It was tears and bright pixelated patterns on the catwalk for the winner of the 38th HKTDC Young Designer Contest Award on Tuesday night. Nelson Leung, whose menswear collection “Journey Walker” impressed the international panel of judges, emotionally accepted the grand prize of a month-long sponsored internship at Veronique Leroy’s studio in Paris and cash prize of HK$35,000.
Leung also won the ‘Contemporary Daywear’ category, landing him an extra HK$20,000 in cash and HK$30,000 sponsorship to visit overseas fashion fairs when launching his own label. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University graduate says his collection was inspired by classic video games, and judging by those bold colours, vibrant graphics and a sophisticated used of knitwear – the influence was an original choice that really paid off.
“It was all very exciting...over the past years there’s definitely an interest in menswear a lot more,” says noted local designer Johanna Ho, who specialises in knitwear, recently launched her own men’s label and is judging a grand total of three competitions this fashion week.
“He actually stood out from the beginning, his collection was top notch by far compared to the others. The theme was very coherent and put together, but it’s still fresh. When you mark, you have to score on marketability and how you can sell it and he just fit the bill.”
Leung’s collection stood out in terms of aesthetics, as well as being a men’s label, and he definitely benefited from the garments looking well-finished. This collection wouldn’t look too out of place on the racks of an I.T. or D-mop store. A cheeky Pacman motif was the basis for a large yellow cape, while gold coins, 3D geometric patterns, pixelated lines and other icons of vintage video games made for a super playful vibe.
“The level [of the designer’s work] was very high, and I liked Nelson’s work a lot,” says petite Paris-based Belgian designer and VIP judge Leroy, whose own aesthetic has been lauded as a sophisticated, cerebral balance between structure and softness. Admittedly Leroy was a little disappointed that one of her favourites, contestant Doris Law, didn’t win an award.
Encouragingly for local talent, Leroy muses that “now with young designers, there is no difference between Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo and New York, the level is high everywhere. And the people in Hong Kong really, really like fashion, there is a real passion.”
Some judges were looking for clever design solutions, others for raw passion or a good balance between creativity and commercial marketability. But undoubtedly, the award has become a great springboard for many young designers, especially those who studied fashion in Hong Kong, rather than powerhouse international schools like Parsons, F.I.T. or Central Saint Martins.
“When I started in fashion, it was more like an artistic job - now it’s more trends and how to sell and very very fast... but I like to see the work of the new generation, it’s fresh with a lot of hope,” adds Leroy.
Her key advice to this new generation in the midst of overwhelming competition today is to “be very honest with themselves and who they are.”
She says she can identify with these young designers as starting out for her was not easy. Leroy had no money but a lifelong dream and passion.
“I wanted to be a designer since I was young, for me it is a [life] vocation, I cannot do another job.”
Leroy and Ho were joined by other judges, including K.K. Yip, Director of Creative & Business Development at retailer D-mop and the glamorous Dee Poon, Chief Executive Officer of China Retail, Esquel Enterprises.
But let’s not forget the other winner, Max Mak, who topped the evening wear category with “fluoroscopy x-ray,” a highly constructed, dark collection with plenty of origami-like pleating and digital X-ray inspired prints. As Mak’s models stalked down the runway in conical rice paddy hats holding wooden sticks, onlookers were reminded of Raiden from Mortal Combat - so certainly, it was video games very much on the mind that evening.
Previous winners also got to showcase how their designs have matured; with Elizabeth Lin, Mim Mak, Eva Cheng and Wal Kong sending their latest collections down the runway, after the competition.