The only light came from a TV that no one was watching. A teenage Christian Stone, petite with tousled, greasy black hair, had fallen asleep alone in his bedroom, head tilted towards the screen, mouth slightly open. His eyelids flickered during REM sleep cycle as if nodding to say that he was indeed dreaming. The deafening silence of Hong Kong’s clockwork regularity in the late 90s and early 2000s yielded little room for the celebration of individuality or difference. Skyscrapers ran parallel to corporate headquarters but never grazed heaven. Instead, American horror films, chimerical ideas of fashion and the digital world were one way mirrors to Christian’s estranged sense of fulfillment, tearing asunder what he knew to be a grey existence.
Christian grew up in a world of constructed norms and barely palatable expectations. As a gay adolescent attending an all-boys school, he tells me that his high school experience played “a big part in who I am today,” over a Facebook audio chat from his studio in Hong Kong on a quiet evening in December. His voice is calm and the pauses he makes during conversation reveal rosy tinges of introspection as language and cultural barriers rise and fall. “Hong Kong as a place to grow up, was quite systematic and rigid in a way. Because of my sexuality, I acted and thought really differently than other boys in the school. I was influenced a lot by my best friend who was really out there and spoke his mind. We would sit on staircases, sing songs and turn up the volume super loud and everyone in the school would recognize us for our outrageous behavior. I began to think about creativity a lot just because I wanted to break through that expectation that people had of me, that my parents had of me,” said Christian, his voice trailing off wistfully.
Forecasted to become a doctor, lawyer or accountant and deluged with hard to swallow doses of homophobia, Christian did not see himself reflected in the lifestyle prescribed to him by society. “I wasn’t good at academics and wasn’t interested in anything else other than being creative and clothes so at that point, I really started to pursue fashion design as an interest and career,” he said. Without much deliberation, Christian soon found himself riding high on defiance with the label “high-school dropout” draped like a target for estrangement on his back. Crossing his first cultural divide whilst overstepping judgment and shedding his hometown stereotype, Christian moved to mainland China to complete an 8-month program before he was accepted to study fashion design at Central Saint Martins in London. “My parents always had this idea of sending me abroad to study. A lot of people who I got back in touch with recently say that I vanished without any traces and basically no one knew where I was going, I was just gone,” said Christian.
Yet moving 6,000 miles away never felt more like going home. The contrasts that Christian was met with manifested not only through architecture and accents but through freedom and feeling. “It was a really huge cultural shock. There was freedom in terms of thinking and creativity. I was forced to be independent and it was a learning while you’re doing kind of a process. I’ve been dreaming… I’ve been wanting to be independent for a long time. I didn’t fit into a lot of the categories in Hong Kong and it was a escape for me,” he said. Where there might’ve been adversity, Christian instead found a reckoning. “London helped me to appreciate the fact that I’m a unique person. It’s not that I don’t fit in and yes, I’m doing fashion and I’m in a class of 40 and those people have the same interests as me, but still, my core is still very unique,” he said with resolve.
However, life in London did change Christian’s core, but quietly, in ways that could only be felt, not seen. Call it a rite of passage, growing up or youth itself, Christian blindly held freedom’s hand as it lead him to the crossroads of who he was and who he wanted to be. “After observing how my friends in London live and what daily life could be, I aspired to live a new lifestyle. Living in London, I go to parties, galleries, watch movies at other people’s houses, and all of this sounds normal but having to live with my parents in Hong Kong who are quite strict and question where I am, I was now where I could be this person who goes to a club every night, or I could be this person who loves to go to art galleries. I started to think about the life I wanted to live,” said Christian with new vigor. While fashion might have been his way out, the essence of escapism doesn’t shade Christian’s work, but illuminates it.
In an age where originality has become evasive to millennials and newness can be found swooning at nostalgia’s feet, the word itself seems to spew out of oblivion when talking about Christian’s work. With a CV decorated with highlight-worthy mentions of working with the likes of Dior and Hood By Air during what’s known as CSM’s “Internship Year,” when it came time to design his own graduate collection, Christian created something the industry had never seen before, at least not coming down the runway.
The aesthetic has been dubbed “mutant artisanal” and “post-apocalyptic” as Vogue and VFiles caught wind of the otherworldly stench wafting from the far corners of Christian’s mind. Models sauntered down the runway in “backpack shoes,” their bodies morphed into grotesque, hump-backed versions of themselves as they adorned radical silhouettes and wore bubble wrap like couture’s new cashmere. “I really don’t know that my work is that unique,” said Christian, not trying to be modest, just frank; “designing is a very organic process. I have a problem when I’m designing, I hate doing things that seems to be existing already if there is a thing that I can think of that any other person has done, I won’t do it.” While The Walking Dead and the B-horror movie, Re-Animator, were but two references in Christian’s repertoire of collection inspiration, understanding the clothes here was a matter of understanding Christian. Stating that the collection was based on “the notion of bringing the obsolete and the dead back to their second lives as brand new beings,” it didn’t seem too farfetched to wonder if “the dead” here was a direct reference to Christian himself.
“Telling stories is what I’m good at,” said Christian. As he began to build the life he now leads as a young, queer, Chinese fashion designer, who risked everything he had for all that he could gain, it is no wonder that originality imbues itself into his work as Christian is telling no one else’s story but his own. “I didn’t think about that and now that you’ve said it I totally agree,” he says, “this second life almost feels like I’m totally re-figuring out the components in me.” At the core of his ethos is not just avant-garde tailoring or obscure references, Christian, with his newfound sense of self, weaves memories into dreams with the fibers of his own existence.
Finding himself back in Hong Kong post-graduation earlier this year thus felt less like a transgression onto progress and more so like fate. “I look at Hong Kong differently. After surviving in Europe for four years I learned to find good things about each place including Hong Kong. Being in the fashion industry, is making something out of what you have,” said Christian. While he still doesn’t consider Hong Kong to be home, it is perhaps no coincidence that it is here that Christian will have to forge another portal into the industry as a designer, leaving the label of student behind as a remnant of a former life. “A week or so ago I wasn’t sure about whether to get a job or to do my next collection. People have been messaging me on Instagram saying they like my stuff but this is just my graduate collection, this could be so small in a designer’s career. I have a thousand reasons not to do my next collection and these reasons are based on fear, but in the end, I rationalize these fears, they’re always going to be there and it’s just being rebellious against my critical self. I have to do it although I’m very scared,” said Christian as if he were talking less directly to me and moreso to himself. While there’s no way to know what we can expect from Christian in the future, we can take solace in the fact that whatever it is, it’s good to know that we humans, can lead more than one life.
Photography/Artist Statement: These pictures are conceptualized, taken and edited by my previously collaborative photographer partners, Reece Owen and Dean Hoy (@reecendean). As we are apart and we want a unique and unexpected outcome, they were shooting me in Hong Kong from a long distance from London via Skype on our computer screens. The idea is drawn from cyber communication and webcam culture, especially how the adult entertainment industry popularizes cam shows as one of the newest sources of online erotic and sexual pleasures. As result, I got yards of black fabric to cover up my room’s background, I put on my own designs and became the protagonist in front of the lens on my laptop, for the sake of giving pleasures to those who choose to tune in and watch me.