#DesignerDaily | Sonic Lam: Crafting My Own Universe
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A few years ago, when I first met Sonic, I was immediately drawn to his vintage style. During our conversation, I discovered he was deeply influenced by Ivy style. Whether in his appearance or creative work, you could see elements of this style. Ivy style originated from the fashion trends that emerged in prestigious universities in the northeastern United States in 1954. It later gained popularity in Japan and gave rise to other styles like the Preppy style. Ivy style leans more towards a formal collegiate aesthetic, while Preppy style embodies a more casual look.

Our first stop in the interview was Sonic's new studio, where stepping inside was like travelling back in time. A vintage Vespa bike was parked at the entrance, and the living room showcased desks from the British Hong Kong era. There, preserved as rare relics, were three Union Special sewing machines, reportedly the only remaining in all of Hong Kong. All these items exuded a rich sense of history.

Sonic shared with me that, apart from a few items acquired through Yahoo Auctions, most of his collection was found scavenging the streets and alleyways. To him, each item represented a precious historical relic. He lovingly recounted the stories behind each piece, expressing his passion for cultural artifacts. “I derive immense pleasure from exploring the origins of these objects. When I uncover the roots of a story, it brings me great joy,” he said, holding Nigo's “The Future Is In The Past” exhibition catalogue. “Every brand's inception is influenced by a particular culture, and, in turn, a brand's style can shape a new cultural movement. It's a mutually reinforcing relationship.” Conversations with Sonic always prove to be a source of enlightenment, and as it was several years since we last met, I was eager to catch up and learn about his latest endeavours.

Q : Hello Sonic. What have you been up to lately?

Sonic : Recently, I've been busy collaborating with people from different fields as an independent designer and artist. I had the opportunity to curate an exhibition for the relaunch of the brand SCENE, which just made a comeback this year. I'm also working on a special project with a veteran in the industry.

Q : What kind of brand is SCENE?

Sonic : SCENE is a brand with a long history, although I didn’t experience that era when it was immensely popular in Hong Kong during the 80s and 90s. Back then, almost every fashion-savvy young person aspired to own a SCENE T-shirt or baseball jacket. In addition, SCENE is a subsidiary line of the brand VAN. As a fan of Ivy style, I discovered through my readings that VAN is actually the originator of Ivy style and even the source of Japan's fashion development. Since the 1960s, VAN played a significant role in promoting suit culture in Japan, and its influence even gave birth to UNIQLO, with its styles and systems derived from this brand. This also explains why [founder of A BATHING APE® and artistic director of KENZO] Nigo has such a strong affinity for American culture.

You might be curious why Japanese people have such a good sense of fashion. The truth is, its all thanks to the influence of the brand VAN.

Q : What role do you think VAN and SCENE play in Hong Kong’s street culture?

Sonic : VAN can be seen as the originator of Japanese street culture, and from my perspective, SCENE has also played a role in the initiation of Hong Kong's street culture. I’ve heard veterans like Eric Kot and Jan Lamb talk about it, as SCENE belonged to their era, and they had a strong desire to own SCENE items.

Alternatively, you can see it this way: SCENE emerged in Hong Kong in the 80s, and then different brands started to emerge one after another, continuing into the 90s when Eric Kot introduced A BATHING APE® to Hong Kong. From this timeline, we can see how Japanese culture influenced Hong Kong, while Hong Kong also gave birth to its own brands. For me, it's not just about liking a specific item from a brand; it's also appreciating the whole story behind the brand.

“I find it fascinating that if you are truly passionate about something, opportunities for collaboration will naturally come your way.”

Q : What is the difference between collaborating with different brands and working on your own creations?

Sonic : Actually, every collaboration with others is a creative process for myself. In recent years, my mindset has shifted, not only to fulfill the needs of the other party but to also amplify my own personal traits. That way, each collaboration becomes an enjoyable, fulfilling experience. The main reason that others approach me for collaboration because I possess my own unique elements. It’s through this that I can create something I consider beautiful.

“Nowadays, Im more inclined towards creating art pieces. Ive found that placing my works in an exhibition space opens up greater possibilities.”

Q : Tell us about your most favourite collaboration experience?

Sonic : This collaboration with SCENE is one of my favourites. It’s a recent development for me to engage in this type of creative collaboration, and it’s enabled me to explore my creative potential. As the brand has global recognition, when people search for it online, they will come across our collaboration. It brings me immense joy and holds great significance to leave a mark on the fashion industry.

Q : Did you have aspirations to become a fashion designer when you were younger?

Sonic : When I was young, I had no idea what design was. I was just better at drawing than my peers. It was only after graduating from secondary school that I accidentally enrolled in fashion design and spent several years understanding what fashion was all about.

Q : The rapid flow of information in the digital world has led some to believe that establishing a fashion brand has become easy. Do you agree?

Sonic : This is a result of the evolving times and if you can create exceptional works, there will be people who appreciate them. It used to require a lot of effort to create a 32-piece fashion collection, from collaborating with tailors and factories to organising fashion shows and arranging makeup and hair for models. The current situation is different. However, if you have the capability to handle all these aspects, you can attract a broader range of individuals from various fields.

Q : Would you advise young designers to participate in fashion competitions? If so, why?

Sonic : I’d definitely recommend it. When I participated in the fashion competition, my intention was not only to strive for victory but also test my ability to establish a brand and launch a collection. I wanted to understand how to effectively communicate with tailors within a limited timeframe. The entire process served as a test to gauge whether I had the capability to bring my envisioned styles to life.

Q : Many of your works involve the technique of remaking. How did you first discover this technique? Can you share what qualities attracted you to it?

Sonic : When I initially entered competitions, my objective was to create distinctive works, and the technique of remaking demanded additional time and effort. Furthermore, not many participants opted for this direction. The primary reason was my admiration for the brand Kapital, which is known for its expertise in reinterpreting various design styles. I wanted to craft my own version and show case my unique perspective.

Q : What advice do you have for individuals who wish to cultivate their own distinctive style?

Sonic : Besides building a brand, cultivate your own identity. In the past, I contemplated not using my name if I established a brand, as I thought it might seem too self-centred. However, I gradually realised that focusing on cultivating my own identity seemed to yield better results. For instance, integrating your personal style closely with your work enables people to easily recognise your creations. In fact, some designers successfully operate in this way, simultaneously promoting themselves and their brand.

“If you are creative, dont hesitate to share it with others. As long as you keep creating persistently, your creativity will continuously expand.”

Q : Do you think it’s a bad thing to design based on trends?

Sonic : For a major brand, it’s natural to follow trends as it often aligns with their business decisions. As an independent designer, however, you have your own unique ideas and personal style, so why conform to the mainstream?

Text, video and photos: Ken Lam

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