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The Muse and the Creator: A Pioneer in Women’s Tailoring

“I wanted to make something I like, because I could never find something in the market that I loved 100 percent,” Janet Wong answered in her quiet and thoughtful way when I asked her how she got interested in fashion.

Wong and I became friends when I commissioned her to design my Halloween, art deco wedding dress. Since then, her interest has evolved. We met up in December at her workplace, Bryceland’s, to chat about her love for fashion, tailoring, and her aspirations for the future.

Wong developed her eye for details and sense of aesthetics by looking through her mother’s wardrobe. She refined that passion at SCAD, where she graduated with a BFA in Fashion in 2015.

“My mom likes a lot of frills and embroidery. My style is the opposite; I like everything to be basic, like T-Shirts and tailored pants,” Wong said. I grinned and noted what she was wearing: a plain white T-Shirt and high-waisted jeans.

In high school, Wong taught herself some basic sewing techniques by consulting books and magazines. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” she recalls. “I learned how to drape randomly, just trying different things. It wasn’t until I got to SCAD I learned how to drape properly.”

Based on self-taught experimentations, the first garment she created was a wedding dress.

“I just wanted to make a pretty dress,” she explained. “I didn’t really think about why.”

While at SCAD, Wong was challenged to always think about the “why” and be intentional about her designs. She was passionate about wedding dresses until her professor demonstrated in class the construction of a tailored jacket.

“It’s not just a plain jacket that you see on the outside,” Wong said. “There are a lot of details inside the garment, like sewing the canvas to give the garment structure.”

Wong’s demeanor becomes animated as she speaks about the process of construction: Basting the canvas onto the jacket and steaming the shoulders.

“Creating a garment sounds a bit like cooking, doesn’t it?” I mused.

“Yeah, a little bit,” she laughed. “That class was eye-opening. It was when I fell in love with tailoring. I love the intricate handwork that is required.”

Since then, she’s focused on learning different styles of tailoring. In her first job, she learned to make patterns for traditional British style suits. The ones that are staples for many of the high-power bankers and lawyer types in Hong Kong. Since fall 2017, she has been working at Bryceland’s, a men’s shop that has recently opened in the central district of Hong Kong.  At her new workplace, she has been learning all about Italian tailoring, and its casual and sophisticated style.

Wong working on details for a garment.

In addition to taking measurements for custom suits and altering garments, Wong is mastering different sewing techniques. Right now, she is perfecting the “travetto”, which is the bar tack at the pleat of a pair of pants. These are the stitches that help the pants stay in their shape. Hand-stitched travetto is an indication of luxury, as ready-to-wear labels use machines to stitch the pleats of the pants. She’s also been practicing stitching buttonholes on jackets by hand, which requires meticulous concentration and patience.

“I usually do these types of work in the morning while my head is clear, so I don’t make any mistakes,” she said.

Wong also is studying the business side of tailoring. She hopes this will help with her ultimate goal—to have her own shop one day. Specifically, she wants to have a women’s tailor shop. After all, this whole journey has been inspired by her desire to make garments for herself. She is a creator who is her own muse.

What Wong wants to create is women’s wear informed by men’s wear. Her garments will be hand-tailored, employing her love for intricate handwork. Unlike when she was in high school, she is now intentional in her design and her work is informed by research. She uses fashion references from the past. She is inspired by the classic Chanel suit and the boyfriend jacket, the preppy look that was derived from young women borrowing their boyfriends’ clothes. She has found her niche; designing and tailoring functional and stylish garments for women. She is a pioneer exploring this uncharted territory in Hong Kong.

Her struggle, however, is to find a shop that will train her in tailoring for women.

“The women’s shop in Hong Kong has a local style, which means that they make everything as fast as possible,” Wong said, noting her disapproval by shaking her head. “As a result, there isn’t much construction in the interior of the garment.”

In order to pursue her dreams, Wong applies what she knows about men’s wear and adjusts the patterns to make women’s wear.

“I have been making my own pants, but there’s always too much fabric at the waist. This is because I have only been trained to create patterns for men’s pants,” she sighed. “Women have breasts, have smaller waists with wider hips, which require different patterns. I try to find patterns for a woman’s online, but I haven’t found any good ones yet.”

Despite the challenges ahead of her, Wong dreams big.

“In five years, I hope to be more knowledgeable on pattern-making. Working at different shops will give me hands-on experience, which will help me for my own business in the future,” Wong said. “In 10 years, I want to have a shop like Bryceland’s but for women.”

Written by Kayo Chang Black
Photography by Derek Black