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LCM Interview: Ka Wa Key

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Showing his A/W16 collection as part of the Lewis & Leigh showroom at Victoria House, up-and-coming designer Key made his London Collections: Men debut this season. Having moved to London from his native Hong Kong, 2015 saw Key graduate from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Menswear, before establishing his own label Ka Wa Key only two months ago. Working with unique textures, voluminous shapes and evocative East-meets-West aesthetics, Key is a hugely promising talent in contemporary men’s fashion. Here, the funny, enthusiastic young designer talks us through his new range and plans for the future.

A/W16 is your first season at LCM, right? How do you feel? 

I feel really excited, to be honest – I just decided to set up my own brand less than two months ago, so I’ve been looking forward to getting a good response at LCM.

_JLB9781 © jean-luc brouard  Ka Wa Key


It’s only taken you two months to put all your designs together? That’s amazing!

Well, I didn’t really celebrate Christmas and New Year at all, I was just working in the studio by myself, or my friends helped me out. It was really rushed, but a good experience.


So what’s the story behind the collection itself?

It’s actually a continuation of the concept in my graduate collection, which was called No Asians PLZ. I know it sounds really racist, but it’s actually inspired by the gay app Grindr… I found that there were guys who would include ‘No Asians Please’ in their descriptions, which made me think: ‘How racist! What’s wrong with Asian guys?!’ Then, I found old photos of Asian guys from 100 years ago, and saw that they dressed really well, and looked really attractive. I started researching Asian culture and things like that, and found that it’s really central… so I tried to make a collection that celebrates the central side of the Asian culture, using my textile techniques to make it really romantic and central as well, to what I could see from the old photos. So where it was once ‘No Asians’, now it’s like, ‘Asians please!’ [laughs] So that was the kind of concept behind it.

_JLB9792 © jean-luc brouard  Ka Wa Key


I’m really drawn to the textures and surfaces you use, they’re so unique – tell us a bit about them.

I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to textiles to be honest, so I love to create my own using different kinds of textile techniques, combining handicraft, old/traditional and knitting methods with the latest innovations like bonding or digital printing. I merge techniques together to produce a new textile, which I then apply to simple oversized clothing. This is the identity of my brand – not making the textile itself, but making it romantic, that’s what I do. Each textile tells a story.


You keep coming back to the word ‘romantic’ – what exactly does romance mean to you, in design?

In my world, being romantic is my attitude, what I believe in in my life. I want to create where to buy viagra in perth w.a something that when you touch it, you feel something, that appeals to the different senses… you touch it, you sense it, so you feel something about it. This is my aesthetic.

_JLB9819 © jean-luc brouard  Ka Wa Key


What did you have playing in the studio during the creative process this season?

I love Scandinavian music. In particular, I’m obsessed with the band iamiwhoami – they’re really relaxed but modern, a bit electronic, a bit folk… a mixture. They inspire me a lot.


Your A/W16 collection also features a footwear collaboration with Underground – how did that come about?

They saw my work at the Royal College of Art graduate show, and thought there could be potential to collaborate. It’s been a really interesting project, combing our aesthetics together. I love the finished design, it’s really cool… on one hand the shoe is Underground’s street style, and on the other it’s about romantic texture, so I think it’s a great match.

_JLB9786 © jean-luc brouard  Ka Wa Key


Looking at your designs, I get the impression that they are often informed by contrasts – East vs. West, traditional vs. contemporary and so on. Would you say that you set out to surprise in your work?

I want to surprise, and at the same time be controversial. Because I love putting things together, and maybe because of my personal background – I’m a Hong Kong-raised Asian with British citizenship, who looks at the Western world with an Eastern mind – I maybe have a different view of things. Sometimes I think certain things sound a bit racist, but for me it’s just that I have a different attitude or feelings. I love using this as inspiration, bringing diverse ideas together in my work.

_JLB9768 © jean-luc brouard  Ka Wa Key


Being from Hong Kong, what challenges have you faced as an emerging designer in London?

There’s the different systems in each fashion industry. In Hong Kong I have loads of networks – if I’d wanted to set up my own brand there, there would be no problem, as there would be loads of people who could help me out straight away. However, I’ve only been in the UK for three years, so I don’t have a huge network – the people I do know I met through RCA, so I’m slightly limited. I think that’s the most difficult challenge for me.


Since you’ve moved here, what’s your favourite thing about London?

I’d say… the guys! [laughs] I love their appearance, and they emphasise their personality and attitude, which is attractive. People need to have their own identity, rather than trying to pretend to be someone else. People know themselves in London.


What have you got lined up for the rest of 2016?

I want to focus on my designs, because I have just set up my own studio. I also want to get more exposure, and potentially sponsorship too, so I can show at the next LCM. I hope to get into NEWGEN, that’s the aim!