David Szeto: fashion under his skin Fashion - 15 June 2016
A modest name in the brash world of fashion, a master of the art of draping, a wizard of structure, David Szeto, a Chinese Canadian, trained in New York before checking out the London and Paris fashion scenes. Today, he works out of Brussels.
We meet him surrounded by the rails bearing his creations in his Saint-Gilles studio, with its high ceilings and grand staircase. "It's an old theatre,” he lets slip when we ask him about the impressive size of the building. In any case it is the perfect stage for his delicate and ultra-feminine creations: dresses that hug the female curves, racy prints and accessories exuding character. He believes that his job is to exalt the bodies of the women who wear his creations; setting off a shoulder, hugging a curve. "One day in London, I saw a woman try on an Alaïa dress in a store. She must have been a size 42, the dress was like a girdle on her; not very becoming. I told myself that I would never do anything like that." So, for his creations, he works on silhouettes by taking inspiration from the body, using a mannequin. He drapes, tries something and then starts again, searching for a constructed outline, the perfect shape.
Doing it his way
This discreet designer is not afraid of trial and error as he searches and perseveres. In fact, this is what defines him. As a young boy, he was encouraged by his parents to express his dress sense, but dreamed of becoming a cartoonist. The sewing classes he took at school changed all that. It was a revelation. "I realised that I was good at it." Then his sister let him do her homework, against payment, and then ordered creations from him for her and her friends. It marked the birth of a passion for structure that was to become his hallmark. In 1980s Canada the young David discovered the work of Calvin Klein in an article. It was a decisive moment. "I realised that you could hit the right note by doing simple things." He flew to New York to attend the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology, where Klein himself had studied. However, the course wasn’t really right for him. What he wanted was to shake up established codes and forms of creativity: the influences of Galiano or Gaultier. He was more into the innovative work of Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons), or the perfect cuts of Madeleine Vionnet. At the Institute he learned about commercial creation, while his innovative metal zip on plastic and cotton organza, which would be acclaimed today, was not understood.
All by himself
With his diploma in his pocket, he turned his back on the traditional career path and left for Europe. His travels first took him to London where, given the unbridled creativity of the eighties, he thought that "everyone on the street would be dressed like Galiano. But actually the fashion there was more American than in the United States". With his roommate, a painter, he perfected his work on colour and prints. Then he headed for Paris, "because that's where it all begins”, where he organised his first catwalk show. The following year he decided to showcase his work in a lorry on wooden dummies covered with hessian. He would go around with his collections under his arm to present them himself to the stores. Fiercely solitary, he was determined to personally do work that he would later entrust to others in the form of salespeople or press officers. However, deep down, he was confident his efforts would, inevitably, be rewarded. Then came the first decisive meetings with people from this world, who believe in his work, wear it, talk about it. Finally, in 1994, still in Paris, he launched his label, and surrounded himself with a team. He started off working for a few customers before eventually being sold around the world: Barneys in New York, Selfridges in London or Net-a-porter. But when David decided to move to the Belgian capital, weary of the Parisian indolence that was hampering his work – the deliveries that never arrived on time, the long and tedious procedures, the "typically socialist" lack of rigour – his team was reluctant to follow. It was 2010, and time, once again, to reinvent, first of all at the same pace, with the team that has stayed behind in Paris. Then more quietly, in smaller teams, he overhauled his collections and the number of clients. Without ever damaging DNA of the brand, the demand for absolute femininity was crossbred with an elaborate structure. Today, in 2016, his creative adventure is taking a new turn. David Szeto is taking his first, elegant but firm steps into the world of footwear. The spring-summer collection still includes some garments, but it will be followed this winter by a collection of shoes only. Clothes will make a comeback for spring 2017. Reinvent, restart, re-innovate: simply classic David Szeto.