Ones to Watch: Robert Wun

With fashion week fast approaching, with it comes the momentum and excitement we see each season. This February, we spoke to designer Robert Wun who represents the themes we hope to see this fashion week. Wun has seen increasing recognition in the last few years and captures the sexual, political and powerful zeitgeist of fashion design.

Robert Wun has known from the age of fifteen that he wanted to work in fashion. Today, miles away from Hong Kong where he grew up (as an enthusiast for sci-fi, horror and eventually, McQueen) Wun is working on his own brand in an East London studio that resembles a somewhat utopic flower shop. As anyone who is familiar with Wun’s work knows the hanging bouquets lining the walls are in fact, hats. These hats capture the whimsy and charm of Wun’s aesthetic where nature and floral imagery has graced near every collection to date, be it in the sculptural curves of a dress, or the twisting vines atop a headpiece.

As a designer whose work is so rife with floral imagery, it may come as a surprise to some that Wun’s unprecedented muse is Trinity from The Matrix. “Noone,” says Wun “has ever looked so badass.” Where florals and nature are pivotal to his work, so too are strong women. “I grew up in a family where I was raised and nurtured by strong women. The concept of a strong woman who doesn’t need saving at the end of the story, whatever that story may be, inspires every collection I make.”

I grew up in a family where I was raised and nurtured by strong women. The concept of a strong woman who doesn’t need saving at the end of the story, whatever that story may be, inspires every collection I make.

Ideas for previous collections have stemmed from the science fiction and horror he grew up consuming, to most recently the ancient legend of Mulan. “Mulan is a Disney princess, but the tale of Mulan is actually an ancient feminist story”, says Wun “it isn’t only her strength that inspired me but the name Mulan is ancient botanical which is very me and translates into Orchid, Flower, Wood.” Ultimately, says Wun, “It nearly always comes down to the relationship between humans and nature, women and masculinity, and the answer to nearly all is love and forgiveness as opposed to violence.”

These narratives are apparent in the lookbooks that have so far been Wun’s chosen presentation format. The fact that the garments lend themselves so well to being photographed is no mistake. In fact, Wun believes that photography has been a crucial aspect of his brand and creative process from the beginning and “will always be in the back of his mind” something he attributes to “endless science fiction and comics” when he was young. Despite the fantastical nature of his collections, these lookbooks, which display his work on a variety of models, highlight how much sense they make on the human body. It is this ability to introduce statement concepts as a wearable garment that often sees Wun placed in the category of ‘concept luxury.’

Whilst the brand is now coveted by the likes of Lady Gaga, Celine Dion and Dame Helen Mirren, Wun expresses how the evolution of his brand has coincided with a personal journey which hasn’t always been easy. The biggest problem in Wun’s career thus far has been learning how to manage the business aspect of being a young designer. This is something Wun says he was “never taught at university, aside from perhaps a one hour lecture.” As increasing pressure falls to the fashion education system to better prepare their students for the industry into which they are entering, Wun highlights the two years post-graduation were spent “feeling nearly oblivious, simply making taxidermy dresses in my bedroom and trying to work out how to sort out my bank accounts.” 

Today, however, Wun’s understanding of fashion business and where his brand sits within that structure proves pivotal to the success of the brand. This will be the first time Wun’s work is showcased to this scale. As both the brand and designer have evolved, so too has Wun’s design process. Scattered on Wun’s desk is an array of fabric swatches from which he constructs the beginning of an idea for a garment. “Starting with a sketch feels like starting at the end”, says Wun, “this way I begin with a loose idea and translate it as best I can to my team, with the garment then open to additions rather than being fixed in the way I often feel it is when you begin with a sketch.”

Just like his design process, the Robert Wun brand (which has a growing consumer market both in the UK and China) certainly doesn’t shy away from a future of change and adaptation. However it is irrefutable in its individuality, this is something Wun has adhered to throughout his career. In an industry where Wun addresses “there is always something new,” it is sure to be Wun’s ability to express his vision and verve for society through his garments that set him apart and promise him longevity. 

All clothing: @robertwun

Photographs: @ryanrivers

Model: Frida Qi