A Word With - Cassey Gan
Mix Oxygen(O) and Magnesium(Mg) and you’ll get an explosive chemical reaction certain to set tongues wagging. Certainly, fashion designer CASSEY GAN is OMG at its best (see what we did there?). Despite hanging up her lab coat and kissing her chemical engineering days goodbye, Gan’s intuitive knowledge of how to stimulate reactions has not gone amiss since her transition into the exciting world of fashion. In 2012, shortly after graduating from the London College of Fashion, Vogue Italia featured Gan as one of 30 future talents to look out for. In 2013, she launched her eponymous fashion label to wide acclaim. And now, despite being only in her early 30s, Gan has earned herself a reputable standing for talent and clientele around the Asian region. From mixing chemicals in the laboratory to prepping her models backstage, the once soft-spoken girl in the sterile white lab coat is a far cry from the self-assured fashion designer that stands in her place today.
Today, in her quiet little studio in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Gan showcases her impressive work ethic by being present and involved in every step of her fashion business. From conceptualisation to production, every little detail counts. And nowhere is this best seen than in her minimalist studio: her home away from home. Divided between showroom and workspace, her studio makes a fascinating study of precision. Though filled hangers abound and there are more colourful rolls of fabric that you could possibly count, each and every single thing has its exact place in the room. The importance of being precise in both her designs and surroundings is one skill that Gan has brought over from her lab days. Bringing her creations to life goes through a painstakingly meticulous process of testing out her designs by physically mixing prints and having them drawn out (many thanks to the good-old scientific method). Yet, with all this talk about science we can’t help but wonder: what inspired Gan to abandon the lab for the fashion studio?
For Gan, it was both a secret life-long passion and a leap of faith. She had pretty much been a ‘brainiac’ in school. Sticking to what she was good at, she went on to further her studies in chemical engineering in Australia but something didn't quite felt right while she was mixing chemicals and compounds in a white lab coat.
So instead, Gan followed the restless urge within her and began working for a women’s fashion magazine in Malaysia. However, it wasn't editorial that had caught her eye, but the rows and rows of high-end garments that kept coming through the office. Gan was so intrigued, she was adamant on being a part of the fashion world, even if it meant going back to school for another four years. Taking the plunge, she went on to pursue a fashion design degree at the London College of Fashion.
It paid off. To her great shock and delight, shortly after graduating in 2012, her designs were featured in Vogue Italia in their global edition of “Discovering Fashion’s Future Generations of Talents.” This nod from such renowned publication motivated her to keep working on her dream.
Upon her return to Malaysia, she launched her debut fashion label, Cassey Gan. A touch minimalist and a dash of maximalism, Cassey Gan covets flare and comfort: two things often overlooked by mainstream fashion. Gan’s particular emphasis on non-conforming shapes ensures that the label’s pieces are as comfortable as they can possibly be. Every piece in her studio lives up to this idea of being shapeless in nature, yet perfectly wearable at the same time. Apart from comfort, colour is a big focus for Gan. From dresses to bibs, all kinds of vibrant colours are experimented without being too over the top or loud. Her pieces are a clever, yet mysterious combination of subtle and statement. And though Gan’s print-on-print idea is far from novel, her label’s take on it is enticing.
It quickly becomes clear that Gan’s inspirations are drawn from different settings, artwork, visuals, concepts, and personal experiences. Pinned neatly on soft boards are clippings of dozens of local and international scenes that act as her main inspirations. She revels in new environments and perhaps, most interestingly, draws her ideas from the distinctive architecture she sees on her travels. All this comes together to form Gan’s true muse: The Cassey Gan Woman. In her words, the Cassey Gan Woman knows what she wants. She is quiet and appreciates comfort in her daily life. In this way, it feels as though Gan speaks for every woman. Believe it or not, women do care about comfort! (Yes, it’s true – bras are not comfortable and stilettos are agonising.) The quest for comfort has been a surprising hurdle in dressing up, what with fashion’s common adage: no pain, no gain. For Cassey Gan, the idea that fashionable and comfortable being mutually exclusive is wrong. She believes that the key to comfort is to find an outfit that accentuates figures in just the right places.
For a petite lady, the endless amount of energy Gan pours into her ideas was amusing, just as it was awing. She cites her work ethic to the three months she spent working under Alexander McQueen. “Everyone was very hardworking,” said Gan. There, she had the opportunity to witness the amount of time and energy put into the label’s production, and that experience helped to mould Gan into becoming the designer she is today. The bright fashion scene she had experienced during her years in UK has greatly influenced her pieces. That said, being back in Malaysia has also done a great deal in shaping her designs in terms of uncovering the rich culture in her home soil. “Subconsciously, my designs are inspired by the culture I was born into and what I'm surrounded with now,” said Gan. But remaining local isn't enough for this promising designer. She aspires to see Cassey Gan expanding into a menswear and kids collection in six years, as well as placing the moniker Cassey Gan in ten international cities. Eventually, she would like to venture out into the European market, but at present, expanding remains an obstacle with the issue of funds and manpower. This is a common struggle for all designers, as the unfortunate reality is that a fashion label’s production team takes up a lot of time, energy, and money in order for it to grow.
Currently, Gan’s own production team consists of a handful of seamstresses and Gan herself working around the clock. So for now, Gan will keep her feet firmly in the Asian soil, starting with a design showcase featuring her latest collection, Series 09, in Shanghai this April 2017.
Exposure – both local and international – is critical to the possibility of future expansion. Gan has graced the covers of countless of magazines including Elle and Harper’s Bazaar, but she credits the much-appreciated efforts of celebrities who support local designers by donning their pieces to be far more influential. Their actions inadvertently create a positive space for local designers to grow and flourish, such as Moto Guo and Joe Chia, two designers Gan greatly admires.
For many of the new startups trying to jump into the fashion scene, Gan believes that one’s drive will only lead them to attain success. “Nothing is impossible when you wish to have something. If you want it, you work for it”, said Gan, a modern pioneer of ‘next-door luxury’.
Quiet. Subtle. Hardworking. Her description of herself is spot on. It’s almost baffling to think how such a soft, shy person is able to produce such subtle and statement designs, but that paradox has made Gan an inspiration in achieving one’s true, lifelong dream. And with a recent show at the Shanghai Fashion Trade Show back in April and an upcoming one for KLFW 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, Cassey Gan is truly living up to the expectations of Vogue Italia as one of the world’s future talents to look out for.
It's been about a year since we last spoke to Cassey Gan and featured her on our ongoing series "Around The Block with." Take a look at her creative process captured on film in Around The Block with Cassey Gan - Print Designer. Click on the image on the right and it'll take you directly to the video!