Yin & yarn: Elizabeth Yin and Jacqueline Tsang mix and match
With broad strokes from one and fine detailing from the other, this duo are a divine match, writes Kylie Knott
The pair have just launched their new label online, Elizabeth & Jacqueline, with a spring-summer 2014 collection that is a feast for the eyes - combining historical silhouettes with the demands of a contemporary woman's wardrobe.
Titled "Our Day Will Come", from the Amy Winehouse cover song, the collection is a nod to the designers' ancestry. One look features the liang mau - the woven straw hat worn by traditional Hakka women (both have Hakka grandmothers).
Another look, Marinella, has nautical influences. A holiday in New Zealand inspired the Waikato and Coromandel pieces, the latter inspired by a life jacket and parachute bag.
"We also pay tribute to Bill Moss, who revolutionised modern tent design with his fantasies of turning a flat canvas into a three-dimensional painting," says Lin. "He has singularly envisioned the old-fashioned tent as a contemporary structure, whose swooping organic lines are in harmony with those of nature.
"Referencing Moss' tenting structures and details, the printed silk chiffon becomes the canvas of the tent, capturing the clouds and swarms of mosquitoes that were flying around us on our memorable last night together outdoors."
Getting the collection launched has been a manic task for the duo who have spent the past few months toiling away in their studio on the ninth floor of an industrial building in Kwai Hing.
Full of mood boards, the interior says a lot about the two, who met in the print studios of London's Central Saint Martins in 2008. Both were halfway across the world from home; both came from a Southeast Asian Hakka background, with Lin's mother coming from Malaysia and Tsang's grandmother from Indonesia.
Tsang specialised in dainty lingerie, while Lin had just designed a collection inspired by toilet fixtures. Both, however, saw great potential in patterned fabric.
It came full circle when they came home last year to found their label.
"Sharing the same experiences living and collaborating abroad, our time spent together at Central Saint Martins made us very close, emotionally as well as conceptually, so it is no surprise that we ended up working together," says Tsang.
At 29, she has five years of professional lingerie experience, and has interned for Agent Provocateur and Matthew Williamson in London.
Lin has already made a name for herself in the city's fashion fraternity. In January the petite designer won three out of four prizes at the Hong Kong Young Fashion Designers' Contest with her "Time Capsule" collection. Her big, bold and angular creations were more objets d'art than clothes, each pulsating with geometric shapes that lure you in like a kaleidoscopic vortex.
"It was worth all the blood, sweat, tears … and screaming," says the 26-year-old, citing the film The World of Suzie Wong as inspiration for her winning collection.
As well as cash prizes, Lin won a one-month internship at Rue du Mail's Paris design studio to work with Martine Sitbon, and earlier this month she visited design schools in Denmark.
Lin says Tsang has been one of her biggest driving forces. "In the past, we collaborated on various projects and it was evident that there was a real chemistry when our talents were combined. As a design duo, I feel like we balance each other out like yin and yang.
"My input is the crazy structural concepts, veering more towards showmanship, whereas Jackie focuses on the detailing and lingerie construction. It's like combining the body and the spirit to make the clothes come alive."
Lin graduated with a degree in print and design and then served a string of internships, including Viktor & Rolf in Amsterdam and at Alexander McQueen in London. "My first internship was with McQueen," she says. "I was working as a print illustrator at the time, and produced a series of hand-drawn prints for the 2009 menswear collection. I was so happy to see him wear the wolf sweater, which I illustrated, when he walked out to bow at the end of the show. That was my first achievement as a designer. Shortly after that, I was called back by the director to work on some freelance illustration projects."
Lin, like her design partner, says she returned to Hong Kong to reconnect with the rapidly changing city. "I left for London when I was 16 and returned to Hong Kong last year so I could learn more about my roots. It's important for a designer to reference where they are from. You can see subtle Scottish influences in McQueen's work and Viktor & Rolf have the Dutch thing going on. I wanted my designs to reflect my British-Chinese identity. Hopefully I can inspire the next generation."
At first she had few connections in Hong Kong. "I had a friend living in Sham Shui Po in a tiny 200 sq ft flat. I set up in his flat with a second-hand sewing machine I bought off a kind woman for HK$1,000.
"The space was cramped - the dresses were almost as big as the flat. We had to squeeze everything in - it was extremely claustrophobic, but I loved the atmosphere of the area and it was so convenient with all the fabric shops.
"We couldn't even afford a table so I went and found a piece of wood that we used as a table. We had to elevate it with some tiles we found on the street … In fact, the show studio was pretty much furnished with stolen goods - London-student style," Lin says, laughing.
They are now on a new mission: in September they head to Tokyo to attend Japan's premier fashion and design trade show, Rooms. "We have our eye on the Japan market. We think the Japanese customer could really pull off our silhouettes," says Lin.
It seems the lyrics of that Amy Winehouse song could have been written especially for them.
PRETTY IN PRINT
Waikato silk blouse: a 100 per cent silk blouse with a sunset-hue sky print and a rustic picture-frame print. Has a split opening at the back and fastens with a hook and eye at the top. HK$2,699
Waikato surrealist print skirt: a sculptural trompe l'oeil picture-frame skirt inspired by scenes from Port Waikato in New Zealand. HK$2,339
Marinella cocktail dress: nautical influences come from the hull of a jolly boat. Its silhouette conceals the Chinese character for lucky number nine. On the bodice, the femininity of an English pinafore meets the ruggedness of a Chinese fisherman's apron. HK$6,749
All available at elizabethandjacqueline.com