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ground zero hong kong philip eri chu ss18 campaign
Ground Zero SS18Photography Nicolas Coulomb

The design duo paying homage to their Hong Kong birthplace

Brothers Philip and Eri Chu are the pair behind eclectic streetwear label Ground Zero

Hailing from Hong Kong, brothers Philip and Eri Chu are a design duo faithfully representing the city’s upcoming fashion scene.Their brand – Ground Zero – has been putting out clothes they describe as “classical, conservative pieces mixed with casual garments and a continual sense of irony” since 2008.

This comes in the form of an eclectic mix of designs – mostly streetwear focused – that are orientated towards women, but can be worn by men too. Think slogan-emblazoned coats, graffitied denim, printed spandex, and playful takes on tailoring. Bringing humour to their clothing, comical witticisms – ‘Lucky Pussy’, ‘BS BULLSHIT’, ‘100% Nothing’ among them – appear on t-shirts, hoodies and outerwear. “We love infusing jokes as much as possible onto our garments,” the brothers explain.

While Hong Kong remains the source of their inspiration, the brothers parted temporarily at a younger age to hone their skills and gain experience in design. Eri remained in the city, studying at the First Institute of Art and Design, while also working as an assistant in their uncle’s tailor shop for two years. Philip decided to travel across the globe to study for a BA in Fashion Design at Middlesex University in London.

For the newly-released AW18 collection – entitled “Untitled individual” – shirts finished with peplum structures, curve-cut denim jeans which abstract the common straight-leg, shiny-coated crop puffa jackets and excessively long and frayed wool scarves appeared. Beneath each image in the accompanying lookbook is an empty column for its wearer to fill in their beliefs, as a way for them to document their own means of expression. 

Here, we talk to Philip and Eri about their design process, and how Hong Kong continues to inspire the label. 

Growing up, did you always have an interest in fashion?

Ground Zero: Yes actually, we have an older sister and we were very influenced by her. When we were in primary school our sister always begged our father to buy her Moschino and Jean Paul Gaultier. My brother and I would tag along with our toy cars in hand and when we went to the shop together we became very fascinated by stores and their charisma – everything. We didn’t know much about fashion, but we were aware of certain designer brands at the time.

How did starting your own label come about? 

Ground Zero: I was working for a graphic design company which somehow I got fired from. Eri wasn’t doing so well either – he was working in a dead-end job, too. We were at a local restaurant and started talking about everything – the future, fashion, how we were going to conquer the world, stuff like that. We then came up with an idea to start our own brand. The name Ground Zero is sort of like a starting point for us. It implies our hopes because zero is a representation of the base, the beginning, the root. A point and moment that we feel we should remember; it’s our word for hope.

How do you collaborate together? Are there different things you focus on? 

Ground Zero: We have different points of view, but the common thing between us is that we both observe people – always. Last week in China, we saw a man who elaborately dressed up for himself. He was wearing a suit jacket and a polo shirt and had stuffed a lot of plastic bags inside his suit pockets – they were sticking out everywhere. We both always observe this kind of weirdness and we put it into our collections – that’s how we build them up.

“Hong Kong is an Eastern and Western city, it’s very unique. There’s a lot of fusion in the minds of people from Hong Kong” – Ground Zero 

Why is Hong Kong always a focus for you? 

Ground Zero: Hong Kong is an Eastern and Western city, it’s very unique. When we were kids, we were in Britain and saw that somehow it has a lot of elements taken from the Chinese. There is a lot of fusion in the minds of people from Hong Kong. We already have this characteristic in our blood, and I think it carries influence in our garments.

Your clothes are sometimes described as ‘genderless’, is that important to you? 

Ground Zero: Genderless fashion is a trend right now, but for us, it’s not a strong statement because we were already doing that from the beginning. We don’t know much about women’s fashion, if you’re talking about really sophisticated, elegant women’s clothing. That’s why we just do whatever we think is cool for women to wear in daily life. So the genderless aspect is created like that. We don’t know how to do sophisticated pieces and we love cultural stuff, so we think that this is a good approach. We put some feminine elements in it, like for example a sweatshirt that is off-the-shoulder. We love these kind of balanced pieces for women.

How did this translate for the AW18 collection? 

Ground Zero: For this current collection, the 80s were a golden age for Hong Kong and we were super obsessed with its style. We wanted to do a tribute to what fascinated us when we were kids – that’s why we made this collection. We tried to reinterpret the 80s through a street lens, but in a subversive way. We kept some of the outlines of the 80s, so you can see some of the broad shoulders and also tie-dye and acid-washed jeans. We didn’t want to completely recreate the 80s though – it was about making it in our own modern way.

Is there a message you want to communicate through your clothing?

Ground Zero: We have many. I think that the fundamental of a brand is to show your own individuality. Our latest collection has a recurring slogan: ‘Untitled Individual’. It looks good on the blanket garments and the wearer can apply it to whatever they believe in. I think that’s quite a nice communication and message.

What are your plans for the future?

Ground Zero: I think our first step is to create a proper menswear line. We want to continue influencing people in daily life and progressively make Ground Zero the brand that delivers that influence. This is always what we are aiming to do.