To say we were thrilled was an understatement as scoring an interview date with one of our most beloved design idols was a long time wish of ours and to be able to catch this man (who is constantly on the go) was truly a surprise. But he quickly said yes to us, which really put us at ease. And boy, we were counting down to the day that we could finally meet him face to face and that day came much earlier than expected *_^
When we first stepped into the executive lounge of The Gardens Hotel at the 29th floor that evening, not too long ago, there he was, seated at the table by the window, finishing up his dinner. With a grin on his face, Wei Chun greeted us warmly. Cheah Wei Chun, a name that is synonymous with creating those beautiful fashion editorials that we fell in love with way back, is the creative director behind those stunning local fashion magazine covers and fashion editorials for GLAM Malaysia all these years. Founder of CLANHOUSE, Wei Chun's love for design was cemented way back when he decided to make a move to New Zealand to further his tertiary education and honed his skills more in the university in the early 90s. Our friendship with him started when we were producing our very first fashion TV show called Mifa8 Fashion Forward back in 1997! Seated across this Penang-ite, after all these years and really having an intimate conversation with our friend truly made us appreciate the art of design even more.
We started from quite the very beginning.
How did it all begin?
Gosh, my journey was one filled with doses of drama and surprises. Back then, like most conservative Chinese parents, studying arts was never an option, law looked more promising to them than anything else, but faith had it that by some twist of events (and a bit of luck here and there), I managed to change from studying English in University to doing Arts back then. After university, I went to Singapore to further my career. That time in 1994, it was a good timing for corporate design work as that was the boom of annual reports for companies in Singapore. I was doing work at a design company for about four to five years.
Corporate design work is very much about subtraction. It is taking in all the information, bring it down to a minimal and presenting it in a sleek way but minimal can easily be translated as boring. To make it interesting, it is much tougher work and requires much more experience. From designing annual reports, I moved into the world of fashion magazine after that when an opportunity was presented to me. I was then later made the first creative director for MPH Magazines Singapore, later known as BluInc Media. There I oversaw 30 magazines. It was quite a crazy challenge but nonetheless, learnt a great deal.
I quickly realized my approach of subtraction did not work with fashion magazine. For magazine, you need to add more things in a controlled manner, then only it becomes interesting. I learnt to set a style for a magazine with a certain "limitations" for my designers. For instance, you can only use three types of fonts here and a few combinations of colours. By way of limiting it to certain aspects, you create a system whereby it works for that particular magazine.
After so many years in designing, what is good design to you?
It really boils down to a project. Each project requires different things but mainly, good design to me depends a great deal on your background, your comfort level and your taste level. What do I mean by that? Your background means your school of thoughts/studies. For instance, mine came from a very Swiss Modernist sort of design school background, therefore most of my work reflect that sort of elements - very clean and simple aesthetics. On the contrary, when I first started design work during the 90s, the innovative design work of David Carson, those messy surfer magazines style, with experimental typography was very prevalent. Comfort level means how far you are willing to push yourself in your designs and go beyond things that you are already comfortable with. Thirdly, beyond technical skills, it is all about taste level and sophistication of thinking. When I say taste level it doesn't just mean that oh, you have high taste, it is more of an interesting way of looking at things and drawing inspiration from life itself.
So are talents inborn or can be cultivated?
Both actually. Some people are naturally very talented but most importantly, I believe, it has to come with the passion you have that drives you in your work. There has to be a lot of hard work put into it. In the early days of my design work, my motivation was very different from now. Those days, I always asked myself, "How come it looks like that, yet it still doesn't feel like that?". You come from a place where you are inspired by your idol, you try and emulate their work. It was still a learning process for me then. Now, in terms of fashion editorial, it is quite easy for me to achieve something that I want. I am at the stage where it is to try and outdo myself and I come from a place where I want to do design work that has never been seen before. I have been exploring the Asian themes and fashion stories that are Asian in element for the past few years with GLAM Malaysia. This is my new challenge.
On that note, it kind of hit us there. Yes, why not our root culture and explore that instead? Wei Chun did have us thinking quite a bit there. It was quite a conversation right up to that point in time. My coffee with Wei Chun still remained warm and we had so much to talk about, topics on photoshop, beauty, and how to be original in your design work. Join me for my Part 2 of interview with the fabulous Wei Chun from CLANHOUSE in my next blog post, will you?
All visuals courtesy of CLANHOUSE here.
We shall see you again real soon. Till then, have a beautiful week ahead, lovelies *_^