First met the established and award-winning fashion designer back in 2007, when he was appointed the head judge to the TV program Mifa8 Fashion Forward competition for young Malaysian designers, Sonny San, the man behind ECLIPSE, this homegrown fashion brand since 1996, which has since reached the international shores and recognition worldwide today, we were immediately drawn to his unmistakable honesty and straightforwardness (almost like Simon Cowell, but a more polished one though) and have remained one of our good fashion designer friends. The moment we requested a face-to-face interview session with him, he happily said yes! Away from the limelight and glitz of fashion (and from camera), Sonny is a relatively private person, but whenever we meet, the eloquent-speaking and dashing side of him resurfaces for those moments, and talking to him made us feel like the best of friends, all over again, every time. This special chat, was no exception.
How have you been since KL Fashion Week last year?
Been very busy. We expanded and opened some new stores overseas, mainly in the Philippines. Overseas market perform better for us. In this current economic climate, consumers are more caution on their spending, they only shop when there are specific reasons to do so.
Known you so long, you have always been a fashion designer who puts the business of fashion first, right?
Yes, it has always been that way for me. When I create, it needs to sell. I love to see the satisfaction of my clients wearing my creations. I love to be able to enjoy the fruits of my work. Fashion is fast, other design work like architecture or painting takes time.
How is fashion different from when you first started?
Fashion is all about technology now, for instance laser printing, off-set printing and all. 10 years ago, there was no such technology as laser printing. Now, fabric can be treated, I can change the way I perceive fabric. The pace of fashion itself has encouraged technology, like the treatment and the composition of fabric, you are no longer confined to the old ways of doing things, like silk screen or silk weaving. Fashion is very digital now, computer can print fabric these days. A lot of it are German or Japan technology.
So the ability to manipulate or the flexibility of changing the fabric, do they change the way you design then?
Yes of course. Now I know that I have more dimension to my designs, for instance, I can choose to have more volume if I wish to. Shapes that were not possible before are now achievable due to technology. I can have shapes that are away from the body but still maintain the silhouettes. Previously to do that, I need to starch my fabric, now I don't need to as it is just a process of bonding, so that I can achieve that kind of tactile feeling to create the shape and volume I want. Then again, I am a very practical designer, I don't dwell on it and create too space age or futuristic designs, I make it more friendly. Some would make it more over proportioned and theatrical. I am not that sort of designer, I need my clothes to sell. I am not theatrical, have never been.
Have you always been like this, or trained this way? To be practical? Or because of your experience over the years?
I am built that way, I am not trained that way. I am built to be very practical when I was young as a child. You have fantasies as a child and you want to realise them, but mine were very grounded kind of fantasies. I grew up in a very practical kind of family. My grandfather was, so was my father. Everything has to work. You cannot be always daydreaming of things that are not possible, I was taught this way. "You can soar and when you soar, you must always make sure you have a landing," that was what my father always advised me. Soft landing, my dad put it, a cushion to land on in life. My concept and perception to everything is that I have to have cushion, a comfort factor to what I do and do it right. One must take calculated risk in life, that is what I believe.
Is it a good value for you, looking back now?
Most definitely. I am the most grounded person of all my friends. I don't have any ethereal fantasies that I can't satisfy myself with. In other words, whatever I fantasise, I make it a reality. That was what my grandfather always advocated - you always have to realise your dreams. You have to execute your dreams. (by the way, we found out that both his grandfather and father were businessmen *_^)
How did you get into fashion?
I wanted something that is always evolving and challenging. I could go into a bank and be a remisier or perhaps venture into forex trading, but I ask myself, is that something that I would want to do, or where I want to be? I want something that always provokes me and every 6 months there is something new for me to look forward to. I would not have been too satisfied if I had done something else, because now I am being challenged, by the environment, with the impact of the economy, I am challenged everyday.
What is the most satisfying thing about your work as a fashion designer?
From the process of designing to finish, the time frame is quite short. I get very thrilled to see that my collections get sold out. It is very satisfying to hear from your clients, saying that they feel happy and they get complimented by wearing my creations. I like to see my clients happy and feel satisfied with my work.
What do you think sell? How would you know that something would sell?
When you design a product, you have to have the faith that 50% of it will sell (we broke into laughter at this point, oddly), 50% you are not sure for you never know how people will review, react or respond to your work or creations, but you just have the gut feeling to go forward and do it. Every year we are changing. I mix with younger crowd who would share their travel experience, how they would like to dress and what makes them tick in fashion. That is my cue too. You can be hip but you need to transition into it gradually. There is a sense of familiarity in what we do. It is like your blog too, people come to your blog for that familiarity, because they like your style. You can't just change everything completely. Every time when you evolve in anything, be it your business, your personal self or your design aesthetics, it cannot change too much from the day before, take it step by step. I have to ensure that I stay true to what we are doing all these years.
So, what is the true essence of the brand, Eclipse?
You buy Eclipse knowing that 3 to 5 years later, you can still wear it. We have the enduring element in our design. We are not doing fashion for the sake of trend. We are doing fashion that makes you feel that you are happy to keep the item for 5 or 6 years and take it out from your closet and it is still relevant. We don't go into being faddish, we only skim on it, to make ourselves relevant.
How has the advent of social media change the landscape of fashion today?
People are more demanding nowadays, they want instant satisfaction. They see something posted on social media, they want it now! We showcased in August last year, but people were already asking for it when it is supposed to be for this year as it is SS16 collections. So is it good or bad, we asked? Both good and bad because you tease them and you are not giving it to them. Many brands are doing the "see now buy now" approach, which I feel it takes away the magic of fashion. There is only magic if you need to wait for it. When everything is so accessible, where is the magic anymore? It is like cosmetics, when you preview it, 2 months later, it hits the stores, it is sold out, that's the magic! Now it's all about prompto, prompto, prompto, give it to me now. I don't like it. It's not the way I feel it should work. I think it is the way the market is moving, but you shouldn't succumb to it. I think we are creative people, we need to control that. That is the business people way of thinking. In creativity, you want to create a sense of luxury for your products, once you start doing that, the luxury and allure diminish. That is my point of view. Fashion is all about allure and mystic. The wait is a goal you aspire to reach somewhere down the line, then you will treasure it more. Social media creates a lot of this immediacy.
What is beauty to you, as a designer?
Beauty is not superficial, it is innate, beauty exudes from inside out, for a person. Beauty in a painting, in a person or in a design, they all have different values. I think the most beautiful thing for a person is to be truly yourself. If you put a layer of pretence onto it, I find it flawed already. Fashion is very subjective, one can put an overall differentiation to things, like something is either beautiful or ugly. It is quite easy to just categorise it that way, but if you take a much closer look, that ugliness of something turns out to be beautiful too. Whenever you are an artist, you find beauty in the ugly. I find people who are very odd to be beautiful. I don't need someone or something to be perfect to be beautiful.
So, all these years in fashion, what is the biggest lesson that you have learnt?
Learn from your mistakes and do not repeat them!
Tell us a little about your SS16 collection which you showed during KLFW2015, will you?
The whole collection is about lounging, dress up to welcome your guests or friends to your home, to chill. The whole idea is that you don't wear fashion only to go out, you can wear it at home, leisure dressing, for home parties. It is very much pyjamas-inspired.
With that note, we concluded our chat with Sonny, someone whom we would always look up to when it comes to the business of fashion and designing, a friend whom we can always feel free to talk fashion with, and trust that we would have a fashionably entertaining and rewarding conversation. Thank you Sonny for making time for us (huge hugs and kisses *_^). For a full runway look of Eclipse SS16 collection, you can check it out on our flickr album here and the official website here.
All official runway and Eclipse SS16 campaign visuals courtesy of Eclipse. Till our next FACES feature, have a luminously happy week, lovelies *_^