Issue 124
Steven Tai
Designer Steven Tai breaks the boundaries of casual comfort chic with his quirky and technically innovative touches.
AWKWARD AFFAIR
The last thing Steven Tai wanted to do as a kid was with clothing. So he thought… until he made a life-changing decision, as he realized working hard at school without really feeling passionate about the subjects was “a bit senseless” and he yearned to do something creative, so the business degree graduate flew from his native Vancouver to London to pursue his fashion design degree at Central Saint Martins. “I thought art school was going to be a breeze, but I was dead wrong.” says Mr. Tai. To match up to classmates who have an actual arts and fashion educational background, he worked extra hard and gained experience at Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf, and Hussein Chalayan in between school terms.

In 2012, the Canadian won the Chloé Award at the Hyères Festival with his graduate collection and was subsequently invited by Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin to show. This generated a lot of press and eventually he was invited to other exhibitions and events.“At that point,” explains Mr. Tai, “I realized I was in a position that many who wants to launch their own label would kill for and opportunities like this doesn't happen often. So, I decided to take the plunge.” The eponymous brand Steventai was born in 2013 and the self-professed bookworm charms fashion critics and buyers with innovative collections inspired by his favorite characters from books. This season’s muse is the unusual character of Emma Hauck who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1909. The many love notes she madly scribbled during her stay there became the inspiration of a familiar and fresh collection, which captures Ms. Hauck’s eternal longing for spring and ultimately her love.

Here, Mr. Tai tells Playing Fashion about his journey from growing up around seamstresses, fabrics, and pattern cutters to founding and designing for his own brand today.
MY FAMILY WORKED IN TECHNICAL SPORTSWEAR
That was the origin to the sportswear details included in my collections and I suppose I was able to familiarize myself with technical materials and finishings that I am able to utilize today with my own collections.
IT IS HARD TO SUMMARIZE ONE GRAND LESSON
from each house I worked in. A lot of the things I learned are less grandiose like how one brand does fittings and arranges its collection. If there is one thing I noticed in most of the businesses I have been is that you have to be polite but assertive in getting what you need. That doesn't mean to be rude or aggressive. Most people I have worked with know how to get what they need with a smile.
FROM INTERN TO DESIGNER
I think I am slightly calmer now. Now that I have interns of my own, I can look back and see what I must have been like as an intern. I am a lot more patient and because I am asking people to do things for me instead of doing things for others, I think the dynamic and expectations from myself changed too.
MY BIGGEST CHALLENGE
so far is trying to find a balance between creativity and commercial viability. As we are still a very young brand, the press for the label is extremely important but sales is crucial for sustainability too. Though they are not mutually exclusive, it takes time to figure out the recipe that will create a well balanced range. It helps to review the business plan and keep evaluating it to help me keep my focus.
I SOMETIMES WONDER
if I should have been doing something that would contribute to the world in a very direct way, such as being a doctor. But then I remind myself that everyone has their own skill sets and I am happy to support these causes in other manners as long as all of us just do our own part to the best of our abilities.

Photography and art direction by Nick Thompson; styling by Tzarkusi; hair by Fumi Maehara; make-up by Adam De Cruz; make-up assistant: Aleksandra Pilch; model: Flo Dron / Select; location: Dehavilland Studios; photographer's assistant: James Rawlings; lighting by Three Four Snap London.

All fashion throughout this story: Steventai SS15.
Words by Carrie Lau
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