Hong Kong fashion designer Melissa Bui on her inspirations
The emerging local designer talks about achieving her dreams in brand-driven Hong Kong, and why fairy tales play an important role in fashion
"I had so much fun studying in London. It was one of the best experiences in my life, as I was so close to fashion and art.
I loved how I could go to an exhibition or a museum every weekend, and find cool shops by randomly walking around; places that you wouldn't find here in Hong Kong.
During my foundation year, I had the chance to try out a lot of creative disciplines. I experimented with print, embroidery and knitwear. I found that I could do the most with embroidery.
As a child, I used to like doing those criss-cross embroidery kits, and being able to go back to that discipline allowed me to rediscover my passion.
Working for Barney Cheng as his assistant designer was very different because I had never done anything that was couture quality or made to order. He was a great boss. I learned so much from him, things such as fabrication and detail work. I'm very glad I had him as a mentor.
I never thought about making gowns before working with Barney. At one point, I wanted to do wedding dresses, but I never thought I could do gowns. That was my first impression of ball gowns and fairy tales. I'm sure you can see his influences in my work.
I launched my first collection in 2013. I just thought to myself: Why not give it a shot? It doesn't hurt to try and if I do fail miserably it's a lesson learned. It's something I always wanted to do. At school in London, I was always telling people that I eventually wanted to have my own brand.
My ideas are different to what you see in fashion these days, especially in Hong Kong. They are very feminine, vintage-inspired, but modern, too.
I've been happy with my progress so far and I've been taking everything quite slow. Managing people, production, and so on, is all a learning curve for me; they don't teach you that stuff in school, they teach you how to design. So the business side is still very new to me.
I'm very inspired by vintage fashion and the 1950s era, as well as Disney princesses. Cinderella was my favourite. I believe in fairy tales, that's part of my character, and I want my clothes to bring back childhood memories. I want to make women feel like they are stepping out of a fairy tale.
My most magical childhood moment was when my mum bought me a cute organza dress which had appliquéd leaves.
Growing up, I had two brothers and a sister, so we were a very loud family. Being siblings, we fought a lot, of course. I got bullied a lot as I was the youngest. That was until my little brother came along.
I was born in Toronto but raised in Hong Kong so I got the best of both worlds. My mum would do the pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, and we made eggs at Easter. It was a very fun, creative childhood.
One of my favourite things about Hong Kong is the skyline, especially at night with all the lights. The night lights are actually the inspiration for my next collection.
I don't think I'm ever going to be sick of the city, especially as it is evolving creatively, with a growing number of local designers and art exhibitions.
My biggest supporters have been my mum, my sister, who does all of my make-up, and the rest of my family. I've also got very close to Priscilla l'Anson, as well. She's been helping me with styling and the business side of things.
My label's biggest challenge is to find a place to sell. I haven't really approached any stores yet. I need to find out who I am first. A lot of local designers have that same struggle. Getting recognition in Hong Kong is also hard because the city is so brand-driven.
Changing the perception of customers about local designers is a struggle. But I think with all these new designers such as Jourden and Erbert Chong, we're slowly changing how people see us.
People should expect more fairy-tale pieces from me. My collection is growing with each season, so people will see more garments that are daywear-friendly, as well as my signature gowns and embroidered crystal-embellished pieces.
My design eye has changed as I learn something new every season. I'm still trying to decide what my signature is. It might take a few more seasons to nurture, but I think it's whimsy, vintage flair, feminine pieces."
As told to Daniel Kong