Tell me a story

Updated: 2012-04-15 07:37

By Rebecca Lo (China Daily)

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Tell me a story

Sister and brother designing duo Kay and Jing Wong tell Rebecca Lo in Hong Kong how they incorporate a playful narrative into every one of their ready-to-wear pieces under the label Daydream Nation.

'Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller's philosophy is thoroughly embraced by Kay and Jing Wong (right), the creative force behind Hong Kong fashion label Daydream Nation. Founded in 2006 by the sister and brother team, it is a quirky, whimsical brand that is easy to wear. Every piece in a collection is tied together with a story, and bits of that narrative show up in details such as appliqus, patterns and cuts that allude to a bigger picture.

In a two-level space halfway up a gentle hill from busy Queen's Road East, Daydream Nation's flagship store is a source of creativity rather than another clothing shop.

The ground floor is the only place where the entire range of the label's collections can be found, along with complementary pieces such as bags and shoes designed by like-minded international artisans.

Upstairs is a flexible lounge for music lessons, candle-making workshops, pinhole camera classes and art exhibitions. It is the heart of Daydream Nation's philosophy that Hong Kong needs more mental and physical spaces to play - and how the brand got its name as a sanctuary for misfits to dream.

"Hong Kong is very dry and there are lots of frustrating things about living here," admits Jing Wong. "We wanted a space that lets people cultivate their own passions and interests rather than merely consuming all the time. Design and creativity in Hong Kong is a battle for survival. And without a shop, we don't have a presence - like a nation without a place cannot be a nation."

With his background in theater design from Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, Wong is one half of Daydream Nation.

He is also a local set designer, working with Hong Kong theater troupe PIP Theatre, and an indie musician. His first album, Last Breath of Youthful Melancholy, is scheduled to be released this May.

"My forte is the approach and direction for a collection, while Kay is good with materials and details," he explains. "We work together very smoothly. Although we disagree and I argue with her, eventually I will give in because she is my older sister!"

Kay Wong also graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design, working with London designer Jessica Ogden and majoring in printed textiles.

She operates Recycouture, an ongoing project where old garments are reconstructed into wearable art objects.

She has also designed costumes for theatrical productions including Hong Kong's City Contemporary Dance Company and London-based choreographer Akram Kahn.

After starting her own label Kay, which she sold to Japan's United Arrows, she asked her brother to join her in a new fashion venture in 2006. "I found London a very inspirational place but Hong Kong is our home - and it was important for Hong Kong to have a Daydream Nation," she states. "It is a like a fringe club, with fashion as our starting point."

Starting with a studio in Lai Chi Kok producing wholesale garments for international distribution, Daydream Nation opened its first stand alone flagship store in late 2010.

"Hong Kong is a very busy place," Wong says. "Our shop lets you rest. It's in an old area with lots of new things to see and do."

This past year, Daydream Nation has taken up a number of styling projects for Hong Kong musical celebrities such as Jonathan Wong, Theresa Fu and Sherman Chung.

It is also collaborating with Lane Crawford on window displays and an exclusive line for the leading Hong Kong-based retailer.

Previously, it has worked with brands as diverse as George Jensen, Shangri-La Hotels and Urban Outfitters.

The brand's apparel and accessories can be found in more than 20 countries at shops such as Opening Ceremony in Japan, Frank et Fils in Paris, Sauce in Dubai and Henri Bendel in the US.

"Jinn is very involved in the creative direction of our brand," she explains. "Our process of working is like jamming in a band. My strengths are in handiwork and handmade jewelry. He also tends to be more carefree while I'm the one who is stressed all the time. We balance each other out."

Daydream Nation believes that clothing has stories to tell, and the narrative that it weaves through each piece within a collection is similar to chapters that together form a book.

Its 2008 Autumn/Winter collection "Good Night Deer" was a tale of a legend between a hunter and a deer.

It had an ecological message at heart that translated to subtle details such as ear-like shoulder extensions and hoof-inspired leggings.

Its 2009 Autumn/Winter collection "Letter to Paul" originated from 30-year-old correspondence and photos by the duo's late father.

Photos of Paul Wong, envelope details and cursive script in monotones dominate the skirts, T-shirts and dresses; there is also a set of mourning jewelry.

Designed as a collection of love letters, it was launched as a fashion procession through the streets of Causeway Bay that climaxed with the burning of stationery offerings.

"It was a tribute to Dad," Jing Wong acknowledges. "He passed away more than 10 years ago, but he used to say that we should start a design company together. We hope that he received our letters."

For its 2012 Spring/Summer collection "Last Breath of Youthful Melancholy-Dawn", the collection interprets his debut album through pieces that are playful and romantic, with floral and lace recalling court ensembles.

Meanwhile, 2012 Spring/Summer "The Show Must Go On" features oversized polka dots, stripes and bold colors in a tribute to the circus.

"We hope to stay fresh and creative and always be ahead," says Jinn Wong. And they intend to continue transforming daydreams into wearable reality.

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Tell me a story