Most designers seem to be adopting androgynous shapes and dark fetishist looks for their autumn-winter collections. But Taiwanese-born designer Wenlan Chia, based in New York, is determined to bring the fun back into fashion. 'My style is very playful. I like girls who don't take themselves too seriously and have some imagination when they wear my clothes. They work with it, have fun with it,' she says. 'What's the point if you can't do that?' Since she founded her Twinkle by Wenlan line over a decade ago, Chia has become a success with her whimsical but chic style. While her name may not ring many bells, her clothes seem to fly off the racks. Her empire has expanded to include Twinkle Accessories, Twinkle Jewels, Twinkle Living and, oddly enough, Twinkle Yarn. Her clothes have been featured in magazines such as Elle and Vogue, and she boasts more than 500 stockists in North America, Europe and Asia. These include Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong. Chia was even recruited to design a line for mass retailer Target, alongside luxury brands such as Mulberry and Missoni. The secret, she says, is not so much in the design, but in giving customers what they want. 'Every time I create new styles, I think does my customer need this from me. Why do I need to make black trousers when they can go to Theory and buy the same? Every product I design should exist for a reason. In the beginning it was about what I wanted to wear. But now, in this big sea of merchandise, you need to ask yourself what people want.' Chia has always had a pragmatic approach to everything in life. That includes her decision to become a fashion designer. She studied at National Chengchi University in Taipei and moved to New York to complete her master's degree in art management. She initially wanted to work with other creatives rather than be one herself, and subsequently got a job at an art gallery. Fashion design came into the picture when she immersed herself in the city's creative scene. 'New York is a great place for inspiration - you hear stories about small designers starting downtown and then opening their own businesses. The problem was I wasn't young. So I had to think about what I was giving up. I took a conservative approach and worked in the day. I did classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in the evenings,' she says. During this time, she was inspired by a classmate who knitted her own sweaters. She decided to learn the craft herself. Soon her hobby grew into a successful money-making business. 'I don't like to touch anything that's crafty. I don't think of myself that way. But knitting was very instinctive for me. It was about design. People would stop me in the street every time I wore one of the sweaters I'd made. They had a handmade feel, so they looked organic. But they still had a clean shape,' she says. Realising her potential, Chia decided to branch out on her own. She launched Twinkle by Wenlan with a small collection of thick hand-knitted sweaters she describes as 'simple but modern classics'. The following season, she decided to add more to her repertoire. She included airy dresses and colourful big skirts made from boiled wool. By the time she staged her first fashion show at New York Fashion Week in 2002, she had a fully fledged fashion line. It won rave reviews from publications such as Women's Wear Daily and The New York Times. Since then she has continued to develop the knitwear line, which includes unique styles such as yarn tuxedo jackets and intarsia knits, while working on other elements such as prints. 'I had to strategise. I wanted some kind of signature - not just sweaters. I decided print would be my thing after a suggestion by a former Vogue editor, Sally Singer. I have an art background so it came naturally to me because it was playful and featured bright colours. Up to now, my typical look has been a mix of the two - a very feminine printed silk dress with a sweater thrown over it. Chia's current autumn-winter collection is inspired by an imaginary orphan living in the forest. Chunky knit jackets and hooded cardigans in mushroom tones are paired with whimsical dresses featuring beautiful bird and star prints. The look is chic and sophisticated, and never too girly. Her talents have often led Chia into other creative fields. Jewellery came in 2007, combining vintage finds and beads with chunky chains. Her popularity with knitting enthusiasts led to a series of books about the subject, including Twinkle's Big City Knits and Twinkle Sews. She also launched Twinkle Yarn, a collection of fashion yarns in cool colours and luxe fibres. Her fun prints led to the development of Twinkle Living in May 2006. 'Homeware came naturally. Buyers saw our prints and they immediately wanted items like cushions and wallpaper because they were fun and lively. It was an organic move. I like architecture, interior design and industry design, so it was natural that other elements of design followed the success of the clothing. I treat home furnishing like fashion. If people are entertaining guests, they want to show off their home and dress it up,' she says. Her next big step is to open a retail store and focus on distribution in Asia. Part of this is strategy is about developing a presence in China, where she sees the contemporary market growing. 'In the near future, the whole contemporary concept will grow. Asians love to shop. Even women who can't afford it would rather buy a designer bag than spend their money on a big apartment. After they have bought their big ticket items, there's not much money left for clothes. So I am hoping contemporary brands are going to appeal to them,' she says.