Few would expect, upon opening a Chinese takeaway box, to find not fried rice or kung pao chicken, but a scrunchable, Technicolor nylon top or curve-hugging, tie-dyed dresses. This, however, is the signature of Central Saint Martins graduate A Sai Ta, who uses the unconventional packaging as a way to draw attention to the intersection of heritage, class and culture within fashion. Born to a Vietnamese seamstress and a Chinese father, Ta frequently draws inspiration from his own British-Chinese-Vietnamese heritage in multiple explorations of hybridity and intercultural exchange. in the process blending together Asian iconography with recognisably western tropes.
Ta’s postmodern, transcultural designs have won him many plaudits: he was selected to work with Kanye West while working on his master’s, and just two years after launching ASAI in 2017, he was awarded New Gen sponsorship in 2019 by the British Fashion Council, with his first stand-alone show taking place in that same year. Today, his work is sold globally in stores including Joyce Hong Kong, Liberty London, Dover Street Market, Net-A-Porter and Opening Ceremony and has also been featured in leading publications such as Vogue, M le Monde, The New York Times, Dazed and Confused and I_D.
Ahead of his showcase at the 10 Asian Designers To Watch exhibition taking place this month in Shanghai, read on to find out more about the designer’s thoughts on how fashion externalises the internal, how representation and counter-culture shapes his designs, and the emotive effect of music on fashion.
Q. Why fashion? What made you want to be a designer?
The innate desire to express; a materialisation of the internal to become external. With the levels of communication it entails, clothing can create a magical and special feeling and has the power to make you feel so many things.
Q. Sometimes, inspiration strikes in the most unlikely place/time. Please share your experience of finding inspiration for your designs.
Being present and the need to find meaning in things through conversation.
Q. As a brand and designer, you are vocal against the systemic discrimination of marginalized communities. Why is this important to you?
It should be important to everyone—I think its quite clear as to why.
Q. How has your upbringing and background influenced you as a fashion designer?
In every way it has shaped the way I approach, contextualise and respond to things outside of me.
Q.The tie-dye hot wok ASAI signature—how did that come about? Why tie-dye?
It’s a symbol of the counter culture.
Q. Music is a large part of the runway experience. How does sound/music influence the way you view fashion?
It has such a crucial part in the process of making and presenting the work. Music generates so much inspiration, and it can make me move in certain ways. Sound and tone has much feeling to me, and plays a big part in the storytelling.
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?
All comes back to the body, I guess — how and why we move. To me, form follows emotion.
Q. What is your personal style like? What would you typically wear when you go out?
Q. What is your all-time favourite track that inspires you?
‘Rain’ by Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Q. Total silence when you design, yes or no? Why?
Both. I explore both as a process.
Q. If your designs could sing, speak, call out to you or make any sort of sound, what would you be hearing and why?
A bang and a scream and a deep laugh and the sound of excitement, a gasp.
So many sounds on so many levels.
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: A Sai Ta / ASAI