WITHOUT A WAD of cash and a PR engine, most fashion sketches end up staying on paper. Hong Kong label Tangram, however, has gone from selling at pop-up stores to having a permanent presence in Hong Kong, Singapore and the mainland, including its soon-to-open first boutique in Hong Kong - all without any traditional marketing.
Ignacio Garcia and Paola Sinisterra, the Colombian husband and wife duo behind the three-year-old fashion brand, promote Tangram with their bubbly personalities, social network and multidimensional approach. Recent collaborations include a headscarves project with Jaycow, milliner to Canto-pop stars, a capsule lingerie collection with fellow Colombian designer Sarah Cohen, and a Chinese womenswear line with Goods of Desire.
"Paola met Douglas [Young] randomly through acquaintances," says Ignacio of the founder and CEO of G.O.D. "We realised we were compatible in many ways, so they proposed a womenswear collaboration. We want to make a connection between a Chinese-inspired wardrobe and Tangram's no-nonsense approach to fashion."
Tangram's resort womenswear and outsized necklaces court an Asian market that is tired of identikit chain fashion.
In the Tangram for Goods of Desire collection, the couple fuses the retailer's signature graphics and humour with cheongsams and other Chinese classics, drawing inspiration from warriors, Zhejiang silk brocades, Feiyue plimsoles, and Qing dynasty embroidery.
"We like to look at fashion as a reflection of history, not just as a consumer product. So the research has been a total joy for us," says Paola, who previously worked in textiles for Zara. "Did you know that the cheongsam come from archery uniforms?"
"We also find Hong Kong girls fascinating. Their nonchalant poise, their delicate beauty … I hope this collection will complement their fiery personality," says Ignacio.
"Paola and Ignacio have a great appreciation for Hong Kong culture," says Young. "We have a joint desire to create something meaningful, something that could only be from Hong Kong."
Tangram's initial designs hit G.O.D stores next month, with a full collection arriving in November.
"The project isn't just about the cheongsam," says Paola. "The collaboration is all about connecting points between a Chinese-inspired wardrobe - both from a cultural and technical standpoint - and Tangram's contemporary, no-nonsense approach to fashion."
The couple's love of culture drives many of Tangram's works. Their hairband project with Jaycow comes from Paola's childhood.
"Where I grew up near Bogota there was a large African population. They always wore these colourful headscarves. I am so accustomed to wearing them I feel naked without one. I always get asked: 'How do you tie this?'," Paola says.
"It seemed like the perfect opportunity to create an easy way to drape vintage fabrics around our heads without fuss."
Both the headscarves and the lingerie line will be available from October at their first Hong Kong store, Matter Matters X Tangram at K11 Select.
The couple grew up in Colombia, but met in Barcelona in 2001. There, they collaborated on art and design projects before running a screen printing studio in the Ciutat Vella district.
Having arrived here in 2008, Paola and Ignacio are embracing the city's culture, from picking up the language, to helping put together "Chai Wan Mei", an open studio event to tell the public about the "hidden" creatives who work in Chai Wan).
Observing the Sinisterras at home - a place where jazz plays and potted plants sprout from qinghuaci cups - you can see their different personalities. There are passionate discussions.
So how do two seemingly contrasting people work so well together?
Ignacio laughs. "Our modus operandi are quite different: Paola is a night owl and I'm an early riser. But we complement each other and we always have an unspoken understanding. We always know where we want to take something."
Paola thinks that being efficient is a big plus: "There is no beating around the bush or having long meetings. In this age of technology, you don't switch off and that doesn't help inspiration at all. But we seem to find time to discuss strategies while cooking or hiking."
However, she says there is one rule. "We never, ever discuss work in bed."
WHERE TO GET IT
Colourful and fun cheongsams using vintage fabrics, lace and tulle. Ranee sews her own dresses at her appointment-only studio and showroom in Wong Chuk Hang, having recently left her Aberdeen Street location.
Room B, 14/F, Yally Industrial Building, Yip Fat Street, Wong Chuk Hang, tel: 2108 4068
Sleek, form-fitting dresses with bare-backed or Western trains. The cheongsams are designed by owner Eve Kwok and hand-sewn by seamstresses in Central. Chinoiserie’s creations incorporate Western design features and are available from HK$4,000.
Shop 7-8, Western Market, 323 Des Voeux Road Central, Sheung Wan, tel: 2130 9875
CLASSICS WITH ATWIST
Take your own funky fabrics to some of Hong Kong’s best cheongsam tailors. Linva’s sifu Leung Ching-wah has been making the garment for 50 years. His made-to-measure dresses take a month to create on-site (38 Cochrane Street, Central, tel: 2544 2456), and start at about HK$2,000. Lau On-hing of New Kins’ Fabrics Company tailors dresses for actress Zhang Ziyi and socialites, with bespoke prices starting at HK$5,000.
3/F, Yip Fung Building, 18 D’Aguilar Street, Central, tel: 3118 7672
MAKE YOUR OWN
HKU Space Island East campus runs cheongsam production workshops on Fridays from 7pm-10pm. Instructors teach pattern making, tailoring and sewing techniques. You will make your own dress in 10 sessions.
494 King’s Road, North Point, tel: 3762 0082
Nautical stripes, thick knots and festive reds feature in the first samples of the Tangram for Goods of Desire line. Photos: Antony Dickson