Met Gala – the event where every celebrity dresses up to the nines and everyone wants to know where their dresses (and suits) are from. Naturally, it’s a great platform for designers to showcase their works but not all have the privilege. Chi Chi Von Tang, the brainchild of Lisa Crosswhite, joined the ranks of featured designers when one of their dresses was worn by the girlfriend of Google founder Sergey Brin, Nicole Shanahan.
We spoke to Lisa, who is showcasing her latest collection at Singapore Fashion Week tomorrow.
How did you come up with the name Chi Chi Von Tang?
Being of mixed heritage –my mother originated from Xiamen, China, and my late grandfather, Xiao Bai Liang was an activist and Chinese watercolor painter – my ethnic background was the starting point of my preoccupation with Asian art and design. I wanted CHI CHI VON TANG to embody my particular interpretation of Asian design inspiration: It had to be raw, contemporary, street-luxe and have a Warrior Spirit. The name of our brand itself was inspired by my search for a title befitting an ‘East meets West’ muse, who would inspire intrigue and had some seriousness sauciness going on! China Machado, the first ever non-white model to appear in an International Fashion Magazine, inspired the ‘CHI CHI’ part of the name. She’s smoking at 80-plus and had all of these wild adventures in her youth, such as being chased around the world by a hunky matador! Inspo much?!
What made you decide to run your own fashion label?
As a lover of independent designers and fashion, CHI CHI VON TANG came as a natural progression from my online retailer Gnossem that I started four years ago. [After] being a retailer and curating the items we stock on Gnossem very carefully, I wanted to have more control over the design and the creative vision. Gnossem got to a point that I had more time and space to experiment, so the transition to designer felt very natural. I learned that this part of fashion is more what I am really passionate about and where my talents lie. CHI CHI VON TANG as a brand is very in line with me personally. It is a vision developed over years, of what I wished was in my wardrobe, and how I wished an Asian inspired label would be more approachable and raw.
As the CEO & Creative Director, what is an average day like for you?
It’s more executional than you’d think – I’d say 25% of my day is spent managing people and 75% is just me rolling up my sleeves and doing my part of the grunt work. Luckily, I have some kicka**, strong, team members that enable me to bring the most value I can bring to the business, without weighing me down with micro-management. I design the collections, which is an incredible process, as you get to switch back and forth between creative inspiration mode, and pure executional detail mode. I like both – The Artist and The War General. I oversee our retail placement and strategy, both online and offline, as well as our financial and corporate management. I work on our sales plans. I edit videos, create visuals, put together soundtracks, and meet with strategic partners. I’m a bit of an octopus.
More from CLEO:
It’s not easy for Singaporean brands to gain success. What sets you apart from other local labels?
Coming from being a retailer, I have seen so many designers at the mercy of retailers, unsure of how to communicate to their consumers. The reason CHI CHI VON TANG was born so quickly and fiercely was two-fold: Firstly, we already had the retail experience of communicating with consumers, inventory management, a team in place and experience raising funds; secondly, the vision was so clear, that everyone involved was passionately on the same page.
What are your biggest accomplishments for the brand so far and what’s next?
We were featured on Vogue.com earlier this year for our dress that was worn by Google founder Sergey Brin’s girlfriend, Nicole Shanahan. To also have Mick Jagger and rapstar Eve as loyal fans of the brand has been incredible as well. I would like CHI CHI VON TANG to be recognised as an International Brand. Our goal is to be one of the world’s top street-luxe labels, internationally known for our fresh interpretation of Asian contemporary design. On the retail side, we aim to blaze new trails in terms of how we sell to our customers. We are always working on creative ways to reach our audience, being as innovative as possible with how consumers engage and buy our brand.
Name one person who you would love to see wearing one of your pieces.
Angelina Jolie. She’s a total hero – bada**, strong, and has a huge heart.
Who would you consider a stylish woman?
Everyday really cool stylish men and women – the people who, on a daily basis, take risks and express themselves by experimenting with fashion. That is the most stylish and inspirational.
You have a very interesting personal style. Is there something that you would never ever wear?
I’m really experimental… But I guess I would never wear Crocs.
Your previous collections cited interesting inspirations like tribal women of Myanmar and Anime. What can we expect from this one?
For this collection, I worked very closely with Mujia Liao, a VFX artist with the famed Pixomonodo team in Toronto to create an episode in the superhero life of CHI CHI VON TANG. Apart from her fighting off the bad guys in kick-ass style, this collection is about bringing out the unapologetic superhero we have in each of us. Often, we forget about our inner strength so the Anime Collection celebrates your unique superpower! The story is printed on silk and carried across street-luxe silhouettes such as our signature Warrior Bomber, harem pants, emperor robes, joggers and silk T-shirts done in the our quintessential badass style. Staying true to the brand, you will find a mix of Asian heritage made for modern day Warriors.
Image: Chi Chi Von Tang’s website