesperson.
CKW: What has been your greatest challenge?
SW: I put my everything on the line. All my possessions, my life savings, my home. After six years had passed since the first disaster of going bankrupt and losing everything I had—after I made it by the age of 25—I went for it all over again. I believe in myself and am relentless in not only holding onto my vision, but even more importantly actualizing it.
I don’t ever regress in the face of adversity. I am a maximalist and understand everything that comes my way in life to be part of my overall journey…that which forges my destiny. I lost everything I built twice, and twice, I rebuilt it and grew stronger than my
former self. I keep evolving and not only strive for, but achieve and keep building on my quantum potential and what I have to oier, both personally and professionally.
CKW: What keeps you motivated each day?
SW: Self-belief is the greatest blessing, an armed weapon to achieve your goal and actualize your dreams; that’s why I took the risk and put everything I had in my life, everything I owned, on the line—twice. The first time I failed miserably and the second time it was blood, sweat and tears for 14 years. People often tell me how lucky I am. I remind them that luck had nothing to do with it. I was determined to make it. Not once did it ever cross my mind to throw in the towel. I believe in having a vision and executing that vision. I implement a
take-no-prisoners mentality and do not compromise in actualizing my dream/vision in any way, shape, or form.
CKW: If you can turn back time, what would you change?
SW: The number one rule in my life is to never look back. You can never undo what has happened. You’re in the very present place and time precisely because of all the individual steps, developments that have happened in the past that have lead up to
this very moment. Every single hurdle, adversity that life has placed in front of you that has made you stumble in the past is an ally in having made you much stronger.
The saying is very true…what doesn’t kill you does indeed make you much stronger. Besides, there are no such things as mistakes, nor curses. Yesterday’s curse/fall transforms into today’s blessing as long as you practice tenacity and a tireless desire to pick yourself up, dust yourself oi and embark on a new day with even greater fervor and passion to turn dreams into a manifested reality. That’s the only way I turned mine into my accomplished career. It’s all one panoramic karmic reunion. Everyone we meet, every encounter we experience…every fall we stumble upon. It’s like a very multi-layered Pointillist work of art. All the dots connect to procure a beautiful map/journey of profound soul, character, redemption, self-acceptance and most important of all—Forgiveness.
Then the Alchemy takes place… I don’t merely design with Beauty ~ Magic ~ Transformation in mind. I live it to its fullest. Once you realize that the only constant is evolution/change itself, then you master rolling with the punches and welcome these formerly perceived falls to become blessings in the form of lessons. In one’s journey, it is wise to practice a healthy detachment, which does not allow you to get frozen in the moment and then be in stasis. This evolves into the next higher stage of your self. Never look back. Always forge ahead and be the tireless warrior and manifester of your dreams you are destined to be!
CKW: What are you currently learning?
SW: I'm constantly learning and evolving. I believe that everything in life happens for a higher reason towards the growth and evolution of our souls. Everyone whom I meet along my spiritual path is a karmic reunion. There are no accidents in life—we create and manifest the reality that we live. If we do not care for the reality that we
created, we have the power to transform and transcend our lives through the power of our positive and beautiful thought patterns.
CKW: What are your plans for the future?
SW: I have a vision to build a global brand within the next five years, starting with creating an iconic brand for China and oiering the language of SUE WONG Glamour, Beauty, Magic as a Transformative Lifestyle—touching upon home and other fashion—related products as well as fragrance, cosmetics and skin care.
Please visit my website for greater insight on my life and the SUE WONG brand.