#ONETOWATCH | The Art of Gentle Living – SHEK LEUNG
At Sodium it has always been an integral part of our ethos to champion emerging, socially conscious fashion designers whose talents and stories deserve to be shared with the widest
SHEK LEUNG the London-based eponymous fashion studio of Samson (Shek Yen) Leung, is one such brand. A brand who we felt were hugely deserving to be featured in our new standalone "One to Watch" portfolio where we take a deep dive into the creative and personal journeys of those emerging fashion innovators who are shaping fashions future. Established in 2020 SHEK LEUNG are a studio that eschews the traditional view of masculinity and who explore a gentler, more sensual interpretation of the male stereotype through beautifully cut, genderless designs.
I interviewed Samson after his debut collection "Gentle Living" premiered in digital format during London Fashion Week in June. We spoke about the difficulties posed by starting a fashion studio during the pandemic, how he has overcome both these and dealt with personal loss while creating his stunning debut collection, and his aspirations for the brand.
(1) Congratulations on your debut SS22 collection “Gentle Living” which showed at LFW in June as part of their digital platform. What was the inspiration behind it?
SHEK LEUNG’s debut collection ‘GENTLE LIVING’ seeks comfort in the sense of unease, embracing vulnerability and capturing the loneliness as a form of energy. Silence can unintentionally exude an unpleasant energy and can be misinterpreted as weakness from a masculine perspective. What fascinates me is that being silent and serenity can be so powerful, peaceful yet daunting and fragile. This collection hopes to bring the quiet hearts’ strength and confidence to light through presenting a touch of subtle sensuality in the traditional masculine world. Heavily inspired by my self-directed films and fine art, specifically Vilhelm Hammershøi’s paintings, this collection embodies my interpretation of quiet masculinity amongst men - including myself and many others. This interpretation is presented in the form of landscape painting, which in traditional Chinese fine art is how one expresses oneself. Instead of canvas, I painted on my self-developed fabric and textures in the collection.
(2) I loved the sculptural flow of the pieces and the genderless quality to them and wondered what concepts of masculinity and gender you want to explore through your work?
I agree my clothes have a genderless quality to them. When I designed, it was never my intention to create such genderless piece as I tend to imagine a quiet man as my muse as part of my research. Perhaps, there’s a touch of femininity in these man that I imagine. But how I see it, it’s more about the sensuality that a man exudes. I often describe my work as “quiet masculinity,” imagining that the handcrafted elements in my pieces express a sense a discreet sensuality that is poetic and subtle. My creations are not about being loud, flashy and extravagant; instead, I focus on evoking and celebrating emotions that my audience can relate to. Often subtlety and quietness in the traditionally masculine-dominant society (or amongst men) seems to be a form of weakness. However, I think differ. When everyone speaks, silence and serenity while scarce are so much more powerful and confident.
(3) Artisanal craftsmanship is at the very core of your brand identity and I understand that you invented a cover-stitch fabric made completely from scratch. What inspired you to create this innovation and what was the creative process in bringing that idea to fruition?
It all started off from my interest in films. My work is heavily influenced by my own self-directed films. I grew up in a family that worked in the film industry. Even as a boy, I was gripped by the artistry that I saw depicted on film sets and I still use my own moving images to inspire some of my most artisanal textiles. The idea took off when I was trying to bring my own films to life by making it into tangible designs during my BA & MA fashion education at Central Saint Martins. I was experimenting with my own films and video projection that led an image where the projection created this cinematic grain (noises) from my films and it visually looking like cover-stitches.
Today, it is through all the tactile textures and sensitive details in my collection that I aim to bring this vision to life.
(4) The fashion film which showcased your pieces definitely channeled Vilhelm Hammershoi’s love of nature, landscape and muted palettes while the soundtrack by Olivier Cong was hugely atmospheric. How important was it to make a film that so accurately captured the essence of the collection?
My brand, SHEK LEUNG is an eponymous label derived from my Chinese name, which means “honest” and “grounded.” It is about translating intangible emotions and narratives into the tangibles fashion products. Films and music is a huge part of my brand’s identity, as it celebrates craftsmanship and it is a way to bring a touch of “honesty” and emotional connection in my creation to my audience’s lives.
(5) The film has added poignancy with the dedication to your father in the closing credits. What life lessons did he teach you and how do you think he would feel about your success.
Unfortunately, my father passed away during COVID-19, the collection and the film was a homage to him. He, himself is a quiet man as well. He was a film director and over the years, despite growing up on film sets as a kid, I never actually showed interest in film(making) until I was studying fashion at Central Saint Martins. Today, it becomes part of my design process to visualize my abstract fashion narrative. My brand itself grows out of both my family, specifically my father and my personal love of storytelling through moving images. I hope to continue his legacy through my own self-directed films and through my passion in handmade craftsmanship.
I hope he is proud of me.
(6) Who do you envisage wearing your pieces and how do you want the person who wears them to feel when they put them on?
Gentle, sensitive and quiet man and woman. Who’s willing to embrace their vulnerability with confidence and have appreciation for handmade craftsmanship.
(7) How challenging was it to start your brand during the pandemic and what difficulties, if any, did that present in terms of sourcing, supply chains and production?
With COVID-19, sourcing and production has been difficult, so majority of what I create now will be made to order and working with small wholesale orders or private orders. But hopefully down the line when COVID-19 travel restriction is loosen, I’ll be able to meet collaborators, factories and mills personally and scale up the productions.
(8) Following on from the success of your debut collection what are your plans and aspirations for the brand for the second half of 2021 and into 2022?
At the moment I’m doing the brand alone. So, I’m still taking it slow and learning how to run a business. By the end of the year, I hope I can set up my online shop. Additionally, I hope to work and collaborate with other creatives. Currently I’m just trying get my work out there to more people and hopefully celebrities that appreciate the subtle craftsmanship in my creation. I am taking private orders and custom-made pieces via DM on Instagram if anyone’s interested!
Many thanks to Samson for taking the time to speak to Sodium after his hugely successful London Fashion Week debut and for giving us such a fascinating, deeply moving and insightful interview. Big thanks also to Veronika at Limitee PR for all her help in arranging the interview.