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Singapore Fashion Week 2016: Up close with Han Chong of Self-Portrait

Admit it, which one of us hasn’t seen the famous Self-Portrait Azalea dress and wished that we could get our hands on that beauty. You know, just in case you’ve got an important event to go to.

In anticipation of his Spring 2017 show at Singapore Fashion Week this Sunday, we spoke to the creative brain and founder behind Self-Portrait on what it’s like growing up in Penang, Malaysia, secrets to building a successful brand, and dressing Michelle Obama.

Han Chong, Self-Portrait
Han Chong, founder and designer of Self-Portrait

Fashion is much more than just clothes to me, it is… a means of personal expression – whether you’re a designer, or just dressing up everyday.  The joy of self identity through clothes is very rewarding for me.

Having grown up in Penang, Malaysia… I’ve never thought it would be possible to become an established fashion designer; that thought has always motivated me on to work harder.

I use lace very often in my collections because… it is a widely used material in Malaysia, and I grew up with it. It has always been essential to me to use this material, while making it feel fresh and current. Fabrications are also the first thing I look at before deciding how I would like a collection to look like.

A Self-Portrait girl is… confident, interesting, and effortless.

The inspiration behind the Spring 2017 collection is… building the Self-Portrait wardrobe and expanding the range of our collection. There is a focus on sophisticated separates, and a wide variety of unexpected fabrics. Sturdy textures and fabrics, along with masculine tailoring also adds a tough edge to feminine dressing. With those in mind, I also wanted to push the brand beyond the occasion-wear which we’re known for.

Han Chong’s favourite look from Self-Portrait’s Spring’17 collection.

My favourite look from the collection is… the off-shoulder striped top paired with a utilitarian mini skirt. It encompasses the collection perfectly – a balance of masculinity and femininity, and a tinge of modern romantic with a twist.

Self-Portrait Azelea dress
Miranda Kerr, Masie Williams, and Bella Thorne seen wearing Self-Portrait’s Azalea dress.

What made Self-Portrait so successful since launching three years ago is… having developed a signature style that people are able to identity easily, and I think that is key in the fashion industry today. The Azalea dress is definitely a highlight as it was the first dress that became a signature of our brand. Having also set reasonable price points for our pieces has resonated with customers globally as well.

Michelle Obama in a customised Self-Portrait dress
Michelle Obama in a customised Self-Portrait dress.

The proudest moment for me as a designer was when… First Lady of United States, Michelle Obama, wore a customised dressed I designed for her. It was truly an honour.

This is the time for Asian designers to bloom, because… there is room in the industry for different voices and perspectives. Social media has also made things move so much faster; information are dispersed quicker, and the appetite for innovation means people are constantly seeking to discover “what’s next”.  This has provided an avenue for young designers to find their audiences. Hopefully, with more rising Asian designers, it will enable others to see the opportunities out there, and encourage more to go down this creative road.

If I weren’t a fashion designer, I’d be… trying out different types of art forms. I’d definitely still be doing something creative.



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