Fashion Designer Extraordinaire with a Far-Reaching Aesthetic
The demure Manhattan fashion designer Vivienne Tam commands a vast global empire: her signature frocks retail from China to Russia, Qatar, the entire USA and on to the Philippines, and her finely honed design sensibility is making its mark on technology, luxury hotels, television and even film. What’s the basis for such unprecedented design diversification?
“To me, design is a way to bridge East and West cultures,” says Tam, who is no stranger to superpower China. She was born in Guangdong. As a toddler, she moved to Hong Kong, later studying at Hong Kong Polytechnic University before heading to the States.
When she was first captivated by the singularly spare, elegant arts of the East, Tam says others in Asia were looking to the West. “My focus was always Hong Kong,” she says. Since the launch of her fashion line, everything has been produced in Hong Kong and China.
Hands down, Tam is an innovator. Recently, tech giant Hewlett-Packard approached her with a cutting-edge design project: a new, slimmed-down netbook computer.
In Tam’s hands, the HP products are no routine laptops. “They’re digital clutches, an accessory,” she says of the HP Mini 1000 and HP Mini 210. The first version is emblazoned in red with the peony, the national flower of China, and the second, “Butterfly Lovers,” features the winged symbols of love superimposed on a gold, lacquer-like background.
“I wanted to bring the very colors and life of nature to the computer,” says Tam of her HP designs, which merge fashion, technology and art. Already, her digital clutches are drawing major league attention.
“The attraction of our Vivienne Tam collection tells of fashion and art integrated with lifestyle, but at the same time, it’s so practical,” says Stacy Wolff, HP’s Director of Notebook Design.
“You can put her digital clutches on the conference table and toss it in your purse,” he continues. “It’s the ultimate East-meets-West statement.”
Wolff reports that sales of “the first generation of Tam’s collection”—the red “Peony” model—far exceeded expectations.
Tam is also a pivotal player in the brand of the swank Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, which holds a stunning 41 hotels, resorts and residences and total assets of a staggering $2.1 billion. She designed their ubiquitous fan symbol, which identifies them globally and is central to their sophisticated international ad campaigns. Recently, Tam headed up the personality-packed ribbon cutting ceremonies for the sparkling new Mandarin Oriental Macao. She is one of the hotel chain’s “ambassadors,” along with acclaimed architect I.M. Pei, actress Helen Mirren and retailing entrepreneur Sir David Tang.
Tam’s forays into film include designing clothing for the characters in the Sony Animax movie LaMB. “It was an opportunity to do something futuristic,” says Tam of her designs, which she describes as “chic but simple.”
In addition, she is expanding the presence of her fashion label. Only a few weeks ago, Tam opened a large boutique at Hong Kong’s Heritage 1881. Right now, she is planning on more stores in Asia, beginning with Shanghai and Beijing.
In fact, Tam’s inspired Asian design emphasis has long been ahead of the curve. She launched her fashion line first in 1994 and snapped up the Council Fashion Designers of America’s award for New Fashion Talent only a scant three years later. In her book China Chic, she took readers on a highly personal journey through Zen gardens, the classic cheongsam and Ming furniture.
Early on, her fashion designs received the rarified museum seal of approval. Her work is included in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, among others.
“America gave me enormous opportunities, and lately, Hong Kong and China are where I’m seeing the most growth,” she says.