Perhaps asking designer Cho Cheng if he was ever interested in pursuing anything but fashion is a futile question. When you are the grandson of Betty Charnuis, a woman who was considered Hong Kong's first fashion designer, introduced Paris haute couture to Asia, and was a costume consultant in Hollywood, you will inevitably be indoctrinated into fashion from a young age. Nevertheless, the question was asked, and Cheng revealed his fascinating family history. Yet rather than stand in the shadow of his grandmother's achievements, he is cultivating a name for himself with his RTW line CHOCHENG.
After studying at Parsons School of Design in New York, Cheng inherited the family couture business and set about reviving the brand. In 2010 he moved to London to work on Savile Row and it was there, learning about the craft of British tailoring, that Cheng decided to launch his ready to wear line CHOCHENG. With stores established in New York and Hong Kong, there are now plans afoot to open up a store in London – on Savile Row, no less. We caught up with the designer to find out more about his SS13 collection and design journey...
You have an interesting family history with fashion. Can you tell us about your background?
I inherited my grandmother's business after she passed away. I had always been passionate about fashion. With my grandmother, I grew up having everything custom made, she’d ask me what I want and lead me through the whole process. She didn’t dictate what I should wear but would discuss with me and explain how I can improve myself. That was all part of my training as if I had started designing very young. However, career wise, I took fashion for granted. I didn’t know the concept of fashion designer as a career. By the time I was born, my grandmother’s atelier had already become very exclusive, almost all her clients were friends and social acquaintances, and she wouldn’t take new clients without a reference. I didn’t know she was running a business! Technically, I decided to become a designer after watching a documentary film of Coco Chanel. Naturally, I shared my decision with my grandmother, and that's when she told me about her fascinating career and showed me her archive of Haute Couture collection. On top of her own collection, she was also a line-to-line licensee of Paris Haute Couture, which was how Haute Couture brands expanded into foreign countries before the invention of Pret-a-Porter.
How much did your grandmother influence you work and your path to designer?
My grandmother’s greatest influence would be her attention to details. The inside of the garment is always more important and complicated than the outside. The outside only has to look good but the inside has to be both comfortable and functional. I use the best British fabric – always 100% natural. My grandmother was a perfectionist. She would match silk lining to the client's skin tone and all shoulder pads are custom made by hand. I have retained this practice in my ready-to-wear collection as well as my bespoke work. I use a lot of handwork and hand finishing, such as traditional hand stitched facings. I always insist on my design being well made.
I also got my work ethics from my grandmother. I am involved in almost every aspect of the business. When I am not designing, I'll be working on the patterns, preparing production and sourcing fabrics. I also operate my own stores so there's a lot of business management such as retail strategies and marketing strategies. At the moment, I am taking a course on perfume making. Other than that, I sleep. That has always been my favorite thing to do because I dream a lot and I remember most of them.
Can you tell us about your time at Parsons and what has happened since then?
I had a great time at Parsons. Originally, I wanted to go to Central Saint Martins but my family wanted me to go to New York. My grandmother was very encouraging. She had worked in New York in her early days so I got to meet some of her old friends. One of my teachers at Parsons, Kohle Yohannan, was writing a book on Valentina Schlee, who was my grandmother’s friend and one-time employer. It’s great to have that connection. I interned for Sonia Rykiel and Vivienne Westwood while I was still in school. After inheriting the business, I re-launched the brand in New York.
What's inspired this SS13 collection?
The inspiration behind the 2013 Spring Summer collection is the book “Mrs. Kennedy Goes Abroad” by Vibhuti Patel.
How would you describe your work?
Impeccably tailored and well made. Sophisticated, feminine and comfortable.
I am launching an accessories line at the end of the year and I hope my brand will continue to grow steadily.