This week’s That Girl is Melissa Bui, the up-and-coming Hong Kong fashion designer who’s definitely one to watch! A self-proclaimed dreamer, Melissa’s creativity and imagination are truly inspiring. This Hong Kong girl launched her first collection in 2013, and her beautifully embellished designs have taken the city by storm…
We chat to Melissa about her favourite Hong Kong spots, her creative process and what it was like to work with Matthew Williamson in London.
Tell us about your background, are you and your family originally from Hong Kong?
Yes and no – my dad is originally from Hong Kong, and my mom is from Laos, but my siblings and I were born in Canada, so you could say we’re Canadian-Chinese who grew up in Hong Kong; the city we call home!
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live with my parents; it’s nice living at home after all those years studying abroad. My family has been living in the same apartment since we’ve moved back from Canada twenty-three years ago.
I don’t have much say for the rest of the house (my mom’s the one who hand picks everything and trust me she does a fantastic job!) but for my room, I make sure there are plenty of textures, patterns and colour. I like collecting things whenever I travel, so over the last few years I’ve gathered an eclectic variety of items for my room. Just to give you a few examples, a painting from Bali, ceramic trays from Bombay for my everyday jewellery, and a bed throw and cushions from the States. I also like hanging up old drawings and artworks to give my room more character.
How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
My personal style varies depending on the day, my mood and of course the occasion. On a normal workday you could catch me wearing something as simple as a tee and a pair of jeans, but for special occasions and events, I like dressing up. I’m really into more vintage silhouettes and I love mixing a bit of vintage jewellery in there somewhere. Though my designs are more ornate and luxurious, I tend not to dress like that on a day-to-day basis, but I’ll mix one of my embroidered jackets in with jeans and a simple top, or pair a printed midi-skirt with a more casual top to dress it down for the daytime.
Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
I actually find it quite difficult to shop in Hong Kong, as most of the time a lot of the small boutiques just aren’t my style. However, there are a few cute and trendy places such as Polkadot Boutique and NH21 (a Hong Kong brand) where I would pick up a few pieces to add to my wardrobe. Other than that, I shop where every HK woman shops: Topshop and Zara and, of course, occasionally Lane Crawford and Harvey Nichols for designer pieces!
What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
Hmm…this is a tricky one, but I guess I would have to say I have to have Kiehl’s Centella Recovery Skin Salve, and Philosophy’s Miracle Worker; it’s nothing fancy as I have sensitive skin. I will also never leave the house without applying Make Up Forever’s HD Concealer and Camouflage Cream Pot, my Naked 2 Palette and the Armani Lip Maestro for a pop of colour!
As far as hair goes, my sister and I have been going to the same hairstylist, Bowie from Hair (in Lee Theatre), for ‘x’ number of years already – see we can’t even remember how long its been! He is also the one who is responsible for all the hair styling for my brand’s editorial shoots and fashion shows. Bowie and Betty (a special hair colourist) are a dynamic duo and are always up for anything crazy!
As for nails, I get my gel nails done in this tiny place in Jordan, a place my mom’s been going to for more than ten years.
What is your favourite thing to do at the weekend?
It really depends on the weather. During the summer, I love spending time by the pool, beach or on a junk trip (a girl needs to get some colour) as it’s super relaxing, especially after a long week inside the studio at work. Other than that, I enjoy spending time with my family, especially my little nephew the ‘Bean’—he’s way too adorable!
What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
This one’s a really tricky question as there are so many good places to choose from in Hong Kong! I would have to say I love going to Otto e Mezzo Bombana for traditional Italian (got to love their Lamb Ragu Papedelle), Posto Pubblico for American Italian (must get their Meatballs and Farfalle Salsiccia pasta), Ronin for Modern Japanese (seriously, their Uni & Flower Crab is orgasmic) and of course, Pak Loh Chiu Chow for authentic Chiu Chow cuisine (my favourites are the cold crab and baby oyster omelette)!
As for bars, I’m more of a cocktail kind of girl, and I get my fix from this little hidden gem on Staunton Street called Medusa. If you ever get a chance to go, make sure you get their ‘Filthy Martini’ or ‘Two Girl Guides in a Tent’. Another favourite, is Hong Kong’s first concept cocktail bar, The Woods on Hollywood Road (just a few doors down from Paisano’s). My favourite cocktails are the ‘Watermelon & Cilantro’, ‘Oak Whiskey Sour’, and ‘Blackberry on Rye’.
Tell us what sparked your interest in fashion – what have been your key influences?
As a child, I loved drawing and, a lot of the time, I’d catch myself doodling big fancy dresses for imaginary Princesses (yes, I know how that sounds…) so I guess that was my first step into fashion! My mom and big sister Alexa also play a huge part in my interest in fashion as they’ve always been extremely fashionable and appreciate the beauty and little details in clothing.
You specialise in embroidery and embellishment – what is the hardest thing about this working in this area?
One of the more challenging aspects of embroidery and embellishment design for me is to come up with new techniques and ways to express my ideas, although this is probably my favourite aspect of what I do!
Where do you source your materials from and how to choose them?
I source my materials from all over the world, and the easiest way to do this is to go to textile tradeshows such as Premièr Vision (of course, you can always make a holiday out of it, too). There isn’t a specific way in which I choose my materials as it really depends on the season, my inspiration and most importantly, my mood. However I always find myself gravitating toward silky materials.
What’s your creative process and what inspires you?
I always start each season by doing a tonne of research in my chosen topic, which varies every season. This process then develops through drawing and experimentation, finalising the colour palette and materials such as fabrics, trims and beads. It’s always a challenge to find something that hasn’t already been done in the industry, so I like picking contrasting themes, such as kaleidoscopes and the sky for my Fall/Winter 2014 collection. I think the combination of completely random themes can create something new and exciting – hopefully something that hasn’t been done before!
We’re big fans of local Hong Kong designers (see our Top 50 local brands here!), do you have any favourites that you’re a fan of?
I would have to say I’m a huge fan of Vivian Luk. I love they way she drapes each piece and how she carefully selects and mixes a variation of colours, fabrics and trims to create her signature organic fairy-tale like texture. I also love Barney Cheng’s work, not only because I worked with him, but because he understands a woman’s curves and lines, and can make any woman look fabulous. Lastly, I’m in love with Jourden; Anais has managed to bring the Parisian-chic vibe to Hong Kong, and it’s so wonderful to see someone trying something different here.
What’s the secret to effortless style?
I would say just be yourself!
You’ve worked with some amazing designers like Matthew Williamson, what is it like to work for a designer who’s manage to create a brand that’s bigger than just them?
You learn a lot about more than just the design process (the only thing they really teach you at school); you learn about the business side of things and how to work together as a team to create a collection. It’s a humbling experience to work with such successful designers, but it is also very inspirational… you realise that they were once in the same position as you are now, a ‘nobody’, but they’ve put in the hard work to become a ‘somebody’.
What’s your biggest ambition/dream for your fashion brand?
For people around the world to appreciate what I do and see my designs as art! And, of course, for my business to grow big enough so it’s not just me and one other in the studio!
What advice would you give to other young, aspiring designers?
Keep drawing, designing and observing everything around you, there is always new material out there that may inspire you. Also, be prepared as the fashion industry is not as glamorous as everyone thinks!