Dainty, demure and delicate—these are just some of the words that come to mind when one first sets eyes on Caroline Hu’s internationally lauded handmade smocks. A graduate of Central Saint Martins and the Master of Fashion Design programme at Parsons School of Design, Hu founded her eponymous luxury label which has become recognised for its fine craftsmanship and degree of customisation. Showcasing a penchant in repurposing kerchiefs, curtains, lace, and tablecloths into blouson dresses, Hu’s pieces exhibit a spirited, romantic aesthetic that injects whimsy into the lives of their wearers.
Based between New York and Shanghai, Hu was a finalist of the prestigious ITS Awards in 2018. In 2019, she became a semi-finalist of the LVMH Prize and the winner of the first edition of the BoF CHINA PRIZE. Hu was also selected as one of the young entrepreneurs under the Forbes China 30 Under 30 list in the same year. A promising and rising talent by any measure, we spoke to Hu ahead of her showcase at the 10 Asian Designers To Watch exhibition taking place this month in Shanghai about the biggest challenges of her early career, repurposing old into new, and how she defines the Caroline Hu woman.
Q. Why fashion? What made you want to be a designer?
As a child, I spent a lot of time learning art, like sketching and oil painting. So, ever since I was young, I already knew I wanted to pursue a career related to art. Eventually, I came to a stage where I felt that working in fashion and with textiles was the perfect outlet for my creative and emotional expression.
Q. If your teenage self could see you now as a fashion designer, what would he/she think?
She'd be proud of me! But at the same time, she'd remind me to explore the fine arts a bit more, and enjoy my life as a student.
Q. In fashion, a muse not only serves as an inspiration for designers, but also urges them to continue creating. Who is your muse, and how does he/she continue to drive your ambition?
I've never had a particular muse, to be honest. Any woman who is not afraid to be her true self and show her free spirit, is my muse. If I had to name someone, she'd probably be Faye Wong.
Q. What is one of the biggest challenges you faced in the early stages of your career as a fashion designer?
First and foremost, funding was the biggest challenge during the early stages. In order to overcome this, I participated in a lot of competitions, not only to get my name out there, but also to garner some support from the industry. Fortunately, being selected for the LVMH Prize and also Business of Fashion helped immensely.
Q. Who is the “CAROLINE HU” woman–can you describe her personality?
I picture a woman who is soft, feminine and romantic, yet at the same time, independent and strong-willed.
Q. You often use vintage fabrics in your designs–how do you feel about repurposing something old into something new and unique?
When I was studying, I enjoyed integrating different materials into my designs. I think this brings more value to each piece, no matter how small it is.
Thanks to the signature techniques we use in our designs, like weaving and smocking, we are able to incorporate smaller fabric scraps into the final outcome based on their texture and colour. We use vintage fabrics, and also otherwise "unwanted" or leftover pieces. I love the idea of giving them a new breath of life, so that they can transform into something beautiful.
Q. Music is a large part of the runway experience. How does sound/music influence the way you view fashion?
Songs and lyrics often inspire me to create. Anything that affects my mood can be channeled into creative expression to make something new.
Q. What is your all-time favourite track that inspires you?
Songs about love.
Q. From the punk-inspired revolution of Vivienne Westwood to the Indie-rock androgyny of Hedi Slimane, the world of fashion is filled with music references. Why do you think that is?
I don't feel that there is a particular reason… but maybe it boils down to the designer's personal preferences? For myself, I'm a romantic at heart, so I tend to gravitate towards folk and jazz.
Q. Total silence when you design, yes or no? Why?
Yes, I prefer to work in a quiet, peaceful environment.
Q. If your designs could sing, speak, call out to you or make any sort of sound, what would you be hearing and why?
Something natural and organic, like the whispers of the wind, the crashing of waves, and the calling of birds. They would make unique sounds that make the wearer feel at ease and unrestrained.
Held in collaboration between KEF and Lane Crawford, the 10 Asian Designers To Watch exhibition will be held in Shanghai from March 31 to April 11 in an effort to spotlight the most promising young talents in fashion across Asia. Highlighting the role of sound and music both to inspire and bolster the power of fashion, the KEF Experience Zone will allow attendees to engage with the latest cutting-edge audio technology to transport the mind within the headspace of the designers. Find out more online here.
Cover Image: Caroline Hu