Womenswear designer Jonathan Liang relies on his throng of female friends and their honest opinions, especially when it comes to his designs.The Penang-born 29-year-old takes this sounding board -- women from "all walks of life" -- so seriously that he tweaks his designs based on their opinions.
He has, for instance, changed the material of a garment that a friend found uncomfortable and altered the design of a dress that was deemed "difficult to wear".
"I have no ego," says the soft-spoken designer who launched his eponymous label in 2015. "Women know what they want... what sort of detail they like."
The Paris-based designer says: "I design for women who are complex and elusive."
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But these women, says the bachelor, are not a "set type". "They vary from who I am hanging out with to who is visiting the studio at the moment."
Going by his latest Spring Summer 2017 collection, his friends seem to like dramatic clothing - tailored shirts with exaggerated ruffles and statement dresses embroidered with flowers - a brand signature inspired by his grandmother's flower garden in his hometown.
Liang was speaking at multi-label fashion retailer SocietyA, where he made his debut in February with selected styles from his Spring Summer 2017 collection.
Ms Lily Hamid, a buyer at SocietyA, says what drew her to his collection was its feminine yet strong aesthetic, as well as the use of beautifully embroidered fabric that Liang had helped to develop.
The pieces are priced between $389 and $759. They are available online at www.society-a.com or at the retailer's boutiques (03-14A Takashimaya Shopping Centre and Level 2 Tangs at Tang Plaza).
Ms Hamid says: "We didn't have to take long to decide to include him in our portfolio of designers... Jonathan's collection has a good balance of both the masculine and feminine."
Most pieces of his Spring Summer 2017 styles were snapped up quickly when they were launched in February, she adds, with the multi-label retailer having to place more orders to restock.
Liang, who has a background in fine arts, debuted on the fashion scene in 2009 when he took part in the Malaysia Fashion Week in Kuala Lumpur.
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He had showcased a "very student-like" collection inspired by the strong shoulder trend popularised by French brand Balmain at the time. Despite the self-deprecation, he won the Most Promising Designer of 2009 award.
"I've been drawing since I was young and I wanted to do something more three-dimensional, so I picked fashion.
"I guess an advantage of an arts background is that I can easily transfer ideas in my head onto paper," says Liang, who has two younger siblings in their 20s. His parents are divorced.
Internships at luxury fashion houses Givenchy and Dior soon followed, prompting him to move to Paris in 2011.
He also had stints at contemporary Malaysian fashion brand d.d collective and French contempor- ary brand Surface To Air.
Still, Liang admits that he was not confident when he started his label in 2015 with his friend and business partner Jake Chen, who is based in Melbourne.
He adds: "We treat this label like a start-up so, hopefully, once we're ready and take on more resources, we can grow at a more exponential rate."
His label is also stocked in department stores and boutiques in China, Beirut, Spain and Italy.
Liang says: "I'd like to say we're doing okay."
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Story originally appeared on The Straits Times.
PHOTO: Jonathan Liang