Shek Leung

There’s something very grounded yet exciting about your work, how would you describe your brand in its essence?

[SHEK:] First of all, my work has a very cinematic and poetic approach, which was influenced by my family having a background in the movie industry, when I was younger my dad worked as a director so I grew up spending a lot of time on film sets which made me refer to film and cinematography a lot in the development of my work. When I first started studying at Central Saint Martins I was doing womenswear, and now I actually focus on menswear, or borderline unisex with a focus on menswear, Film didn’t always play a big role in my practice, in the beginning, I didn’t really think to link it to film, I just wanted to learn how to make clothes. I was struggling to communicate my conceptual ideas, and that’s when film came in and I started doing these research videos that then translated into my collections. 

So I often describe my work as “absolutely tactile”, it’s honest, grounded, and heavily inspired by emotion and intuition. It’s not supposed to be extravagant or very Instragam-able, it’s about creating real clothes. I often associate my work with sensuality or quietness because that’s what I found interesting in terms of menswear, which is always so stagnant, it’s always denim, or leather, or these very well-made heavy wool blazers, and I wanted to portray menswear as something softer. 

ou often describe it as a quiet masculinity, can you tell us more about that?

[SHEK:] Yeah so, it actually all started with my cultural background, I’m originally from Hong Kong. Growing up in Asian culture, I was surrounded by men who were often to themselves, very quiet, and didn’t share a lot with other people, even if society tends to be more collective in Asia. Stereotypically Asian men are portrayed in mass media as the weaker version of the white masculinity and because they’re often more quiet they’re very much a more introverted people. When I first came to London, I was trying to meet a lot of people, be friends with everyone, but culturally speaking there’s that part of me that is very much introverted, and it’s sometimes seen as negative or a weakness, but in fact, the quiet people are often the crazier ones.

You often mention that you invented your own fabric weaving technique, how did this develop?

[SHEK:] It all started during my masters, I’ve always had this guiding principle which is that I want to bring my research films to life. Every time I do a collection I will do a minute-long research film. Doesn’t matter if it’s abstract or conceptional, whenever I design I want to portray it and bring it to life. In a time where everyone is talking about going digital with NFTs and the Metaverse I feel like it doesn’t matter how that develops, physical and tactile sensation is still very important and will still be here at the end of the day. So going back to the research films, I often shoot them very poorly, so I end up with grainy texture which I love a lot. When I was a kid living in Hong Kong I was professionally trained in oil painting so I learned a lot about mixing colors and I took this knowledge together with the film grains from the research films in order to recreate that color and texture and converted it into this cover-stitch material. Which is a stitching that you usually find for example on your t-shirt, it’s a finishing technique that uses 5 threads at the same time to stitch one row.  I basically ended up playing with the layering and the colors to see how they would appear on the fabric and ended up creating fabric from scratch. 

So you really play with these multidisciplinary skills that you’ve gathered from your background in fashion mixed with film and classical oil painting and it all culminates in your garments?

[SHEK:] Absolutely. The funny thing is this, the fabric is so diverse that I could stitch it onto dissolvable fabric, and you’re just left with the stitches after you wash it, it creates this kind of jersey fabric, which you can then even stitch onto a cotton fabric, and it becomes this soft wool. If I stitch it onto plastic on the other hand, and I make it into a coat, it’s almost like a Macintosh coat with its stiffness. It’s very diverse. Because the threads I use are polyester, which I often source from other colleagues and students who don’t need them anymore, I can basically print anything on it, any graphic you print on it becomes kind of grainy and pixelated. 

A lot of people push for sustainability, and some big designers are using second-hand garments to produce theirs, for example, it’s quite an interesting insight to see you tackling it in a different way than the norm.
[SHEK:] When I tell people that I don’t believe in 100-percent sustainability because we’re in this industry, which is the second most polluting industry in the world, I get a lot of angry responses and disagreement. Which is fine, but I do still think that it’s true, the moment you step into this industry, you put on a light, you turn on your computer, you print a photo or you buy some fabrics, even if you use second-hand clothing the waste is still there. Because of this, I don’t believe in 100-percent sustainability. I think really it’s about how people brand themselves in order to reduce the unnecessary.

Do you have any designers that influence your work? 

[SHEK:] Yeah absolutely, my favourite designer is Jil Sander, the garments are beautiful, they’re overpriced and I can’t afford them, but they’re so minimal and so real. I feel like there’s no bullshit around it, I love it. Part of the reason why I like making fabrics is because I was really inspired by Issey Miyake, I don’t directly look at the outcome, and all the pleats, I am more into the prints he did and the textures he came up with. I remember reading one of his books, it was called “Making Things,” and It was just a series of fabrics being twisted or manipulated in a way that it created texture, it encourages me to create textures and fabrics like that.