This weeks interview is with the lovely Ona Chan, she was born and raised in Toronto Canada. After graduating and moving to Hong Kong Ona pursued a career working in pr looking after luxury fashion brands, Ona later begun writing for Elle Singapore. Through her transitions in the industry she then discovered her found love for jewellery making, she then set up her jewellery label in 2010. I got the chance to catch up with the jewellery designer to find out what goes on in her world and what inspires her jewellery line.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us , Please introduce yourself- name, and place of birth?
Hi Donya-Patrice My name is Ona Chan and I’m a jewellery designer. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. My family has been in Canada since the early 1900s and I’m a 4th generation Canadian.
So tell us about your role in the company? and what inspired you to start up your own label?
Early on, before officially forming my company I generally did everything myself – design, production and sales. It was and still is hectic as I also have two middle school children and I want to be as involved with them as much as I can. But I love designing so I can’t stop. In the end, I will work well into the night for my designs – I need to design to sustain myself even if I have a few hours of sleep. I can’t say I was inspired to start my own company but more of an personal evolution. As a student, I wanted to study fine arts and specifically sculpt. But at the time, my parents were not so thrilled about me studying only art. During this period, my parents co-owned a clothing contracting company and trying to be practical, I decided to study fashion design. After graduating I ended moving to Hong Kong. It was my first time in Hong Kong and I was working as a liaison for a Chinese factory…I hated that job and eventually moved into PR for luxury brands – Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci. Gucci had the biggest impact on me. It was the height of Tom Ford and it was his thought process and vision that helped me develop an understanding of branding and how it works with design. I married in 1998 and we left Hong Kong for New York in ’98. But as a Canadian I couldn’t work initially….I ended up writing for Elle Singapore during Fashion week in 2001. But in Sept 2001, 9/11 happened and so much changed so quickly. I stopped working. Not know what to do I decided to go back and study art. This is when I discovered that I loved to carve. For me I was returning to my first love of sculpting. I set up a mini studio in our apartment and began carving 13 years ago just before my daughter was born. I began to sell commissioned pieces by 2007. In 2008 my husband was transferred back to Hong Kong and that was when I seriously looked into jewellery as my next career. By 2009, I began visiting jewellery shows to source jewellers and manufacturers who could help me make samples. I found a few people who I could work with, I tested out every piece I designed and then it was time to officially register and start my company. That was in Oct 2010.
Were are you currently based?
We currently live in Hong Kong, but it’s difficult to say how long we will stay. Previously we were in New York for 10 years. It would be great to have the opportunity to live in London or Tokyo.
Could you tell us a bit about your work? What was your inspiration for your latest collection?
For most of my work is inspired from my environment. Now that we live in Hong Kong, we backpack a lot. When I see something I like, whether its jewellery, art, products, something cool mechanically cool, it can be anything – I try to keep a record of it with my iPhone. There are many ideas filed away in my mind and I need to record it somehow through images and drawings. When I’m ready to design, I will take from my pile of images and sort them.
My latest collection is Lattice. We were hiking towards the Himalayan Mountains on a range called Leaping Tiger Gorge and Lijian was the city we stayed in. This is where I found this inspiration. The design is based on the lattice window treatment found in Chinese architecture. I love the idea of taking a tradition architectural form and giving it a modern take. It’s elegant and carries strength.
Is there anyone in particular e.g jewellery or fashion designer that inspire you? Who’s your favourite and why?
When I first started I would have to say designers like Miuccia Prada and Tom Ford probably because I worked in those companies…but the two are so different in their approach to design. Miuccia Prada to me, is very academic in her approach and Tom Ford is more sensual. Recently, my tastes have changed because I have different roles in my life. I have pieces from Stella McCartney, Celine, Alexander Wang, Fendi, Alexander McQueen etc. For me it’s more about the silhouette and overall look that I aim for. As for new designers, I like the imagination of Mary Katrantzou. She has some beautiful ideas and I like her use of mix fabrics. In jewellery, its so hard to say….I like history and the strength of Repossi, the elegance of Ten Thousand Things and the spirit of Made Her Think. But honestly…there are many great artists.
Are there any celebrities you would love to see wearing you jewellery?
Absolutely….When I first started designing in NY, my son took swim classes with one other boy named Joe and his mom is Kate Winslet…I was dying to show her my work but never had the courage to ask her. I loved watching her movies and it was around the time she did “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”. Not so long ago, Debra Messing wore two of my pieces which is fantastic. She has such a beautiful face and she is so funny. I’m drawn to strong personalities and if i really needed to chose I would pick personalities like, Emma Watson for her intelligence, Kerry Washington as her role in Scandal, Rosamund Pike for her grace. Where do you work on your designs and projects? Most of my work is done at my home office. It an organised mess but I like it that way.
Is there any particular music that you listen to whilst designing?
Lately, I’ve been listening to covers – I love how great songs can be re-interpreted and sound completely amazing. What’s one of your favourite cities in the world? I love Hong Kong. It is one of my favourite cities. There is no other city like it. The city is full of contrast and contradictions. Most tourists generally see it as city with crazy skyscrapers and neon lights against the harbour but there is a beautiful secret side of it with mountains, beaches and villages all within 45 minutes from the city.
Where can we find Ona Chan ? e.g. Twitter, Instagram, Online stores?
In London – Wolf and Badger, Hong Kong – Plukka, in Los Angeles – Boyajian Trend Gallery, I also do pop-ups in Osaka/Tokyo, Trunk shows with Bloomingdales – New York/Boston – and I have a website www.onachan.com .
What are your future plans for Ona Chan?
My next immediate plan is my next collection. We were recently hiking in Bhutan and I’m dying to put down my ideas. As for a long term goal – I would love to expand more in the US.
Do you have any tips for the young aspiring jewellery designers out there?
Everyone will tell you, “do what you love” and for me, it is absolutely true. If you love it, you will keep striving and find a way to get what you want. There are many distractions and pitfalls along the way but keep to the course. Those who aren’t up for the task will fall to the wayside.