Despite her celebrity friends and clientele, which include Cantopop royalty Eason Chan and Sammi Cheng, Johanna Ho would much rather be known for what she does — not who she’s affiliated with.
The grand opening of Ho’s first flagship store in Central earlier this year was, however, a star-studded affair with the likes of Janet Ma, Miriam Yeung and Qi Qi in attendance, which only helped to attract more paparazzi and perpetuate the Hong Kong fashion designer’s pseudo-celebrity status.
“I want to tell people that I’m talented and I’m good at what I do,” Ho said during our interview in her store’s mint-green wallpapered dressing room. But in our opinion, she really doesn’t have to do much convincing.
After all, this is someone who studied at London’s esteemed Central Saint Martins College alongside Phoebe Philo and Stella McCartney, and had her first ready-to-wear collection shown at London Fashion Week (which was quickly snapped up by Barney’s New York).
She later returned to Hong Kong to launch the Johanna Ho brand, which became licensed to Sanyo Shokai of Japan between 2004 and 2009 and led to the opening of 11 shops in Japan for her designs.
“I had a full-on back up team behind me and tailors to dream for, so it was a huge learning experience,” she said. “At the same time they were trying to get me to do something that was more kawaii and cute. I have a girly feminine side but I like the balance of having the boyish and edgier side of it as well.”
Now back in Hong Kong, Ho is ready to stamp her name and identity into the fashion industry with the opening of her first flagship store on Wyndham Street. Below, she talks to us about the Hong Kong fashion industry, expanding her collection to menswear and what it takes to be a good designer.
My definition of Hong Kong fashion is… cosmopolitan. It’s not just about the fashion industry but in terms of business, there’s all kinds of people coming to Hong Kong from [different] countries. Naturally, the designers that come out of here tend to be just that — a mixture of West and East.
The one Hong Kong fashion trend I hate is… copycats. When I see young designers’ and their work coming down the runway, it’s like, ‘Gosh, where have I seen this before?’ This year has improved a lot, and I hope there’s more of that coming up instead of rip-off designs.
The first time I thought about menswear seriously was… when I first worked with Eason Chan, a very good friend of mine who asked me to design his concert wardrobe for DUO. I wanted to bring out what the public was not used to [seeing in] Eason.
He’s a bit nutty and crazy on the outside, but he does have a serious side to him, so I decided to put him ingentlemen’s suits and very tailored outfits. After that, I got all this feedback from different people that I should really think about menswear, so I said ‘Okay, okay, okay.’
If I didn’t have my own label, I’d probably work for… Sonia Rykiel. Looking at myself, I’m every inch a knitwear designer and I’ve always loved her work. McQueen too, simply because of the fact that he’s an amazing guy. I met him when I was still studying and he came as a mentor, not a speaker — almost like a friend talking to us and sharing his stories as a human being. That was a very special moment for me.
The Johanna Ho flagship store is… my baby. It’s like putting a flag on my territory in Hong Kong to tell people who Johanna Ho really is. A lot of people have heard the name before but cant put a [face] to the name. They’ve seen me in the Chinese entertainment section alongside Eason Chan or Hilary Tsui, so I’m almost half-entertainer, half-designer.
My personal style is… mix and match. Even when I wear my own clothes, it’s not about wearing top to toe. I mix designers, like Margiela and Miu Miu, which are two extremes. It’s a bit more avant garde and edgy, and when mixed with my stuff, it’s got that hard and soft thing coming through.
Being a good fashion designer… isn’t just about having talent. It’s a balance of business, strategy, design, listening to people, [knowing] who to listen to, who you meet, where and when. It’s all that.
Johanna Ho, 13 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, www.johannaho.com
(Originally published on www.lifestyleasia.com)