Born: Hong Kong. Education: Graduated in Economics and Business, University of Guelph, Canada; studied fashion design, London School of Fashion. Career: Returned to Hong Kong, 1982, to design for a number of labels, including Sahara Club, Michel René, and Daniel Hechter; opened own company, W. Tang Co. Ltd., 1985, designing womenswear and menswear; labels include William Tang, and W by William Tang; opened Paris boutique, Presence II; generated controversy for drug-themed runway show, 1997; created uniforms for Hong Kong's Miramar Hotel, 1997; designed uniforms for Dragonair Airlines, 2000; created interior designs for Villa by the Park, Hong Kong housing development, 2001. Address: Flat E, Upper Ground Floor, 14/16 Aberdeen St. Central, Hong Kong, China.
Marshall, Samantha, "Shenzhen: A Look across the China Border," in DNR, 10 January 1994.
Farley, Maggie, "Another Kind of Streetwear," in the Los Angeles Times, 1 May 1997.
Seno Alexandra, "People: Hong Kong Designer Redefines High Fashion," in Asia Week, 1 August 1997.
Cheng, Scarlet, "Dressed to Kill," in the Far Eastern Economic Review, 4 September 1997.
"Dragonair Enters the Tang Dynasty," in Inflight Asia, October 2000.Y"SHKP Recruits Famous Fashion Designer William Tang," in Sun Hung Kai Properties press release, 2 May 2001.*
Fashion itself is an art form that moves and lives with the human body. The fashion business is also art, a form that is based on creative ideas where various commercial aspects are taken into consideration.
Known as the bad boy of Hong Kong fashion, William Tang has never been one to take the conventional route. After studying economics and business and then hotel management, he decided on a career in fashion. He wanted to further develop his interest in the arts, and the choice was between fashion and architecture. To him, fashion seemed closer to the fine arts and fulfilled his childhood love of drawing people. His arrival in London as a fashion student coincided with the style era of the New Romantics. Tang was in tune with their retro brand of flamboyance and glamor.
History and culture have been very important to Tang's work. In Western art and design, his particular interests have included art déco and Georgia O'Keefe. The Mediterranean has been his greatest geographical influence: he holds a special place for Venice, and ancient Greece and Egypt. Tang revived the unique technique of fine pleating originated by Mariano Fortuny to create elegant shift dresses inspired by the ancient Greek chiton. For Tang, fashion must be a means of expression, not purely concerned with commercialism. Artistic and personal fulfillment have been his major lifetime goals.
Tang has always gone his own way. Never sticking to one look, he prefers to experiment and innovate. But he has a practical side; his business education provided a sound base for the more pragmatic aspect of fashion. W by William Tang and William Tang are his two of his retail labels in Asia, where he sells through major department stores, including the Japanese Seibu and Daimaru. He has worked with the Betu Company in Hong Kong and with Seibu to produce contemporary silk collections aimed at the Japanese and Taiwanese markets. He also opened his own workshop in his home base of Hong Kong and operated a shop, Presence II, in Paris. Another shop was opening in Hong Kong's fashionable Lan Kwai Fong area. His aim is to encompass the extent of his creativity, including individual couture designs, contemporary daywear, and also his paintings.
Tang's enthusiasms fuel his work. He reinterpreted clothes photographed by Man Ray to coincide with an exhibition of the artist's work. He has awakened others to the significance of fashion through his designs, lectures, books, and articles and his collections have echoed his knowledge of Chinese history and culture. Shanghai in the 1930s inspired a shocking pink cheong-sam dress, trimmed with ostrich feathers and worn with platform shoes, which stunned the catwalks of Hong Kong. Exquisite lace eveningwear, created from fabric handcrafted in the Shandong Province of China, was declared the triumph of the 1989 Hong Kong Fashion Week. As evidence of his diversity, the following year he showed tie-dyed coordinates topped with overvests and leggings made from rubber bands.
Tang's versatile young look is not as well known as many of his contemporaries. Insufficient financial backing and the need for better promotion have proved hurdles to wider recognition, yet Tang is relaxed about the future. He enjoys his work too much to be concerned about what lies ahead. He has been accused of "stirring things up on the Hong Kong fashion scene" by frequently playing the wild card. But Tang knows his business; he knows "good fashion should be a combination of artistic ideals and expression and the commercial process involved in producing a line of clothes that will sell well." In Hong Kong he has long been a darling of the press. His personality and presence set him apart from some of his older and more reserved contemporaries, but Tang is no mere showman. His work is lively, fresh, and worthy of greater recognition.
Tang, in the 21st century, is still one of the best-known designers in Hong Kong and Asia, but his distribution is limited primarily to China, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Europe. He has not yet broken into key markets such as Japan or the United States in a significant way, either with his proprietary William Tang and Chi Chi labels or with his products for Tienlan, where he serves as design director. His collections are popular in Asia and increasingly commercial, although he manages to solidify his "bad boy" reputation with some attention-attracting designs.
Tang continues to be inspired by the art and people of the streets, for example incorporating calligraphic graffiti (by a renowned Hong Kong street artist) into fabrics highlighted in a collection. He also holds shows in malls and housing projects, in an effort to bring his fashion "to the streets."Tang talks to Hong Kong's homeless about how they dress, and sometimes incorporates their ideas into his collections. "These people are truly original," he told the Los Angeles Times in May 1997. "The rest of us only care about how others look at us, but they don't care what people think. They dress only for themselves."
His controversial fall 1997 collection took the street images too far for some critics. It featured models poking themselves with syringes, which led observers to accuse him of promoting "heroin chic." To Asia Week, Tang argued that the theatrics were intended to show drug use as what he called "a deformed lifestyle."
Aside from his work in design, the well-rounded Tang is a short story author and a travel, culture, and fashion writer for a number of newspapers and magazines in Hong Kong, as well as the host of a television program. He even considered retiring from fashion in the late 1990s but ultimately decided to continue. Much of his revenue comes from large-scale custom work such as uniforms and interior designs for organizations such as the Hong Kong airport, the Miramar Hotel, IBA Bank, a housing development, and Hong Kong Dragon Aviation (Dragonair).
Tang combines East and West, ancient and modern. He can take styles from Chinese peasant villagers of the past and recreate them in Day-Glo colors, or fashion cheong-sams with a modern, sexy flair. His collections walk the line between the avant-garde and the commercially acceptable.
updated by Karen Raugust