A life inspired by beauty, design, Chinese culture
Name: Millicent Lai
Job: Chief designer (Home), Shanghai Tang
Before university, where did you go to school? Did you enjoy it?
I went to a local Catholic school before I began university. It was a girls' school and a rather strict one. I enjoyed the devout environment and I am grateful for the discipline I learned from it. However, after I came back from an orientation [at Polytechnic University], I decided to quit my matriculation studies at the school and enrol in the diploma course for design at Poly U. In those days, the School of Design at Poly U was in a stand-alone white building. I remember seeing sculptures and drawings hanging everywhere, and students sitting on the floor next to their artwork. It was like a glimpse inside Pandora's box; there was a whole new world within.
How did you become interested in design?
When I was four years old, my mother caught me drawing on the wall and enrolled me in a drawing class. She gave me a book of yellow pages and that was my first sketch book. I have been drawing ever since.
How did you end up joining Shanghai Tang? What was your impression of the company to begin with?
I remember walking by Shanghai Tang one night with friends, and saying: 'What a beautiful store - I wish I could work for them.' Not long afterwards, I noticed they were advertising for a graphic designer. I applied, and joined Shanghai Tang in late 2001. The company was at the threshold of great change - we were a tailoring shop with some colourful cheongsam, but we wanted to become a lifestyle-concept store. We wanted to bring traditional Chinese aesthetics and savoir-faire to the world. We wanted to reinterpret Chinese designs and to prove that we were, and still are, modern and chic. I am proud that I was part of the team that broke the wave.
What was your first job?
I worked briefly in a graphic house after graduating from Polytechnic University. Then, I moved to a company that specialised in designs for luxury hotels and restaurants. I travelled extensively for projects, even to India and Ethiopia. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I worked there for five years and I learned that I like being surrounded by beautiful objects and being in a comfortable environment.
What are the biggest difficulties in coming up with a new design?
After designing for the same brand for 10 years, people might think that the biggest difficulty is finding new ideas. Luckily, Chinese culture never ceases to inspire me; the more I read about it, the more there is to discover.
What's it like to hold a finished product in your hand?
There's nothing more satisfying than using your own designs on a daily basis. I drink from the mug I designed and sleep in my own quilt. The objects bring happiness and beauty simply by coming into the house.
Polytechnic University School of Design: undergraduate courses in advertising, interior design, product design, and graphic design; graduate courses in urban design, interaction design, design education, and design strategies; diploma courses in product innovation technologies and multimedia design. http://www.sd.polyu.edu.hk/
Savannah College of Art and Design: undergraduate courses in advertising, graphic design, interactive design, and motion media design. http://www.scad.edu/hong-kong/