I met Miss Leslie Van at Hong Kong Fashion Week in the beginning of this year, the key lady behind her own label LESLIE VAN – a French fashion brand with its tailor-made dresses and unique fabrics. So, soon after getting to know more about Leslie, I scheduled an interview with this elegant lady for my own curiosity into a fashion designer’s secret world and to let people know more about this talented lady – MISS LESLIE VAN.Cynthia Lo: Hi Leslie, can you tell us about your background? Where are you from originally and where did you grow up?
Leslie Van: Hey Cynthia, glad to do this with you! I was born in Paris from a Cambodian father with Chinese roots and a French mother. I grew up in a popular (Chinese!) district of Paris where all my school friends were like me, sons and daughters of the boat people. Celebrating both Chinese New Year and Easter, I was raised in a bi-cultural environment where I could freely set my own marks and beliefs.Cynthia Lo: When did you realise that you wanted to have your own label? Can you tell us a bit about the story behind your fashion brand?
Leslie Van: I have always been interested in fashion, at the age of 7 I would already pick my own clothes. I studied with the only goal to later on work in fashion. After graduating from textile and costume design I started a freelance designer career. In the beginning I did stage costumes for private orders, TV or theatres. After several assignments as a wardrobe mistress for high-fashion shows like Chanel I decided to only focus on fashion and more precisely on tailor-made dresses. Of course I did develop ready-to-wear lines too, sold in retail stores in Hong-Kong and Cape Town but eventually I realized that making unique dresses with my own hands brought me more satisfaction. Nowadays that’s what people contact me for: special orders for weddings or very particular dresses you can’t really find on the market. My brand is actually about doing dream dresses for women who want to go off the batten path.Cynthia Lo: How would you define your personal style? What kind of lifestyle are you trying to express through your designs?
Leslie Van: Versatile. According the context I can be very dressed up or more casual. I don’t follow any trends, I choose my clothes according my moods, the way they fit me or the way they make me feel. Due to my studies in Textile Design I am more sensitive to the materials than the cuts. So when I shop, my priority is the hand-feel or the weaving specificities; I love silk, nice soft cotton, linen jerseys or beautiful brocades. When it comes to the lifestyle, I have to say that I like to enjoy occasions to dress up. Christmas or New Year’s Eve parties, nice gathering among friends, a girls night out, a birthday dinner… These are moments to step out your daily life and to embrace a bit of glamour – my dresses, without being too extreme tend to fill this desire.Cynthia Lo: Where or how do you usually get inspiration? Do you have a favourite fashion designer?
Leslie Van: I love looking at people who are on the travelling mode, I am fascinated by airports. People in train stations, commuting from one place to another, for personal or private reasons, with a goal. They will dress accordingly: to feel comfortable, to seduce, or both! It’s also cross-country platforms where you can identify all sort of cultures, with their dressing habits. My ritual in airports is to take a break, a coffee, to step out of the crowd and watch them go. That inspires me. Currently my favorite Fashion Designers are Raf Simons and J.W Anderson.Cynthia Lo: What are the most difficult parts of being a freelance? How do you balance your life when working as a freelance?
Leslie Van: Being financially uncertain to make it by the end of the month! Which means you always have to look for solutions, you need to plan in advance and imagine scenarios A, B and C…You must forget about some barriers and just go, contact the people you want to reach. Even though it’s always more difficult to sell yourself instead than selling someone else’s product, you have to do it. That’s why you must both strengthen your mental and be aware of your weaknesses. I did not really try to balance life but rather made the best out of my free lance schedule: do things « normal-working-schedule » people can’t do like hiking in the middle of a working day… This way I could fully enjoy the pros of my freelance status!Cynthia Lo: You look delicate, but what surprised me was that you’re actually doing a lot of training. What do sports mean to you? What did you gain from training?
Leslie Van: Well doing lots of sport is a way to find a balance. When I do indoor sport it’s to get fit and be able to later on enjoy an enormous piece of chocolate cake with a guilt-free feeling! When I do outdoor sport it’s to get this wonderful feeling of freedom. Running in the mountain in Hong-Kong simply makes me feel good. I let go of the stress and I recharge with positive vibes, I focus on myself and my goals. Especially in a city like Hong-Kong, it’s good to escape the urban noise and just feel the fresh wind as you run. Sometimes I like to do it on my own and sometimes I like to do it with friends, accomplish challenges together and share the joy as well as the pain of doing it. In one way or another sport makes me both stronger and more open-minded.Cynthia Lo: What goals do you have in your life? Do you think Fashion is your calling? What else do you want to do as a professional?
Leslie Van: For now my goal is to build up a new start within the company I just joined and discover new facets of Fashion. If Fashion would not have been so predominating over my other passions, I would have loved to become a singer! I have studied music for 16 years, among which 6 were dedicated to lyrical singing. I really enjoyed singing operas and I’m thinking to get back to it but as a hobby only. Further professional plans, I prefer to keep for myself. (Wink emoticon)Cynthia Lo: What does the next few months have in store for you? Any special projects or events that you would like to share with us?
Leslie Van: As I have recently been appointed as Product Developer for a French Trading Company I have less time for my freelance activities. Nowadays I design and source fast-fashion clothes for French brands and I actually love it. It’s a new environment, more pragmatic, more realistic too. With this new job I plan on staying in Hong-Kong for a little while! Beside this, I still do some special orders, the next one is a modern Qi-Pao dress for a wedding which will take place in San-Fransisco in coming February, which makes me thing than I need to hurry up!I admire Leslie Van not just for her talent in fashion, but also her attitude in life – determined and unflinching, which are what I’ve always been looking for in my life. Perhaps, that’s where I got inspired and took them on in my own life to create good vibes.
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Called: Leslie Van
Location: Hong Kong
Occupation: Entrepreneur/ Designer
Set: Sheung Wan/ Sai Wan Swimming Shed H.K.