Barney Cheng

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 May, 2005, 12:00am

Meet the region's leading fashion designers

Hong Kong-born Barney Cheng Siu-leung studied at big-name schools before returning home to set up in business: London's Royal College of Art; the Parsons School of Design in Paris; and the University of Waterloo in Canada. In 1993, three years after coming home, Cheng won the Hong Kong Trade Development Council's Young Designer's Competition, and soon set up his own studio, Yenrabi. He has since designed exclusive lines for Marks & Spencer and Tai Ping Carpets, and served as a consultant and trend forecaster for Moulin Opticals. His dresses have been worn by the likes of Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng, Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, Debbie Harry, Michelle Reis and the Princess of Denmark.

Have you always wanted to be a designer? Yes. It's always fascinated me how people seem so much happier and more beautiful when they're dressed up.

How did you start? I won the competition in January 1993. By August, I'd set up with one pattern drafter and one seamstress. My first client was my sister-in-law, whose wedding trousseau I created with just one fitting. It was a miracle everything worked. After that, I got jobs by word of mouth, and we've kept it that way. I like referrals.

How's your company structured? We target couture clients - the top tier of the market. We have a dozen people doing everything from beading to draping, patterns and corset making.

What else are you in charge of? Finance and administration is handled by the mother company. I'm in charge of everything to do with the brand: concepts, material selection, embroidery details, images and show concepts. I also take care of client relationships.

How many lines are there? Besides haute couture, we've got a fur collection and an eveningwear and jewellery collection for Lane Crawford. I'm working on a mass-market line, but that won't be with my name, and a woven leather story to complement my gold-plated, silver jewellery, plus a carved-wood collection of accessories. Both are for the Lane Crawford jewellery counter.

What's your design philosophy? Extravagant simplicity - simple designs with out-of-this-world attention to detail and cutting. Inside is just as important - if not more - than outside. We add surprises such as a hand-embroidered name inside the lining of a gown that only the client can see and enjoy.

What makes you successful? I have a lot of potential to grow, and I've been lucky with opportunities. I have the luxury of choosing which projects to work on, and I think I've settled into my niche nicely.

Where are your designs available? At my studio, 34 Wyndham Street, Central, and at Lane Crawford IFC. Couture is available only in Hong Kong. People fly in for fittings and we courier the dresses to them.

Where do you want to expand? I've got into every single store that was on my wish list when I started in 1993. They included Barney's New York, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdales, Browns, Fred Segal, Victoire, Henri Bendel's, Joyce, Lane Crawford and the Swank. Now, I'm focusing on China.

What's the reaction to your designs? Ready to wear is less transparent because I have to wait at least six months. Couture is very hands on, and I feel great when clients text me before a function to say they feel like a million bucks.

What's been the biggest influence on your career? My family. Their support has given me opportunities to pursue my dreams.

What are your plans? To continue doing what I love, and have the most fun while I'm doing it.

What's your motto? It used to be: 'Work hard, play hard'. Now, it's: 'Gratefully happy for the extravagant simplicity that is my life: work and play'.