Vancouver-born, London-educated Steven Tai has been a critical fashion darling since launching his eponymous womenswear label in 2012 at age 28 (having cut his teeth as an intern at Stella McCartney and Viktor & Rolf). His focus on one-of-a-kind materials, intensive fabric-manipulation techniques including quilting rubber and cross-stitching, and quirky, geek-chic aesthetics (think wire-rimmed glasses, braces, and sensible shoes) earned the designer the inaugural Chloé award at the Hyères Festival of Fashion in 2012, and a spot as an Andam Award (for emerging designers) finalist in 2014.
In Canada, Tai’s ready-to-wear collection is now available at Vancouver and Toronto’s Nordstrom stores, in the contemporary Space department, where eccentric-luxe fashions are displayed. “The Steven Tai woman is someone who was awkward, quirky, and humourous growing up,” Tai says of his brand’s DNA. “Now, she is confident and sees her quirks as part of her strength, and embraces what makes her unique. She is modern and off-beat.”
His newest spring/summer collection, which was presented at London Fashion Week September 2016, revisits the original “nerd” theme he first explored as a graduate student at Central Saint Martins. “My favourite piece is probably the ‘pages’ shirt, where layers of cottons and silks are layered and finished with a contrast zigzag stitch,” says Tai. “It is a simple piece that concisely announces the concept of the collection.” The boxy, tomboy-ish selection also includes school-girl pleated skirts, asymmetric drawstring details, and charmingly cropped trousers, all paired with Tai’s signature clunky flats.
And while the fashion industry as a whole has been grappling with the seasonal show cycle’s dubious relevance and flirting with the “see now, buy now” concept, Tai doesn’t see himself abandoning fashion week any time soon. “For young designers, I think [fashion week] is still relevant because it gives us a chance to showcase our universe and identity,” he explains.
In his first four years as a designer, Tai has showed collections with Vogue Italia in Milan, at Dubai Fashion Experience with Vogue, and been on the calendar at London Fashion Week six times, but he has his eye on conquering the Chinese market next. “I am most excited about presenting in Shanghai Fashion Week for Spring 2017, and understanding how the industry operates in China,” says Tai of his first-ever foray into the Chinese market. “Things are developing extremely fast, and new models of fashion businesses are popping up every season. It reminds me of London in some ways, in the sense that the industry is really open to differences in aesthetics.”
It will be interesting to see how Tai’s time in China, and the country’s influential buying power, will impact his work going forward—though one can be sure his eccentric, playful pieces will continue to delight each season.