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Kwaidan Editions AW18Courtesy of Kwaidan Editions

Kwaidan Editions is the horror movie-inspired label up for the LVMH Prize

Founded in 2017 by husband and wife duo Hung La and Léa Dickely, the London-based brand is doing things its own way

The ever-increasing speed of fashion is a growing concern among a lot of designers, particularly those who are just starting out. For Kwaidan Editions – founded last year by husband and wife duo Hung La and Léa Dickely – rather than trying to compete with it, they are working at their own pace.

“We have a long-term vision,” the pair told us. “It's not about getting famous. It's about building something solid.” After meeting during their first year at the Royal Academy Antwerp, both designers completed stints at houses within the industry, with La working at Céline and Balenciaga under Nicolas Ghesquière and Dickely freelancing for Rick Owens.

Deciding to start their own label, they launched Kwaidan Editions in 2017. Taking its name from a 1975 Japanese horror film, the label has a strong film-noir vibe, but is not about gore or horror. “There's always a tinge of darkness in what we do,” the duo explain. “It's not about celebrating that, it's just about finding beauty in unusual things.”

“It's not about getting famous. It's about building something solid” – Kwaidan Editions

For the SS18 collection that manifested itself in a chic reimagining of the 90s. Think tie-dye print tees, figure-hugging satin shirts paired with baggy leather trousers, and some great trash bag-esque coats. The more recent AW18 collection went darker, featuring monochrome tailoring, giant fur coats, acid green satin, and an eerie woodland print. Always pushing the unusual, or unexpected element though, the fur is faux, the leather is in fact pleather, and the python is leather specially treated to look that way. “It’s always about the play of opposites,” the duo say.

The same can be said for the contrast between La and Dickely’s approach to design. “It's kind of the tension between two opposites: different sexes, different personalities, different cultural backgrounds,” they explain. “It's us meeting in the middle, finding the right tension and pushing that forward.”

Though the brand is London-based, this is something they aren’t keen on labelling themselves with, just as, for now, they are content with presenting each collection via a lookbook. “It's an evolution,” they say on their approach to growing Kwaidan. “We see it as a chapter in a book. One chapter should always lead into the next.”

As a long-term strategy, taking things at their own pace is already paying off, with the label recently announced as one of the nine 2018 LVMH Prize finalists. Ahead of the winner being announced in June, we caught up with the duo on how they collaborate, and what the future holds for Kwaidan Editions.

Growing up did you both have an interest in fashion?

Hung La: I grew up in Washington DC. I started off as an engineer: I have a degree in computer engineering. The attraction to fashion came in my teenage years. It was just this communication of dress. The way that you could change who you were walking down the hallway in your favourite jeans and kicks and t-shirt; that always spoke to me. I tried engineering, but I knew it didn't fit for me. So I went to a lot of schools: I went to Parsons for a bit, I went to a school in Italy called Marangoni, and then I went to Antwerp, where we met 14 years ago. 

Léa Dickely: I always wanted to do fashion, so that’s different. I started being interested at the age of twelve, and from that point on I aimed at certain schools. I really wanted to study design right away, so I went to a high school focused on fashion and design. After that, I studied fine art. And then, I went to Antwerp to really focus on fashion.

How do you collaborate together on the design process?

Hung La: The design process starts with Léa. There's a language in Kwaidan Editions of women designing for women. There’s a flow between us throughout the season. Léa starts with the initial impulse, and then it's going back and forth.

Léa Dickely: The season always starts with me bringing the first input. I go in a bubble for a couple of days. It's about recreating memories or feelings, it's very cinematic. It always starts with a space, or an image of a place where something is happening. Then, the rest of the season is just both of us equally working on it. My part is a bit more the visual aspect, the spirit and the world around it. Hung is more about making it, he's technically very strong. He makes everything happen. It's all about this balance between us.

How do you approach each collection?  

Hung La: The collections are not about one individual piece. It's about a collective whole. And that's always the way we design. We think about how it's going to be presented, how it's going to be on the rails. What are the colours? How is each piece collectively telling a story? The colours are very important. The print is very important. The textures are important. It's about how collectively they work together.

Léa Dickely: Another thing we always have is the sense of interiors. The inspiration always comes from a place, an interior.  I grew up in the east part of France. Interiors were very charged, very decorative. And that's something that always comes through. The prints and certain choices of fabrics that always come back in the collections.

Can you tell us more about the SS18 collection?

Hung La: It is our second collection. We have these strong, luxurious, well-made Italian wools, and beautiful coating. But then inside the collection, you also have what we call the ‘rubbish’ fabric. It looks like a trash bag. We also have rubber. There's a real kinkiness in the play between something very elevated and very trivial.

It's always 'uncanny' – a word we throw around a lot. There's always a subtle twist that makes you look like 'Why is that shirt so tight?', or 'Why is that sleeve so long?', or 'What was going on with the proportions?'.

What are your plans for the future?

Hung La: We're trying to grow slowly. It's not that we don’t want to do a show or a presentation, because those are excellent ways to get exposure and express yourself in ways that you can't in a traditional lookbook or photoshoot. But for us, it's about doing what we can do with the funds that we have. To keep it focused, and to grow. What you see sometimes in fashion is an emerging brand that gets propped up too fast, and they don't have a structure to sustain that. We're trying to grow within our means, in order to be able to deal with a long-term vision.

How does it feel to be a finalist for the LVMH Prize?

Hung La: Well, great! Really excited. Doing this thing is such a mixture of joy and fear. It's so exciting, we're so happy, but it's also scary. It was scary to meet Karl, and Anna Wintour. These are the fashion gods you've grown up with. It's really special they're able to put their eyes on you.

Léa Dickely: That's how I feel too. It's such a great opportunity to have such an exposure at this point. It's really valuable, we’ve met so many people and had all these discussions, that's so nice. 

How would winning allow you to grow the label?

Hung La: The duality of things. For example, the product in the image. Our vision is about the duality of growing ourselves more. So it's not just 'oh we want to spend all the money on lookbooks'. It's twofold. To build sets, to maybe do a presentation, to expand the language. But also building the structure. We have the two of us and an intern, so we want to grow the team and be able to share more of the Kwaidan world.