Her designs are as timeless as they are romantic. Flattering, lyrical, Sue Wong’s fashions work a kind of magic; drawing on a potion of mystique and seduction, the clothes take on a power of their own. “When a woman puts on Sue Wong, I want to bring out her most confident and feminine self. I strive for that alchemy, where the romance of the clothing transforms a woman into a goddess — an emissary of beauty. It’s akin to the special feeling we all had as little girls when we first tried on our mother’s or a loved one’s best garment or jewelry and saw ourselves redefined.” Luckily we had a chance to take some time with Sue who was nice enough to answer ten questions we had for her.
Here they are:
1. Tell us what it was like growing up
I grew up under very humble circumstances. In a bold attempt to escape the totalitarian, Chinese communist regime, my Mother took a blind leap of faith and bribed the security guard with her wedding jewelry – releasing us into Hong Kong – into freedom. A year later we were reunited with my Father in the USA. My parents were incredibly hard-working immigrants. It’s hard to reconcile this austerity with the opulence of my current lifestyle and all the accoutrements that accompany it. However, coming from a reduced, minimal background helps me appreciate the value of abundance, which I was fortunate enough to have channeled through my creativity and hard work in my adult life. Toys were sparse and my Mother gave me a canister filled with beads which became my prized toy. The writing was on the wall. Today, I am known as the Queen of Beads. In hind-sight and through lots of very hard work, unwavering commitment and seriousness-of-purpose – yesterday’s apparent curses transform into today’s blessings-in-disguise. I witnessed how my immigrant parents made incredible sacrifices so that I could have better opportunities. Having witnessed and experienced such adversities, I have always believed in dealing with such matters plunging head-first into that which we fear, that which poses a challenge…any difficulty. I am a strong personality. I wanted freedom and starting a business was a doorway to my freedom and being on my own; championing independence and self-sufficiency.
2. What lead you to purchase Cedars in 2004?
I was in the market for a home in 2004 and The Cedars was brought to my attention and attracted me in a powerful way. Despite the fact that many of the period details of the home were in a state of disrepair, having faded with time and covered with soot and grime, I had an immediate and natural affinity for the soaring bas relief ceilings, gilded columns, period ironwork, and frescoed archways of The Cedars; whose ornate details, grand style, and vintage provenance reflect my own romantic design sensibilities. I spent the next three years meticulously restoring the estate to its former grandeur and glory, while maintaining its patina of antiquity. It really needed nothing less than a major restoration in order to make it habitable again, not to mention bringing it back to its former glory. I began the process by commissioning a team of European artisans lead by Zoltan Papp to restore each of the ceilings, archways, fireplaces, sculptural elements and columns in an intensive two year process that removed over 80 years of grime and dirt that had obscured much of the artwork. Only after purchasing the estate did I become aware of the full scope of extensive creative Hollywood history of The Cedars. It was built in 1921 for MGM director Maurice Tourneur based on the Venetian palazzo of the Duke of Alba. For a time it was also known as the Talmadge estate after another one of its former owners, silent screen star Norma Talmadge. Through the years, The Cedars has been a host to so many illustrious celebrities including tycoon Howard Hughes and different generations of stars and musicians including Bela Lugosi, Errol Flynn, Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe, Dennis Hopper, Johnny Depp, Jimi Henrdix, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Arthur Lee and the band Love and Bob Dylan. Its interiors have been shot for scenes in classic films like Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Easy Rider (1969). It definitely did not look the way it does today, but I saw in it possibilities – both in the sense of its past and in what it could become again. It seemed to have been waiting for the right person to come along and bring it back to life….and so it did.
3. Have you always been interested in design?
If I could not create, I’d be very unhappy. I consider myself first and foremost an artist and have chosen fashion as my designated artistic, expressive medium. Truthfully, my design philosophy and iconographic sensitivities translate into other mediums which The Cedars illustrates powerfully. I believe above and beyond that you have to be true to your voice; pay respect and act upon the integrity that you owe to your sense of self, whatever that may be…it has to reflect your inner truth to the point of Divinity. I find that in and through designing and in turn, design has found that in me.
4. Who is your favorite retailer to work with and why?
I perceive this as a two-fold question that requires a two-fold answer. In terms of retailers who participate in making SUE WONG available to the world: I have no individual favorite. They are all my favorites and I am most appreciative to all the major stores that carry SUE WONG: Nieman Marcus, Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, Saks, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales and to all the boutique stores in 28 countries across the globe that carry my gowns. Again, I cannot stress enough just how important it is to me that my designs are embedded and received with transformative intentions and implementation. BEAUTY is what I create and in its visceral experience it becomes an alchemist that procures MAGIC and in so doing, it guarantees TRANSFORMATION. In terms of which retailers’ products I incorporate into the overall styling of my signature look: because my brand is that unique retro-meets-modern look inspired by the Hollywood Golden Era, I must accessorize with handbags that complement and compliment the signature SUE WONG look and therefore chose with surgical-precision since the overall design must be cohesive to perfection. I find what I need to accomplish this, in handbags designed by Mary Frances. I don’t simply design a dress. I design an entire transformation. Such accoutrements take the sense of completion to an entire magical level. The Mary Frances handbags I use echo my design sensibilities and what my gowns require to maintain that balance and essence which is synonymous with a SUE WONG gown.
5. If you could dress any celebrity that you haven’t before, who would it be and why?
I’d like to dress Angelina Jolie and Nicole Kidman. Both women are not only powerful successful actresses; but what intrigues me even more is that their strength and character empowerment is synonymous with the gowns that I design. I create transformative clothing and when a woman puts on a SUE WONG she channels her optimal potential, her Divine self, the Goddess that resides in each and every woman. This, my design philosophy of living the Divine Goddess that lies within a woman, adorning the likes of such very strong women, would be a fascinating observation.
6. Where do you see Sue Wong Fashion in 5 years?
The future of SUE WONG is to become a bigger global brand with an international presence with a heavy foray with the licensing of the SUE WONG name.
7. What fashion trends do you see picking up the most steam right now?
Spring and Summer always usher in a burst of fresh, new energy…the infinite sense of opportunity, possibility and rebirth. So, I always think it should be endorsed with beautiful inspirations we see in flowers and nature alike; floral, butterfly patterns. Whatever the inspiration, I am all about seductive, poetic and lush, romantic textures and contours. I’m not one for choosing/advocating any given brand solely on the grounds of its marketing success. I am an unwavering advocate on what feels right; what remains true to a design, the voice, the woman that wears the item. Therein lies the true essence of what works and what does not work. The utmost rule in design that no-one can afford to compromise on is the overall design cohesion. Anything and everything that does not contribute exclusively and exponentially to that, cannot enter consideration. Retro and Edwardian Romance have never been more sexier; giving today’s woman what she needs from fashion. It’s eternally trendy to enjoy learning about who you are and where your voice lies…and then finding a fashion sense that celebrates that. There is nothing sexier than wearing something that celebrates who you are as a person. It’s about awareness, confidence, liberation and growing into your full potential – whatever that may be for each and every one of us. This is the main focus in my design sensibilities and philosophy. It is about the quintessential transformation. That’s what I recommend: awareness and working on transformative wear. We are what we wear; so do it right and celebrate!
8. If you could dress yourself in any era of style, what would it be?
I’ve created a very unique, one-of-a-kind SUE WONG look, inspired by the old Hollywood Golden era which is synonymous with my creative voice, design sensitivities and sensibilities. I create couture gowns with impeccable workmanship available at everyday prices. I consider myself to be every woman’s couturier. I’m a maximalist, so I don’t like – nor do I allow myself – to be confined by any one single given genre, art movement. I create unique, incomparable hybrids that traverse all time laterally, but most importantly gives today’s woman what she needs most – a sense of self confidence, self-respect and self esteem. I’ve always been passionately inspired and attracted to the haunting saturation of poetry and romanticism that resonate from the Edwardian era. It is ultra sexy and seductive – the endless dream of possibilities and actualizing dreams which is what transpired during the Edwardian era. Women freed themselves from the constraints of the corset and saying goodbye to the corset unleashed an incredible liberation of the female voice and identity. It comes full circle with my design mantra and philosophy of my gowns being transformative clothing. This is why I recently unveiled my Fall 2014 Collection upon the Edwardian Romance platform.
9. If you could own any item of clothing in the world, what would it be?
I appreciate all things of high quality art and that certainly includes clothing. I do own several Issye Miyake pieces which I wear and that always usher very kind compliments. I am all about transformation and the healthy progress of evolution and growing increasingly stronger into your ultimate self. I design my gowns with this very philosophy in mind. In creating, one is fulfilled and completed and it’s because of this sense of completion and incomparable satisfaction and pleasure that I receive through my work; that I’d probably say I own this rare, unique item of clothing already. It’s my very own SUE WONG look. I mean that in the most humble context since I don’t look to others for completion. Happiness, acceptance and success start deep within and my designs are the living ritual that procure such a transformative, spiritual happiness for me and for the women that wear them.
10. What advice would you give to an aspiring designer? Having a vision. Holding that vision. Being true to that vision (be a closer…or don’t bother at all). Don’t ever regress in the face of adversity. Everything that comes your way in life is a part of your overall journey…that which forges your destiny. I lost everything I built twice and twice I rebuilt it and grew stronger than my former self. If there is a fire and you are the equivalent of a moth, then plunge yourself into the fire…knowingly…even it means you have to crash and burn…so that ultimately you resurrect yourself into the Phoenix that you truly are. This way you keep growing. You keep evolving and not only strive for, but achieve and keep building on your quantum potential and what you have to offer, both personally and professionally. Never take no for an answer. Never allow other people to limit your possibilities by accepting the projections of their very own limitations onto yourself. Never feel simply satisfied at any given moment in your journey. You’re a work in progress. Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to take chances and be absolutely fearless about it and just really GO for it…BE FEARLESS!
Image via Suewong