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That Girl: Geneva Vanderzell of A Pair and a Spare

This week’s That Girl is Geneva Vanderzell of A Pair and a Spare – a fashionista with a difference! Rather than shopping high-end labels, she prefers to make her own statement pieces from scratch, hitting up Sham Shui Po, Pottinger Street and even hardware stores for bits and pieces for her projects…

When did you move to Hong Kong? Where did you move from?
I’ve lived in Hong Kong for less than a year actually but I can definitely see myself living here for a while. I grew up in Brisbane, Australia, and then a couple of years ago moved to London and now I’m here. I absolutely love Hong Kong, it’s such a dynamic and fast paced city with an amazing entrepreneurial spirit – and my little corner of Sheung Wan is lovely and quiet so I get the best of both worlds.

How did you get the inspiration to start A Pair and a Spare?
I’ve always been addicted to fashion and clothes — as a small child my parents actually had to put a lock on my wardrobe to stop me changing outfits every hour! My blog was a good way to collect images of things I liked and develop my sense of style. At first it was more like an image library, but one of my best friends said in passing that my love of Do It Yourself fashion would lend itself to a focus for the blog – and I guess the rest is history. Now it’s a fantastic outlet for my DIY projects and I love connecting with people in an honest and meaningful way by sharing tutorials and how-tos. The blog has grown into so much more than I thought it ever would and people surprise me every day by recreating my projects and letting me know how much they are inspired by my website.

How did you get into DIY Fashion?
Do It Yourself (DIY) Fashion is all about recreating your favourite looks by doing projects that are on-trend, save you money, and are also mindful of sustainability and the environment. It’s so much more than craft– the key is to create professional looking projects that don’t scream ‘I made this’ and can be integrated into a wearable wardrobe.

How did I start? My love of DIY basically came from being inspired by runway collections and streetstyle and wanting to make and create things of my own. My mum shopped in vintage shops when she was younger and passed it on to me so I guess that’s where my love of vintage and thrifting comes from, and she taught me how to use a sewing machine at an early age so that helped me start marking my own clothes. I started off just altering and redesigning vintage pieces I had picked up from markets and thrift stores, and have moved on to making accessories, shoes and even designing clothes from scratch. Nowadays literally everything I see, whether it be in a magazine, on a blog, on the street, or in a store – I think to myself, can I make that?

Since my blog has grown I’ve also started working more and more with brands on my DIY projects – collaborating with companies like J Brand and Asos by taking their items and embellishing them using my DIY skills. Doing collaborations like this is a fantastic way for brands to have more meaningful dialogue with their consumers – it’s marketing that feels fun and is more subtle than the direct ‘buy this’ approach. The reaction to a recent project where I took a pair of J Brand Jeans and embellished them with lace, inspired by the Jason Wu AW11 collection, was overwhelming and I’m sure that J Brand were happy with such positive marketing. Amazingly Jason Wu even posted the project on his Facebook page which was a huge honour.

How would you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
You’ll always find me sporting one of my DIY projects, whether it be a neon necklace, a skirt made out of a rug or an altered vintage dress – but I like to integrate these into simple outfits made up of high quality basics and vintage pieces.

Although I generally blog about DIY fashion, my blog also has a subsection that centers on perfecting your wardrobe. A year ago I started Wardrobe Rehab, a 6 step process for developing your perfect wardrobe – getting rid of the junk in your closet, defining your style better, gathering essentials and making rules for shopping so you only buy high quality things that you will wear. This project helped me realize that my personal style leans towards classic French chic – I mix and match simple separates including blazers, Breton tops and high waisted skirts. If you have an amazing collection of basics you’ll never feel you have nothing to wear. I then add a personal twist by using DIY to create trendy items, such as Aztec inspired accessories, neon friendship bands and tribal print kaftans.


Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Where do you get your DIY goodies?

I spend lots of time in department stores such as Lane Crawford and Joyce, window shopping and getting inspiration for my next projects. I also love the Korean boutiques in the Beverly Centre in Causeway Bay and in the alleyways around Granville Road. But to be honest, I spend most of my time in the various Hong Kong markets and alleyways hunting for materials for my DIY projects, and you’ll usually find me digging for fabrics in the Sham Shui Po fabric markets, buying ribbons and buttons on Pottinger Street, and pillaging the hardware stores along Wellington Street. To me, every store in Hong Kong holds the key to a potentially amazing DIY project – I get a lot of weird looks from the men who work in my local plumbing shop when I go in and buy rose gold nuts and bolts for jewellery! 

Can you tell us about your beauty regime? Any top Hong Kong tips?
I’m fairly low maintenance in the beauty department and tend not to wear make up during the day because it usually comes off quickly due to the humidity. If I’m going out I use Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer, Bobbi Brown shimmer brick in rose as a bronzer and eye shadow and a lick of Chanel mascara. Not wearing much make up means that my skin is a priority for me – so I use Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser and Moisturizer which is perfect, and also lots of natural remedies such as calendula cream as a night moisturizer as well as tea tree oil and golden seal cream. My hair is curly which can be a nightmare in the humid Hong Kong weather so I use Moroccan Oil to keep it soft and healthy. As for hairdressers, I have to say that I’m yet to find one that I love – I’ve been to five different ones since I moved here! I am going to keep trying to find one that I can start a long term and meaningful relationship with (haha), so if any of Sassy girls can recommend a good one I’m all ears!

What is your favourite thing to do at the weekend?
Life during the week is so hectic that on the weekend I like to relax, and you’ll usually find me on a friend’s boat around Sai Kung if the weather is nice – having a picnic and getting away from the city. Or walking the Peak or Dragon’s Back. I also usually devote a little bit of time to a current DIY project – and bouncing ideas off my friends for future projects.

What is your favourite restaurant in Hong Kong?
My boyfriend is an interior designer and the director at Charlie & Rose. He recently finished designing CantoPop and Linguini Fini – two amazing restaurants in the L Place on Queens Road. Although I’m probably biased, I have to admit that we go to those two places almost every week! It’s really hard to stay away given the fantastic atmosphere and healthy and delicious fare they serve up. Make sure you try the lamb gnocci at Linguni Fini! Other places I love are Taku for Japanese and Posto Pubblico for a boozy Friday night dinner with friends, as well as California Vintage for amazing fish tacos and Dragon-i for a feast of dim sum. Pastis is also a lovely French place on Wyndham Street that dishes up the best Toulouse sausages. For a quick bite you’ll often find me at Pho Tai for the best Vietnamese cold rolls in Hong Kong – I’ve been known to go there 3 or 4 times a week!

What are your must-have pieces for Autumn/Winter?
My attitude to style is that high quality essentials and basics never go out  – so I’ve spent a lot of time and money getting together a collection of perfect wardrobe pieces, such as leather jackets, hooded parkers, trench coats, perfect fitting jeans and leather mini shorts. I mix and match these with other essential pieces for an infinitely wearable  wardrobe. This season I will also be updating these outfits with on-trend colours, such a burgundy and mustard, and a healthy dash of DIY neon accessories to keep it fresh.

I’m in the process of making a yellow neon collar necklace to pair with my autumn wardrobe – the tutorial will be up on my blog shortly! Glittery accessories will also be huge this season, with the Miu Miu AW11 make us all want glitter embellished shoes. I recently did a project where I added gold glitter to a pair of high heels which was simple and very very popular. Little projects like this allow me to be on-trend without breaking the budget.

How can Hong Kong girls start DIY-ing their own pieces? What do you recommend as a good project to start?
My biggest piece of advice for getting started is to just have a go – every DIYer has a project graveyard for ideas that didn’t work out, but it’s all a learning process right? The easiest place to start is by altering and updating vintage and thrifted pieces – if you get them cheap it means you can be as imaginative as you like. I also like to do DIYs that simply add an element to a piece of clothing. I recently sewed some lace to a pair of J Brand jeans which was very fun and easy. That way, when you get sick of it you can just remove the lace or other add on and you won’t have ruined your original item of clothing.

If you are in need of inspiration make sure to check out my blog, I have heaps of posts on getting started and getting the right equipment – as well as loads of inspiration posts.

Visit A Pair and a Spare for more from Geneva!

Check out the rest of our That Girls here!

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