Jonathan Liang is living every young designer's ultimate dream. But that's no surprise: the Malaysian designer has been on the rise ever since he graduated from the Raffles Design Institute in 2010. Three years later, Liang is designing a womenswear line for his eponymous label in Paris. "I am so lucky to have business partners that support me unconditionally. I can be as creative, as I want, and they tell me, 'Don't worry about the money.' Not many designers have that privilege," says the 25-year-old, as we sip tea in a coffee shop in Saint Germain, Paris, near his design studio.
Liang says he has always had the creative gene. As a child he loved drawing, and he studied illustration and fine art in Malaysia.
"I drew a lot, but the thing I enjoyed the most was the outfits the characters wore," he says. "Soon, drawing wasn't enough - yes, I could translate what was in my head onto paper, but I wanted to go an extra step to make it come to life. I could have pursued sculpture or installation [art] but fashion seemed the better choice."
Liang enrolled in a fashion course at Raffles, where he thrived. While still a student he showed at Malaysia Fashion Week and won the "Most Promising Designer Award".
This was followed by a show in London after he graduated, which landed him an internship at Givenchy. He also co-designed an eco-friendly fashion line, Ultra, a project that introduced him to his current business partner and angel investor, fellow Malaysian Chanela Jamidah.
When Jamidah suggested that Liang start his own line, he jumped at the chance despite his lack of experience. His spring-summer 2012 debut had a "bare and simple" look, and was picked up by retailers, including Lane Crawford.
"It was nice but not new. It was something that a lot of people were doing already, so I had to develop it more," he says.
It wasn't until the third season, spring-summer 2013, that Liang finally got into his groove. Inspired by an abandoned greenhouse, the collection featured voluminous skirted dresses with digitally manifested pansies decorated with Swarovski crystals.
"You could see the clean lines, construction, and the experiments with fabrics. I am trying to stay away from the slouchy fit, because I feel it's an excuse for designers to forget about tailoring," says Liang.
For autumn-winter 2013 he has continued in this vein with a collection that explores the Crusades.
The result is a sharper silhouette that includes items such as cropped jackets with sheer butterfly panels, and the butterfly peplum dress with geometric panels jutting from the waist. Fabrics are a mix of hard and soft, including silk, crocodile embossed leather, glass treated fibres and embossed foil tinted viscose.
Looking ahead, Liang wants to focus on building his list of stockists, while growing the collections organically.
At present, he is stocked in France, Malaysia and Singapore, and now has his sights set on Hong Kong, which he feels is an important fashion centre.
"Actually, many of our fabrics come from Hong Kong. So I love going there.
"Let's be honest, everyone in Asia looks [to the city] for its fashion cues," he says.