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When A Dress Is So Much More Than Just A Dress: The Story Behind Self-Portrait

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What does ‘cult’ mean? You’ve heard the word before, often about a devout religious group (see: Wild Wild Country), but in the fashion and beauty landscape it’s evolved into this evocative and mysterious mass. Something insatiable and savvy, connected and insider-only. When Self-Portrait’s dresses appeared on the fashion landscape in 2013 we didn’t realise a revolution was underway, a new type of cult was emerging.

It may have started with an affordable Broderie Anglaise dress beloved by celebrities as diverse as Kate Middleton and Kristen Stewart, but the label’s rapid rise to success has set the standard bearer for a new bread of mid-price labels (like Rixo, Staud and Kitri). Malaysian-born, Central Saint Martins-trained founder Han Chong cut his teeth at likeminded label Three Floor but set out on his own with a singular missing to allow his ‘customers to be the best version of themselves without having to compromise quality for price’, he says, ’I’ve always wanted Self-Portrait to be a brand that makes women feel empowered and good about themselves.’

With a new standalone London shop (on Albermarle Street) and a slew of copycat cult labels popping up mimicking the success but not always grasping the quality and control of vision of Self-Portrait, we quizzed Han Chong on what makes his brand work:

How Would You Define The Self-Portrait Look?

Self-Portrait is a world for the contemporary woman where she can feel feminine, beautiful and confident, whilst expressing herself through what she wears.

What Have Been The Key Pieces That Have Constructed The Self-Portrait Aesthetic?

Some of the key pieces have been our Azalea dress and Cold-Shoulder Frill top. These pieces embody our aesthetic of femininity, fun and great fit, but with a modern twist. It is romanticism with an attitude.

How Is A Self-Portrait Piece Taken From Concept To Customer?

Our team travels all over the world to source the newest fabrications each season. We spend a lot of time researching new techniques and constantly looking for ways to enhance our designs. Sometimes it can be the smallest details.

After the research stage, we create a mood board for the season. This helps me focus in on what I feel the Self-Portrait women want for that particular time. While designing I like to really be alone in my thoughts while I’m first sketching out the collection. After that, we start sampling the pieces then do fittings to see how it looks on a body. We will make adjustments and corrections to the garment. Once the entire collection is completed, its then shown and bought by retailers. We finish with our runway show during New York Fashion Week.

What’s Inspiring To You?

I find inspiration from the incredibly talented women that I know. How they live their lives, what challenges they face and how my clothes fit into these multi-faceted lives, those are things that inspire me.

Dresses Have Become Your Calling Card – How Do You Keep Reinventing The Wheel?

Dresses will always be part of our company’s DNA, but as the brand has evolved so has our customer. I am conscious of what she might want in her closet. The key to any brand is evolving while still maintaining your handwriting. We always like to introduce new materials, silhouettes, textures and product categories. This continues to challenge me creatively as a designer which is something that I need. We recently launched our own footwear collection which is something that hadn’t done before but had learned through past collaborations.

Celebrities Love Your Designs, Who Has Been Your Favorite Person To Dress, And Why?

It is always a thrill to me when I see people wear our designs, from real women to celebrities. I think in general, there is so much amazing product out there in the market so to see these influential women wear our pieces is very cool. Beyonce recently wore our Satin Polka Dot Frill top and looked amazing.

How Important Is It That The Clothes You Make Are Affordable?

From the start, I knew I wanted to create luxury pieces that were more accessible. Clothes don’t have to have an exorbitant price tag if the brand is really putting in effort and time with the entire process - researching and finding the most cost-effective techniques without sacrificing the quality and craftsmanship.

When Shopping, How Can Someone Find A Piece That Not Only Suits Them But Also Suits Their Personality?

I think it’s important to find something that you feel comfortable and confident in but to not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try new things.

What Is Your Best Shopping Advice?

Build your wardrobe by investing in quality, well-made pieces.

What Is Luxury To You?

Luxury to me is having amazing quality while looking and feeling your absolute best. It’s about not being too precious and protective, but being able to have fun with it. That freedom truly defines luxury.