…because London Fashion Week is only one week away. As a fashion designer, Bao enjoys the kind of fashion design at Baota London that is rarely existent in London: Haute Couture production in the British Heritage. While having his sewing machines running at full blast for his SS17 show on the 17th of September, he spared a few minutes to talk me through his new collection, inspiration and his belief in Womanhood.
You studied at Westminster university – how was it like?
I grew up in London. I did a four-year course there and I needed experience. My first year was all about learning the basics, while in the second year it was all about group work. I really hated group projects, especially when you put so much effort in your work and others don’t. It becomes really unfair when you get the final mark. I felt free at Westminster and I was able to do what I wanted to do. In my second year, I decided to intern outside of London so I applied for vacancies in NY. Philip Lim at that time wasn’t as big as it is now – I had decided between Philip Lim and Cynthia Rowley. Cynthia was a big name and a celebrity as well, so I went with her and did production.
New York sounds like fun. What did you exactly do there?
New York is first of all pretty fast when it comes to mass production. This is how it worked: I redid a dress, the designer said okay and it went straight to production. It didn’t take until it was available in retail. You would never get that speed in production over here in London. The problem is that they would never give you that responsibility. NYC is very organised, which means no matter what it is, it needs to be done by the end of the day. You finish right on time, to go for drinks, a party and to network and socialise.
How is Fashion production in London different to you?
People in London pretend to prog resonate. Everything is done slower and work is dragged to the next day. Things keep piling on and on. During my time in NYC, I learned a lot about commercial and how it works. When I came back to London I was ready to sit down for my final collection.
After your final collection, what did you do then?
I have always loved pleating and draping and my final collection was more wearable though it included a lot of hand sewing. It was 20 of us but only three got press. I was so lucky to be one of them. We got evaluated based on the sewing itself and how commercial it was. Being commercial is so important nowadays. Maybe that’s why Avantgarde is so hard to sell.
Right after the press, I got sponsored by Kopenhagen Fur in Denmark. They flew me over, showed me the whole process of fur production and how it is done step by step. Did you know that mink is the only fur that you can iron and it won’t burn?
Are you in touch with any sewers?
I am and I have friends who help me sew my collection at the moment. They’re helping me a lot. I don’t think you have to be mean in the fashion industry. I think there are too many snooty people who are like “I’m a special person”. I believe being nice instead brings creatives together and they are more likely to help you. They can draw energy from each other to work together.
How was it like growing up being surrounded by dressmakers in your family?
My dad sews for River Island. Before I graduated he gave me his sewing machine as a present. I still use it today for my collections. My mum is brilliant in hand sewing and my aunt is a master at hand embroidery. I mean she’s really good. Most of what I know today I learned from my family and that shaped me.
Usually, for most Asian families fashion is like a no-go. They want doctors and lawyers, the standard kind of thing. During my A-levels, I did biology, chemistry and math to please my family. But the day of the exam I just got up and left the room. I knew I couldn’t do it because it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. And my family understood that there was something inside dying of me that I truly wanted. So I did the A-levels all over again, followed by my foundation and my fashion degree.
Fashion just feeds my soul. You have to have the hunger to survive. I mean, instead of having that one good meal, I spent money on fabrics and its worth it. Fashion design is a double-edged sword, but I can’t live without it. In the end, it’s all about what makes you happy.
What was your inspiration for Baota London?
A lot of couture brands are produced abroad. I wanted to bring back the British heritage where everything is exclusively produced in London. Even though I’m sourcing fabric from all over the world and especially Vietnam, I want to get it made over here. Everything is handmade by my technicians, which gives you a more personal touch as a wearer. For me, it’s all about beauty and comfort. You can easily get a beautiful dress but most of the time it is not comfortable.
What was a highlight with your brand so far?
I made a dress for Danielle Brooks, the actress from ‘Orange is the new Black’. She was the one who got in touch with me via email saying “OMG Bao this thing gives me life”.
She was also the one who introduced me to Jennifer Hudson. I am slowly building up to become more international.
If you could describe your current collection SS17 – three words?
Empowerment, womanhood, body conscious. The new collection is called ‘Guerrière Tentatrice’.
So your next collection will be in February?
At the moment I’m focusing on one collection only. It is important for me to work as much as possible on one collection. I can imagine doing two collections in near future. My mentor by Princess Trust keeps pushing me, and we are working on having my next show in NYC very soon. We are always trying to push the boundaries. I think America would be very perceptible for my designs.
Do you have a specific research process when you start a new collection?
Most of the time I go to Premiere Vision in Paris for new inspiration.
What fabric do you use most of the time?
Silk, because it can breathe and in summer it feels amazing on your skin.
Who inspires you the most in fashion? Anyone who stands out?
Galliano. He is the master of couture and a genius. When he was at Christian Dior, he was the best for me.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Hopefully in NYC. They have the right word for it called ‘convenient’; A fashion district, with everything a designer could dream of. Imagine a whole street with buttons? Having an investor and being able to have all my dresses in department stores is one of my main goals. Also, my brand becoming more a lifestyle brand and keeping in progress all the time! Over here it’s so hard to get funding as a young designer. Once I become big, I would like to set up a foundation for young designers. I want to give them the grants they need and the help I wish I had when I started.