This should be a trying time for Vivienne Tam. After all, she’s preparing to open a retail flagship in SoHo this month, just as political tensions mount in her native Hong Kong, which reverts to Chinese control July 1. Not only did Tam grow up in the Far East colony, she now sells her designs in four licensed boutiques there.
But the designer, who posted sales of more than $5 million last year, remains unfazed and as determined to succeed as she was when she showed her first collections here under the label East Wind Code, a company she formed in 1983. “I feel very positive about it because, you see, there is so much opening up in China,” she said. “It’s very different from before.”
The designer and her family fled mainland China for refuge in Hong Kong in 1960, “because there was freedom there.”
“I know a lot of people are really scared, including people who have different citizenships who are working in my boutiques. But I have a very good feeling about it,” Tam said in an interview last week at her Seventh Avenue showroom, which visitors enter through 300-year-old, iron-coated doors imported from Beijing. “This creates an energy over there to start thinking new again,” she added.
This season also found Tam taking a new fashion tack — playing to the masculine-feminine trend of the moment with herringbone trousers, tweed pantsuits and oversized sweaters, often shown with white cotton tanks and big-shouldered jackets. Her beautiful signature evening looks were replaced with velvet tunics and pants and micro-mini fake suede and tulle concoctions.
Tam, who launched her own label in 1994 and is also putting the finishing touches on her new boutique at 99 Greene Street, hopes to expand with licensing ventures for knitwear, shoes and accessories. She has already garnered fans around the world with her Pop-Art printed or embroidered interpretations of such Chinese icons as dragons, goldfish and Chairman Mao.
“When you look at my forms, they are all Western, but the embroidery and trims, they are traditional and based in history,” Tam said. “When you combine the two, it becomes a new thing.”
As for the future of Hong Kong, she feels that it could prove to be a gateway to China for the West, both economically and politically. The transformation to Chinese rule also offers an opportunity for Hong Kong residents whose roots lie in China to explore their ancestry.
“I remember growing up in Hong Kong, where you don’t know who you are. At Catholic school, you study using hymns, you join the choir, and then you go home,” said Tam. She was raised in a Buddhist household but now believes in “a universal spirituality.”