A conversation with designer Simon Chang


  • Nicholas Buck
  • READY TO WEAR: Designer Simon Chang says, "I’m encouraging women to find things that are unique."

Canadian-born women's clothing designer, Simon Chang, made a stop in Atlanta recently, at the Blue Dangles boutique to launch his fall 2014 collection. Chang and shop owner, Tracey Freund collaborated for the in-store event in an effort to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). During Chang’s visit, a percentage of sales were donated to LLS and the shop quickly turned into a makeshift catwalk for regular clientele. Freund, a fourth generation fashion retailer, has maintained a notable presence in the business with the help of her family’s internationally acclaimed women’s boutique, which has influenced and gained significant prominence in Montreal, Canada since 1953.

Where Chang has found success is in the idea that style is conversation. “People are moving, and they’re moving fast," Chang says. "They will come up behind you and you better be ready to have something to say with fashion.”

Chang and Freund have known each other since the latter was born, and while visiting Blue Dangles the internationally renowned designer took some time to talk about the problem with trends, Atlanta’s seasonal advantage in the fashion game, and encouraging the creative spirit.

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What do you do differently from other designers?
Today’s fashion is very confusing for women, because they go to the mall or to a store and they get the same message, or they buy things that already exist, or things they already have. It’s very limited and boring. Even if they do try and reinvent something, it’s usually an idea or a style that is borrowed from a previous era, but it’s tweaked and modernized to remain fresh and young. This in itself makes it hard to be completely original. Shopping should be fun. Whether you shop vintage or seasonal designer collections, it’s important to give things a personal touch. Women today are so dynamic, and the age factor isn’t really there anymore — it’s no longer a reason to say no — so I say why not? It used to be that fashion was only produced for the youth. People always ask me what age I design for and I say "20 years to death!" Because I dress for generations; a mother could come in with her daughter, the mother could bring her mother, and yeah sometimes not everything works for everybody, but I certainly have that in mind.

How do you keep the creative juice flowing?
It’s a commitment, and you have to stick by it. You have to love it, and you have to get your hands dirty. Everybody’s always very anxious to talk about trends. Trends are just moments, and I don’t want stuff for the moment — I want to produce things that will live in your closet — a keepsake. Designers want a creative edge, so it’s important that the creative things that affect our society inspire me.

What are some of those creative things?
We’re all influenced by situations that are happening around us all over the world, but I don’t think that inspiration should follow a trend book, instead it should be inspired by life, music, movies, books, street fashion, and people. I love street fashion and I love seeing young people with such style and adding their own spin on things. It’s great if you have classic things because those things are what last, and those things are what have substance. I was just watching a documentary-type film about Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys, and it’s very exciting to watch. He was talking about Pet Sounds, and if the younger generation could understand this man, I mean wow, he definitely struggled, but he stood by his vision. He put himself out there even though his vision was very different. Truly brilliant. I want my collections to be inspiring to others; I want them to send good vibrations. I want people to connect, because our life depends on those connections.

What are some Canadian trends you see in Atlanta, and vice versa?
I think today fashion is global. From here to Canada, and to Europe, mostly because the web has made us able to become so in tune with everyone else and there’s hardly anything that we can’t search or find out about. I think the youth is straying away from regional trends, and they’re starting to focus on the world.

Would you say one place takes more risks than the other?
It depends, because the States have such large markets, but I do find that the U.S. is more conservative because the population is so vast. There’s slightly more celebrity endorsements, which becomes a bigger part of the influence on U.S. fashion. It’s almost an obsession, and it’s a bit sad. Canadians are not as obsessed, because we don’t have the celebrity influence. It’s silly because what we see on the red carpets is not original, and they’re, for the most part, outfits pulled together by stylists — not the celebrities themselves. They don’t have personal styles — they have personal stylists. They’re mannequins. People will say, “The trend on the red carpet tonight is GREEN,” and I’m like well, I don’t care! Who cares? We don’t live on the red carpet, so why does it even matter what that trend it is?

Do you see Atlanta as a major player in the fashion game?
Oh, yes. We have shows here, and I think Atlanta could be a market that creates a movement because of the diversity. The climate changes help as well. Each season exists, so that influences a transformation in fashion. For Canada, we mostly have winter and summer clothes. Atlanta is great because there’s an in-between. I believe in season-less clothing as well, so layering is important because Atlanta is so bipolar — one day it’s 90 degrees and the next day it’s rainy and chilly.

How do you go about encouraging women to develop their own style with your collections?
I’m encouraging women to find things that are unique. We need collectibles. We consume too much stuff that leaves us thinking “Oh, why did I even bother?” So, I want to take the element of making great pieces that women love and is just the right thing to match their personalities. My collection is really to customize a person’s individuality, because I don’t like the cloning of the same message in a mall. And unfortunately, I feel like that’s what is happening in fashion today. I’m fortunate to have a specialty store like Blue Dangles.

What sort of advice would you give to young designers trying to defeat monotony in fashion?
I’m different from designers, because I own my own business and I’m very involved in my business. I go into the shipping rooms and pack things, I want to be at retail stores to meet the potential customers and style them.

I support the youth by offering scholarships for third year fashion students. The reason for that is because I want to nurture the future generations. The third year is very important because it’s where students get to the point where they need the extra push and reinforcement to keep moving forward. There are too many dropouts in the first two years, so by the third year you can see more accurately that the student is in it for the right reasons. I like the idea of younger designers producing their own designs rather than following a brand that has no personality and becoming a “ghost designer.”

Put a spin on it and make it a habit. There is no formula for success — if you win some you lose some. People wont think everything you do is fabulous, and that’s okay. You either hit it at the right time, or you put it away and save it for later. A true act of creativity is never a waste of time — it’s just a matter of finding the right moment to release it. That’s what fashion should be today.

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