In his Yiuniverse: Kev Yiu on building his personal brand and fulfilling his fashion design destiny
One of Hong Kong’s foremost fashion designers, Kev Yiu has headed several leading couture brands and is now focussing on his own label – Kev Yiu Couture.
Take us back to the day you knew you wanted to be a fashion designer. What had drawn you into it?
Well, it all began when I was still in primary school and I started making clothes for my younger sister that were inspired by the lights and toys on show at the arcade that was home to our family business. I remember going straight there after school and just starting to design. Back then, though, my family – especially my father – saw fashion design as essentially a female thing, so no one took my interest all that seriously. If you have a passion for something and if you really want to excel at it, though, you will know deep down that that is what you are destined to do, regardless of what anyone else might think.
How did your family respond when you confirmed you wanted to pursue that particular passion?
Well, here’s the thing… I took up fashion design but I didn’t tell them, trying hard to keep it from my dad in particular who was a policeman. Ironically, though, it was also because of him that I got to study in the UK on account of a scholarship programme, especially on offer to the children of Hong Kong policemen. It was only when they got my report card for the first semester that they found out what was I really studying. My dad was furious and that was really no surprise.
I wouldn’t necessarily advise any kids who find themselves in a similar situation today – with many families in Hong Kong still not particularly progressive-minded – to follow my example. While I was fortunate and it all worked out for me in the end, that may well not be the case for everyone. Ultimately, we all find our own route to success and that just happened to be mine.
Given the sector is famously saturated and intensively competitive, how did you first make your mark in the Hong Kong fashion world?
I just kept going. When I first came back to Hong Kong, I just took a 9-5 job as a way of making enough money to live. Fast forward two years and I was hired by a major mainland brand to design handbags for them. This, in turn, led me to me becoming one of 18 contestants in a reality TV design challenge. While I was the first to be eliminated, even that didn’t discourage me. My competitive nature just kept me going and going. In the end, it took me another six months of doing the same thing over and over – looking for the right assignment, knocking on doors and taking on whatever I was offered. It’s a daunting process, but I believe it will always pay off eventually. In my case, I’m now working with my fourth investor as we look to expand the Kev Yiu Couture brand.
If fashion design hadn’t worked out for you, did you have a Plan B?
Designing is the only thing I’m good at. It is very much part of my nature to want to tell a story and so I am forever visualising how people should look. My mind is always racing ahead in that regard, so there really was no Plan B for me. This was always my ultimate and only career goal.
How do you respond to those who denounce the fashion industry as wholly impractical and fixated on excess?
Well for me, I’d never want to be deemed a practical designer. I see focusing on practicality as certain to compromise the quality of any work. Essentially, I believe couture is inherently excessive. It is, after all, quite literally wearable art. As a couturier, then, it’s really hard to restrict yourself to the solely practical.
Walk us through your design and creative process.
It’s all about lines and structure. I want to create something that’s both classy and complementary to any client’s own look and style. I’d like to think that it’s very much part of my job to help women define what makes them unique and beautiful and then accentuate those qualities with whatever I create for them. My first question to any client is always: “What are your body insecurities?” I then want to factor in those insecurities and also emphasise their best assets. It’s really all about explaining to the client what looks best on them. As a designer, I always want to make women feel as beautiful as possible. Fashion, after all, is about feeling good in whatever you’re wearing. Essentially, that’s its function.
In career terms, what was your punch-in-the-air moment?
Ultimately, I’d have to say it was the first time a celebrity picked one of my designs and wore it on stage. It was Sammy Cheng [the renowned Hong Kong singer and actor] and I remember every little detail. I was completely overwhelmed…
(Interview by: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Art Direction and Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma Videographer: Jack Fontanilla)
Read the full interview in the March 2023 issue (pg: 96). Available on the Gafencu app on Android and Apple.