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How Vivienne Tam brought Chinese flair to the fashion world | Talking Post with Yonden Lhatoo

How Vivienne Tam brought Chinese flair to the fashion world | Talking Post with Yonden Lhatoo

Hong Kong fashion designer Vivienne Tam looks to NFTs and the metaverse to bring her brand to China’s Gen Z ‘crypto generation’

  • After learning that many things she could not create in the physical world could be done in the virtual one, Tam’s aim now is to create bridges between the two
  • She will blend NFTs into her coming New York Fashion Week show: ‘It was challenging … as some of the images were hard to match, but I love a good challenge’

Vivienne Tam is what you would call a Hong Kong success story.

Rising from the city’s grass roots to become an international designer who has dressed US first lady Jill Biden, Tam is now looking at the virtual world and beyond to take her label to new heights.

The famed designer returned from the US to live in Hong Kong during the pandemic to be closer to her family.

“I have always loved Hong Kong, it is really my place. [I am] coming home when I come to [mainland] China and Hong Kong. It’s where I grew up,” Tam says in an interview on “Talking Post” with Yonden Lhatoo, the Post’s chief news editor.

“The last two years have been a difficult time. I’ve been given a chance to rethink and re-energise the concept of my designs.

“But I’ve been very fortunate to rediscover the beauty of Hong Kong and spend time with my family, especially my mother.”

Tam with China’s first lady Peng Liyuan (left) and the now US first lady Jill Biden at a US State Department lunch in 2015. Photo: Courtesy of Vivienne Tam

The Covid-19 pandemic has completely changed the luxury retail landscape in Hong Kong.

Before the pandemic, prime streets featured a mix of luxury goods tenants, accompanied by sky-high retail rents.

Luxury retail stores in areas such as Queen’s Road Central depended on visitor spending. But after pandemic travel restrictions led to a massive reduction of tourists, many luxury retailers shut down their shops.

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Tam’s business was similarly affected, especially her operations in China.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been hard for physical retail spaces, so we are going to open fewer physical stores. My Chinese partner had to close a lot of them. It was a difficult time.

“People went out less during the pandemic and buying fashion became a low priority. A lot of people focused on their health.”

Tam at her offices in Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong, in 2021. Photo: Jonathan Wong
Models present Tam’s creations during a fashion show in Dalian, in China’s Liaoning province, on September 4, 2011. Photo: Xinhua

Tam sees a light at the end of the tunnel. “Business is tough in Hong Kong, but it’s improving. We just want to have more visitors.

“With the same people coming to the store while international travel is limited, we had to give them new things all the time.

“We had to do something different. We had to rethink the fashion business. It’s not just about fashion, it’s about lifestyle.

“We must rethink how we communicate with Gen Z and the crypto generation. The pandemic [forced] us to be creative in our thinking. We regrouped as a business and strategised, to think out of the box.”

Tam at her store at 1881 Heritage in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, in 2011. Photo: Felix Wong

Time spent mingling with tech entrepreneurs in Hong Kong has given Tam inspiration for where she wants to take her label.

“I am now focusing on the metaverse and how I am going to blend this with the physical stores,” she says.

“While being stuck in Hong Kong, I had the chance to meet with a lot of people from the tech world and they really opened my eyes.

“I found out a lot of things I can’t create in the physical world, I can do it in the virtual world. There are no boundaries, and it has inspired me so much.”

With that in mind, Tam sees more opportunities north of Hong Kong’s borders.

“In China, you can do anything. It’s the new world. In the West, there is a very traditional way of doing things. In the States we had a wholesale business and had an established relationship with department stores, but that’s the past.

“The future is the metaverse and I find it exciting. There are so many new ways of doing things, such as combining the physical world with the virtual – that is the challenge.”

A young Tam wears one of her own designs.

Tam is interested in the gap between people’s online lives and their spending on physical goods, and she sees opportunity in NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

“There is no physical component with NFTs, and I want to bring those two things together. I want to be the bridge between the physical and virtual worlds.”

That’s something that will happen in her new and exciting collection for her coming show at New York Fashion Week.

“I am bringing the NFTs to my show this year. I am incorporating NFT images into my clothes.

“I had a lot of fun developing my line and it was exciting every day. It was challenging at the same time as some of the images were hard to match, but I love a good challenge.”

Tam on the runway during New York Fashion Week on September 14, 2015. Photo: EPA

Tam believes she has the experience combined with an innovative spirit to move her label into the future and engage with today’s youth.

“I was always inspired by the past. I would research artefacts like antiques and arts of crafts of minorities.

“I try to empower women and bring their culture to the world. The metaverse and the creators behind NFTs have inspired me so much.”

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Aside from her creative vigour, Tam’s strength as a designer and business owner is in her willingness and ability to adapt, and she’s aiming her brand towards China and its next generation of consumers.

“Creativity is endless. I ask myself, how do I bring history, heritage and the world to the crypto generation?

“The new generation isn’t looking at the past, but the future is the summation of the past and present. I’m the past and present but I am learning about the future.”