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Preserving tradition, with a modern twist.

To celebrate the upcoming new year, two houses collided to create a collection that represents Chinese Heritage with a modern spin through cultural attire and fine jewellery.
Lai Chan (LC), a local fashion designer, famous for his flattery designs of the Cheongsam and Carolyn Kan (CK), a jewellery designer and the founder of Carrie K. decided to come together because of their shared passion for craftsmanship and storytelling Asian culture.


Their dream for this collaboration is to create something special and design pieces to ignite conversations and share stories about Chinese culture for the many generations to come. 

We caught up with them for a short interview of what to expect with their paired work. Read on to dive into the head spaces of the two successful designers!


1. Tell us who you are and why you do what you do

CK: Hi, I'm Carolyn Kan. I call CARRIE K. my second life and it is a very happy life because I married my two passions of storytelling imbued in bold, crafted fine jewellery. 

LC: Hi, My name is Lai Chan. I design all types of clothes and I’m particularly interested in cultural clothes.


2. What motivated you to collaborate?

CK: When I met Lai Chan, I was super excited because I've always loved his work. In fact, his nickname is Grandmaster of Cheongsam. He completely changed my perception and many people's perceptions of Cheongsam with his cool spin of combining luxury with it. We share a passion for telling our Asian culture stories in a way that makes it relevant to the modern woman. 

LC: It was a joy to have worked with Carolyn. I love her fashion sense. When I went into greater details about her, I really liked her work too. This collaboration was supposed to be traditional but yet, with Carolyn’s style, there was a modern twist to it. So, it was good to mix and match them together to achieve our overall look.


3. What is the story behind your Cheongsam collection?

CK: We chatted over coffee and we talked about collaborating for the new year. To take something that's very traditional, but give it our own fresh twist. So we took inspiration from iconic symbols that people say, during Chinese New Year, but they probably don't know the meaning of it. We used Wu Fu Lin Men, which usher the five blessings through the door.

LC: We also included the element, Phoenix as well. Phoenix is iconically known to be traditionally asian so adding that into the collection was perfect. 

CK: I loved it because it symbolises luck, virtue and it also represents the Empress. So ladies, if you want to feel like a royal. And we thought, “Okay, how do we take something so traditional, so classic as a Phoenix and the five bats and you know, give it a modern twist?” So yeah, that was really fun.


4. Why the Phoenix? 

LC: So, to us, Phoenix is something that is mysterious. We heard stories about it such as how it represents rebirth and that it moves on swiftly from pressing situations. Which means, you can also choose to rebirth every single day. During good or bad times, you can decide to move on.

We started with wanting to give the traditional Phoenix a fresh breath of life. We pushed it to be a very abstract and surreal interpretation to the dresses. Carolyn included the intricate detailing into her jewellery too.

CK: Yeah, when Lai Chan suggested the Phoenix, we looked at different versions of it. He said, “Wouldn't it be really cool to take something from the Cheongsam?” The fabric in the old school style of embroidery in gold thread. This wonderful Phoenix that you'd find on the Cheongsam, but turned into jewellery that is made of gold and diamonds.

It has all the details of the gold thread, so that it looks like embroidery. The amazing thing that I like to do is to get people to be creative with their jewellery. This is going to be a pendant that can be worn with pearls, and it lets people subvert according to their style.


5. Why WuFu? Why did you choose to feature jade and pearls to match Lai Chan’s Cheongsams? 

CK: I’ve riffed off Lai Chan’s theme of taking something that's traditional and giving it a modern lease of life. We chose jade and pearls because they're seen as grandma gemstones. We went with the idea of telling the story of Wu Fu Lin Men because during Chinese New Year, everybody either says it, or they have decorations with the words and the five bats but nobody knows what it means. 

There are many things from our Asian culture that we do without understanding. I thought it was important to have that story in the piece. So that it becomes a conversation starter, and hopefully our heritage will get passed onto future generations.


6. Why do you do what you do? And what takeaway would you like people to have from this collaboration?

CK: I'm in a very happy business of telling stories through beautiful, handcrafted fine jewellery. With jewellery, if you have something that is interesting, unique, people always go, “Oh, that's interesting,” and it becomes a conversation starter. So subtly, I'm able to pass on stories and I'm really passionate about stories from our Asian heritage.

My hope would be that for every collection, especially this one is designed for moms to love. But for daughters to want to borrow, never return. This means, we've transcended through generations.

LC: This is important for all of us, not just our culture or our story, but I think it's so important for Singapore as well. I always create whenever I am inspired. I’m born here, I’ve live here, I eat here and I have friends here so how can I not do something that's not my own? 

CK: Singapore is such a multicultural hotpot of stories and inspirations from different cultures. As Lai Chan said, we can't stop every time we have a conversation with someone, a story comes and that's what we want to pass on.


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