An Interview with Barney Cheng - Hong Kong Couture

Barney Cheng

What was your breakthrough moment?When Michelle Yeoh went against all the Italian brands and asked me to design a gown for the Academy Awards when she was nominated for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” I did a crystal encrusted tiger-striped cheongsam. That was really the international moment.

Who is the Barney Cheong Woman?

Barney Cheng

She has evolved. Back then, she really loved the limelight and to be known. But today she wants exclusivity, but more for personal consumption and not public applause.

What inspires you?

Just life…a lot of my clients and their lifestyle inspire me, maybe because it’s so different from mine.

Do you have a design signature?

I do a lot of exotic skins for frock coats, biker jackets with alligator. The skins are from South Africa and crafted in Japan.

You’re well known for your contemporary take on the cheongsam?

I would say 90% of my business is wedding related, and a lot of times people will come to me for a cheongsam.

Can anybody wear one?

The reality is that you need a perfect figure to wear one, because it’s so fitted. But I would say I’m the best camouflage designer in Hong Kong. I like to do sculptural things. I borrow from makeup with highlight and lowlight, and do the same with lace applique, layering, and colors. Even for the lace placement, I try to create the illusion of a tiny waist, use darker colors to cover the belly. I would describe myself as a master of the trompe l’oeil, giving the illusion of slenderness. Corsetry really helps! For most of my clients, everything is sculpted inside

Favorite fabric to work with?

Lace. For Asians it’s really associated with luxury.

But lace is not something one usually associate with a cheongsam?

No, but the silk imprime people usually think of is more for daily use. For the evening, you can use sequins and lace. It’s much more embellished.

Would you like your clients to wear cheongsam every day?

No. The collar is not the most comfortable piece of apparel. The whole thing is fully closed and to make the collar standup you need to put a stiffener inside, which is not comfortable or else you have to do a multilayers of fabric which still makes it hot. It looks good, it’s sexy without being vulgar — although today everybody wants cut outs — but I would say the Cheongsam is more a sentimentality of being proud of being Chinese or Asian

Best fashion couture moment?

Doing a Chinese inspired dress for a Chinese client to have dinner at the White House.  The dress was traditional, very subtle, almost like an ink-washed painting, with graduation of greys.

Favorite fashion designer?

I like Giambattista Valli, because he’s more of an old-school designer. I loved Stephane Rolland four seasons ago, but the latest versions are getting a bit tired. And I also like Raf Simmons at DIOR.

If you could have a conversation with a late couturier?

Madeleine Vionnet.

The next Hong Kong couturier to look out for?

Vivian Luk.

Favorite color?

Green or yellow.

Do you collect anything?

Only really good friends.

How do you define luxury?

Definitely a state of mind. Anything that makes you happy and is not illegal

As first published on ARTINFO.COM

Barney Cheng