Han Chong invites us to his home and studio, where we get an exclusive insight into his lifestyle and the inner workings behind his successful contemporary label.
“Do you miss home?” I ask Han as we wait for Lily and Rio to finish setting up in Han’s kitchen for his photoshoot with BAZAAR. Han is quick to respond with a resounding “Yes!” eyes lighting up in twinkles at the thought of his family in Penang. “I really want to go home this year but the quarantine systems in place are really hard on my schedule. I especially miss the big gatherings we used to have. Both my parents have big families and it’s nice to go home to get spoiled by them!” he continues with a cheeky glint and a wide smile.
Han Chong is a formidable force within the fashion industry, making a name for himself through his highly covetable and stylish brand Self-Portrait. Since its inception in 2013, the contemporary brand has seen numerous endorsements, from celebrities to royals, and counts many influential women among their most avid fans. His meteoric rise in the industry comes as little surprise to keen observers. His clothes are feminine and sophisticated while catering to a wide audience at accessible price points. “I was so determined to send this message out about contemporary price points as I wanted to target a bigger demographic. I wanted women across all stages of life to have that luxury experience,” he explains.
Indeed, when he first started Self-Portrait, he received encouragement to raise his prices but stuck to his guns and has since reaped the rewards of his steadfast belief. His first launch at Selfridges sold out within two days and his first pieces at Net-a-Porter sold out within 24 hours. “I suppose customers felt it was very refreshing at the time,” he muses.
As our conversation progresses, I realise his laser-focused vision contributes to much of his success. “My starting point when it comes to making dresses is wanting the women who wear them to feel good in it. I want them to feel the best version of themselves, so that’s always my starting point and it still is even today,” says Han. It’s evident that thinking about the needs of his audience and staying relevant is a top priority as he shares his thoughts on the current pandemic and how the Self-Portrait woman would want to dress. “How does she want to feel after the pandemic? The clothes need to reflect that. I feel that fashion is very sensitive towards women’s needs—it’s her second skin so she needs to feel good in what she’s wearing. Also, consumers today are both smart and savvy. They know what they want, and you need to treat them with respect,” he continues as Lily suggests we make our way to the rooftop terrace of his home.
Situated in Shoreditch, Han’s home blends in effortlessly with its surroundings. Complete with Graffiti art, it remains discreet and inconspicuous to passersby walking along the busy street of Bricklane. The interior, on the other hand, speaks otherwise—not too much but not too little either. Various sculptures, plants, objects and art pieces decorate his concrete kingdom, finding solace in their spacious surroundings. Natural light beams through the tall windows, casting a warm glow on items and surfaces graced with its touch. Shadows tease and fill the walls in curious places, delighting in their temporary freedom granted by the illuminating intruder.
As we soak in the ambience of our surroundings, admiring his abode on our way to the rooftop, there is a sense of calm and quiet akin to the atmosphere one would normally find at an art exhibition. A reflection of Han’s distinctive taste and personality? Very much so. “My house is quite minimal. It’s a space that allows me to take a break from the hectic professional demands ... a space for me to recharge and reconnect with myself,” he offers with a smile amidst the hushed but excited “Oohs” and “Ahhs” from the team that echo through the tranquility of the space. In fact, Han had once dabbled in the art world but found it restrictive, catering to “a very niche audience”. He had also presented his works at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009: his artwork titled Butterflies—a playful display of various underwear—hangs proudly in a corner of his urban home. He giggles as I stare at the artwork, transfixed, and sheepishly tells me it is his work. Of course, I take a photo, as does Lily.