Quirky name, covetable designs – fashion is going to be hearing a lot about Kwaidan Editions

  • She freelanced for Alexander McQueen, he learned his trade at Balenciaga and Céline.
  • When Léa Dickely and Hung La launched their label, they said ‘a lot without much’, and fashion world took note
PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 1:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 2:19pm

Since launching in 2016, London-based fashion label Kwaidan Editions has been pushing boundaries with its stand-out designs. Its razor-sharp tailoring, slinky knitwear, and disturbingly attractive plasticised coats have been scooped up by retailers such as 10 Corso Como, Dover Street Market and Joyce, with little publicity.

Kwaidan Editions was among the finalists for this year’s LVMH Prize for young fashion designers, and the label is about to show a capsule collection with online retailer Ssense.

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Its fourth collection, for spring 2019, explores further the label’s love for the cinematic – specifically, the virtual reality world of West German Rainer Werner Fassbender’s 1973 sci-fi film World on a Wire, which can be enjoyed as a commentary on today’s world or simply for the clash between the languid proportions of a ribbed knit dress and sterile blue overalls.

It’s not hard to see why strangeness resonates with the label, which is designed by Léa Dickely and Hung La. “Kwaidan” means strange stories, and is a nod to Kwaidan, a 1965 Japanese horror film by Masaki Kobayashi. It’s a word that could also be applied to their meeting in the first year of their studies at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.

Vietnamese-American La, 39, grew up in the US state of Maryland and studied computer engineering. As a teenager, he developed a fascination with fashion, and at 21, left engineering behind and enrolled at Istituto Marangoni and the Parsons School of Design in New York, before heading to Antwerp.

Dickely, 35, a native of Alsace in France, came to fashion via a different route.

“Applied arts in high school blew my mind, it was exactly where I belonged, even though I liked fashion from my teen years,” she says when we meet in Paris during fashion week. She went to Antwerp for further study after obtaining a degree in fine arts at the École Supérieure d’Art et de Design de Reims in France.

Famous for its industry-disrupting alumni, the academy in the Belgian city is known for its gruelling programme and record failure rate. Dickely and La dealt with the pressure with “2am ice cream dates” to see classic movies – a healthy distraction that allowed them to persevere, creatively and as a couple.

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That was when the seed for Kwaidan Editions was planted. “You can trace the start of Kwaidan Editions back to when we started college. But it’s not like we knew right away that we’d start a brand together 13 years down the line,” La says.

After graduating, he had what Dickely describes as “the perfect career”, working at Balenciaga under Nicolas Ghesquière, then at Phoebe Philo’s Céline. He thrived in both roles, learned about the fashion business and, most importantly, about how to turn a vision into a collection.

“Nicolas was about having no barriers and creating what you want; Phoebe was about these constraints that allow [you] to be so creative but make something very real, tangible,” he recalls.

Dickely, on the other hand, remained something of a maverick. Although she too interned at Balenciaga, she admits that she struggled to find her place in structured, hierarchical settings. Instead, she designed textiles and prints for Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens and others, always freelance or as a consultant.

Working together wasn’t on the table for the pair until two years ago, when they found themselves between jobs at the same time. Dickely had been toying with the idea of a project of her own for some time, and the pair, by now married, also realised that their demanding work schedules meant they led almost separate lives.

“We started talking about changing our paths and merging our skills. It was a good time to use those to our advantage,” she says.

Dickely pulls together colours and textures. La brings business sense and design acumen. Their largely word-of-mouth success is down to their designs – ageless, trend-neutral, but which can nonetheless be truly exciting and with subtle touches.

 The pair also do not hesitate to use fabrics not usually employed in garment design. “Those fabrics are like a virgin territory,” says Dickely of their unusual choices.

And everywhere, there are clothes with handsome, yet slightly skewed proportions that prompt a double take and demand to be tried on.

“The clothes are very straightforward. You’re going to see a skirt, a pant, a suit, but I think you can say a lot without much. Strong fashion comes down to things that are very grounded, very real, not made just for one image on Instagram. It has to have more depth than that,” says La.

It’s clear all those nights spent in the flickering light of a movie screen have left an aesthetic imprint that bleeds into their work, and gives their scene-setting that extra power.

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Exiting the darkness of David Lynch’s Parisian nightclub Silencio, where their spring 2019 collection was shown, a guest questioned whether the moment had actually happened – it had.