Cecilia Kang is a self-taught couturier based in Auckland, New Zealand. The talented designer creates each one-of-a-kind piece for her eponymous label Cecilia Kang Couture herself, from designing to patterning, sewing and embellishing.
With a flair for creating experimental and glamorous looks, Kang debuted her eponymous label at New Zealand Fashion Week 2018 as part of the New Generation Emerging Couture show, and made history as the first trans woman to show at the event. The following year she held her first solo show, Galaxy Extravaganza.
We caught up with Kang to talk about her creative journey and inspiration, the influence of her multicultural heritage on her designs, and why she thinks you need to have fun with fashion.
Tell us about your journey through fashion. What inspired you to become a couture designer?
My journey is quite different from “normal” fashion students. Most graduate from university and follow a particular path to be a designer. My journey and experiences are quite different.
I became interested in learning more about fashion — styling, silhouettes, the technical side — around 2007, while I was discovering myself as a trans woman. I was really lost and I didn’t know what to do in life. I was quite lonely at the time and I didn’t have any friends.
I went out one weekend and was hanging out with the LGBTQIA+ community. The bright colours of Drag Queens and performers really spoke to me. They were are all so welcoming, so unique and so colourful and I thought, “Oh my God, I need to start making dresses.” I felt like that was my place to be. There’s no judgment. I can say I got most of my inspiration from the LGBTQIA+ community over that weekend. It sparked my soul into designing. It was a turning point in my life.
Then, I was lucky enough to dress some beauty pageant contestants; for example, a Miss Universe New Zealand contestant wanted to wear some of my creations. As a self-taught designer, this was a really amazing opportunity because I didn’t have a platform to show my artwork.
Why did you decide to create couture?
I wanted to be more experimental and use my skills as a designer to reach a different level of fashion. It’s taking time, but I feel like I’m evolving into a better designer.
I try to be very sensitive about what I do with my design because I’m quite a sensitive person, I think that’s why I am able to produce this level of artwork. I’m also a perfectionist!
What does couture mean to you?
To me, couture means being sophisticated, something that is luxurious. It’s about being uniquely yourself and one of a kind. I want to create things that are only available from Cecilia — pieces that inspire people!
In your opinion, how does fashion empower women?
I think it’s all about self-confidence. Fashion makes women feel more confident in themselves and that connects women together.
Is the fashion industry is becoming more inclusive?
It’s an important issue around the world at the moment with fashion becoming more diverse with different sized models, cultural involvement, and genders, which is really good to see. I’ve seen a lot of brands going more gender-neutral, where they want to break the stereotypes of women and men. That is really good to see, but I still feel like we still need to work on becoming more gender-equal.
I like how diverse and inclusive our local industry is, like the models from All Is For All agency. It’s important for designers to create a platform for models to express themselves as well on the runway. We’ve come a long way from the days when only stick-figure models were seen on the runway. Fashion is for everyone.
In your opinion, what’s the best way for the fashion industry to have authentic inclusivity?
Diversity plays a big role. We should appreciate different beauties around the world and different cultures. Everybody is beautiful in their own way — we all need to contribute. It’s important to be yourself.
How important is sustainable responsibility to you as a designer?
It’s very important to protect Mother Nature, and all the environmental issues around fashion are really important. We cannot ignore these issues. We have to implement changes and make a better version of ourselves.
How do you promote sustainability through your designs?
I use a lot of scrap fabrics, I don’t waste material. I try to create some different aspect of fashion with leftover scrap fabrics or embellishment. It’s another way of experimenting with my work through different mediums. A lot of designers are recycling garments to make new pieces as well. It is becoming a trend.
How does your multicultural heritage influence your designs?
I am from South Korea so for me, the colour and vibrancy of K-pop plays a big part in influencing my designs. But mostly, most of my artwork is influenced by New Zealand nature. I’ve been living in New Zealand for almost my whole life and I just love its nature and beauty, that’s what I really appreciate.
You debuted at New Zealand Fashion Week as the first show by a trans-woman, how was that experience?
NZFW was very supportive. Dame Pieter Stewart was lovely and has been supportive through my journey. She’s a strong role model and she deserves respect. I’m so thankful that I could be part of the industry, to be able to showcase my creations because that’s where we can celebrate together. It is where we all become one, to celebrate the vibrancy of fashion and New Zealand.
What’s your creative process?
I look at everyday objects. The sight and touch of detailed textures of what I see around me. When I’m alone in a quiet place that all jumbles together in my mind and becomes something I need to start drawing. Then, I use mannequins to actually process my creativity.
Do you have a favourite designer?
I have mad respect for Trelise Cooper — I grew up looking at a lot of her designs. Her garments are very colourful and voluminous and very feminine. No other New Zealand designer can actually beat Trelise at the moment because she understands what Kiwi women like.
Do you think it’s important to have fun with fashion?
Yes! I think it’s really important to play with fashion. You have to enjoy fashion. It’s about having fun and trying to be creative and that starts with being very joyful. Especially now, with all the lockdowns, we need more joyful times.
What advice would you give to aspiring designers?
Be yourself. It’s really important to be yourself. Don’t change for someone else. Being true to yourself is very important — that will get you far as a designer. I think that’s what makes me a better designer.
We have a lot of support around us from our local community, businesses, and friends. I’m quite blessed with so many people supporting what I do. I’m really thankful for the love and support I get.
And I think most importantly, that you have to do what you love to do — that’s really important. You have to enjoy what you’re doing.
How would you describe your work in three words?
Elegant, sophisticated and experimental.
What would you like to accomplish over the next 10 years?
I would see myself in 10 years collaborating with other designers — like Trelise Cooper! — in New Zealand and empowering other designers. Because, at the end of the day, we’re all one.
Where can we follow you?
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