Fashion designer Chen Shao-yen (陳劭彥) avoids the limelight and is a man of few words, making him refreshingly unconventional in the competitive and fame-driven fashion industry. These attributes also make the 29-year-old somewhat difficult to interview.
“What are your feelings about the recent trend of young Taiwanese fashion designers becoming media personalities?” I ask the recent graduate of Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
“Ah, different,” murmurs the London-based Chen at a coffee shop in Taipei’s Yongkang Street (永康街) earlier this month.
And how has technology influenced the presentation of his work and the world of high fashion generally?
“Ah ... yes ... it has,” he says.
Chen’s farouche personality belies an energetic fashion designer of considerable talent. Waver, his Central Saint Martins’ graduation collection, was shown at London Fashion Week in February this year, and Skin, his most recent line, was featured at On/Off London Fashion Week in September. The originality of his designs and his use of unconventional materials led Cathy Edwards, fashion director for the trendsetting AnOther Magazine, to hail Chen as one of the six most promising designers of this year.
Plaudits like that convinced Chen to remain in London after graduation and start up his own women’s clothing label, Shao Yen (www.shao-yen.com), in September.
Chen first gained international exposure last year with Body as Clothes, a degree project, which took top honors at the prestigious Weekend Le Vif, an international competition held in Brussels, Belgium. Before that, he had interned with some of the biggest names in European haute couture, including Hussein Chalayan, Claire Tough and Alexander McQueen, who died in February.
International celebrities have taken notice as well, including Lady Gaga and Bjork, who donned his designs for photo shoots.
It is fitting that Chen’s designs would appeal to performers. Born into a family of artists — his mother and uncle are painters and his sister is a dancer — Chen grew up frequenting museums and theaters.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the stage and that’s one of the reasons why I’m interested in fashion. I like the performative aspects — the lighting, stage design, the music, hair and makeup — and how these elements are brought together when presenting a line of clothing,” he says, warming up a little.
Like many designers of his generation, Chen takes the presentation of his fashion one step further with the addition of video technology. “If you know what technology can do, it can give you more options as to how to present your work,” he says.
Chen recently collaborated with Taiwanese artist and architect Yaojen Chuang (莊曜任) on a video to complement Skin. “Chuang’s presentation is quite surreal, which is one of the underlying ideas I had for this fall collection. I thought this would make my idea more complete or stronger and more interesting,” Chen says.
That video followed his own efforts for Waver. Chen shot a video of rippling waves off the coast of Yilan, his hometown, to accentuate the glittering and flowing textures of his collection.
Though Chen believes that video technology will feature prominently in the presentation of his future work, he is quick to point out that it is no substitute for the “laborious process of assembling fabrics and doing a lot of swatches.”