Top designer Eddie Lau on a mission to inspire the young

Eddie Lau wants his journey from humble tailor to celebrated fashion guru to encourage Hong Kong's youth to persist in working hard

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 July, 2013, 4:06pm

The city's biggest celebrities poured into the Heritage Museum yesterday to celebrate the achievements of Eddie Lau Pui-kai. But what the homegrown fashion designer wants to share in his first solo exhibition isn't just the glitzy world of fashion and his classic image designs for late Canto-pop queen Anita Mui Yim-fong, but a story that will inspire the younger generation.

"I want to remind young people from the post-'80s and '90s generation of a Hong Kong spirit, a spirit of never giving up," Lau told the South China Morning Post. "Many of them have misunderstandings about the world. It seems to me they don't have faith. It's sad, because I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and I live this Hong Kong spirit."

I want to remind young people from the post-'80s and '90s generation of a Hong Kong spirit, a spirit of never giving up

"Fashion. Image. Eddie Lau" is the city's first museum exhibition dedicated to a local designer, said Heritage Museum assistant curator Apo Wu Pui-shan.

Lau, 62, donated 300 items, including costumes and archival materials such as newspaper cuttings and videos.

Wu hoped the exhibition, which occupies 675 square metres, illustrates the classic Hong Kong spirit - someone from a humble background but who worked his way up.

Lau, who was born in 1951, had a tough childhood. An only child with no father, he was sent to a boarding school in Fanling. Later, even his writer mother disappeared. At age 11, he became a tailor's apprentice in Tsim Sha Tsui. At 22, he went on to study fashion design in London's Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, after which he became a fashion designer.

Video: Fashion designer Eddie Lau talks about overcoming a tough childhood

After he graduated, he returned to Hong Kong with a full collection and was invited to attend the Hong Kong Ready-to-Wear Festival in London, organised by the Trade Development Council. Since then, the top designer has continued to push the fashion frontier.

A total of 70 gowns and costumes are on show at Lau's exhibition.

One room showcases the designs that earned Lau initial fame, as well as couture evening gowns he designed for some of the region's biggest celebrities, including Cantonese opera master Pak Suet-sin and actress Michelle Yeoh. Lau's sketches also decorate the wall.

The other room highlights a unique bond between Lau and late Canto-pop queen Anita Mui, for whom Lau designed some of her most memorable images - from the first dress when she began her career at 19, to the last piece before her untimely death in December 2003.

Video: Fashion designer Eddie Lau on the tragedy behind Anita Mui's wedding gown

Lau's designs earned Mui the title of "ever-changing Anita Mui". Early classics included the Arabian goddess for her 1986 hit song Evil Girl, and the metal-studded low-cut dress for her 1988 hit Fiery Red Lips. The dress' sexiness caused some controversy in Hong Kong popular culture at the time.

"I don't know how I came up with those wild images at that time," Lau said. He recalled he came up with ideas for those images after simply asking Mui to demonstrate just a few dance moves for the songs.

He said he put his heart into designing images for Mui, who was new in the industry at the time, and Mui trusted him completely. "I didn't know my hard work would create this ever-changing Anita Mui, who would go on to become one of the greatest singers of our times," he said.

Lau said the 1980s was Hong Kong and Canto-pop's golden era. But such a golden era wasn't over yet, he said.

"People just don't treasure it and work on it," he said, adding that if he were a young designer today, he would open shops not just in Hong Kong but also Beijing and Shanghai. "We cannot give up on ourselves. If you give up on yourself, no one will help you."