In conversation with: Karlmond Tang
Karlmond Tang’s entry into fashion was an unconventional start, set for a career in accountancy, he went for a year abroad to Shanghai where he was ushered into the fashion world, finding a way to channel his dormant creative abilities.
Starting out unknowing of what the future would bring, but with a sheer willingness to learn, his career has gone from success to success. His portfolio shows an acute understanding of how to balance the requirements of style, audience and art. Using a plethora of artistic references in his work, he balances the line between stylist and art director, which in this interview, he shows comes from a deep understanding for the collaborative nature of the role.
Speaking to Karlmond, he describes his journey from its beginnings in Shanghai to his favourite project with fashion e-commerce website Okini, and from it, there is a wealth of information and guidance to be found.
How did you get into fashion?
Growing up in a traditional Chinese family, I was encouraged to pursue a career in finance or medicine because that was how they saw one achieving financial success. I know it’s a stereotype that Asian parents want their children to become doctors, it’s still prevalent. So, I studied Chinese and Economics at university and had an internship lined up at an accountancy firm, but between it I decided to take a year off and go to Shanghai.
I was already interested in clothes but never considered it as a career. While I was in Shanghai, a friend brought me to a fashion event, knowing I was interested in it. At the event someone approached me asking if I worked in fashion, which I of course said no to, and told me I should and that he would put me in touch with a stylist he knew. He saw something in me even though I had no background in fashion.
That’s definitely not your average story!
It was a bit surreal. Sometimes it feels like a made-up story when I think about it. But it makes sense in that Shanghai is a city driven by networking. It’s full of expats and people meet each other every single day. It’s such a transient city that you might meet someone one day and never see them again. But in just one night, you can learn so much and potentially even find a business partner. Shanghai is full of fascinating stories and it’s one of my absolute favourite places in the world.
I firmly believe in being in the right place at the right time. Success is based on hard work and talent, but also on meeting the right people. That moment for me was when that man approached me and changed my entire life. If it weren’t for that conversation, I wouldn’t be working in this industry. I can’t think of another way I would have ended up here because at the time, I was still looking for finance and business internships. Fashion wasn’t even on my radar.
So what happened from there?
Well, the stylist got in touch with me, his name was Claremont Claremont, and I ended up going to his studio, which was huge, it had enormous mirrors and arches, it was amazing. He sat me down and told me he was a stylist. He said he saw something in me even though I had no background in fashion.
I started shadowing him and remember arriving at the house three days later wearing a suit because that was all I had. He looked at me, changed my tie, gave me a different belt, and even changed my glasses. Then we went to the event he was working at and I spent the whole day just guessing what I was supposed to do and not really knowing what was going on.
Would you ever give someone a chance, like he gave you?
100%, I learned so much from my mentor and the knowledge he imparted has significantly impacted my career and approach to mentoring others. I believe in passing on knowledge and providing opportunities to those who seek them. I was fortunate to have someone believe in me and offer me a chance, which I will always cherish.
What is one of the most favourite projects that you’ve worked on in your career?
When I was asked to take over the website Okini, they gave me complete creative freedom. My concept was to make the website feel more like an experience rather than just a webpage. This was before AI and 3D experiences were popular, so I wanted to focus on the use of whitespace. I wanted to create a feeling like you were looking into the website, rather than just at it.
We came up with the idea of a photo shoot where we integrated dances, flowers, and models moving in the air. It was paired with spherical graphics that we strategically placed throughout the website. The result was something that felt like an immersive experience.
You art directed the shoot as well as styled it. What are your thoughts on art direction?
I would perhaps consider myself a creative art director, as opposed to the above. I find the modern use of art direction a bit of a bloated term, and too easy for people to self-proclaim themselves as art directors. To me, the traditional term ‘art director’ in an editorial is someone who has a graphic skill set and can work alongside the editor to visually put everything together.
Fabian Baron is one of the greatest art directors who I think embodies this idea with his beautiful layouts that marry text, fonts, and imagery in a harmonious way. Alexey Brodovitch was a great art director from the magazine era who had incredible layouts where images and words were so intertwined across the page.
These are examples of people who know how to enable everyone’s creative skillset to create a cohesive concept. It’s imperative, as good art direction should always be about the collective output!
What advice would you give to a budding stylist?
I guess you could say that my finance background has really shaped the way I approach things. Analysing and applying logic to decisions just comes naturally to me, and it’s definitely one of my strongest skills. When it comes to styling, there’s so much to think about. It’s not just about throwing together an outfit and hoping it looks good. You have to think about the brand, the target audience, the subcategories of clothing, and even the price points. It’s a lot to keep track of, but I’ve developed a process that works for me.
The first thing I always consider when styling is how to make it visually appealing for the consumer while still representing the brand’s identity. From there, I break down the pieces into specific subcategories and price points, and then figure out how to shoot it in a way that appeals to all of those categories.
I really believe that organisation is key to being a successful stylist. When I go into a room, I’ve fully prepared for the day well in advance so that I can sail through it with no stress. Ultimately, the skill set that I would advise any budding stylist to develop is a work process that works for them. It’s important to be organised, process-driven, and to have a level head. And of course, it’s always important to trust your gut instinct. By doing all of these things, you can make sure that you’re putting together the best possible looks for your clients, while also creating a stress-free and positive shooting environment.
One thing that’s really important to me when it comes to doing your own photo shoots or working in any creative field is the importance of referencing. It’s crucial to steer clear of referencing other fashion or photo shoots. Instead, draw inspiration from real people, experiences, and history books. Take a look at what’s happening around you and pull from that. It’s easy to get caught up in referencing a photo shoot that may have referenced another, and another, and so on. Of course, there are times when referencing other photographers or stylists can be helpful. For example, if you like a particular photographer’s style or way of capturing light, it’s worth studying their work. In my own experience, I tend to reference photographers more than stylists because I’m drawn to their unique lens and perspective.
When it comes to specific themes or topics, such as military fashion, don’t look to other fashion shoots for inspiration. Instead, take a look at real soldiers and what they wore. There’s so much to be gained from referencing things that actually existed or happened, rather than simply relying on fantasy.
That being said, sci-fi and fantasy can still be great sources of inspiration. However, it’s important to make sure that the inspiration you draw from these genres doesn’t become too detached from reality. So, while I encourage exploring the realm of fantasy, it’s crucial to remember the value of referencing real people, experiences, and history in any creative endeavour.
You can find more of Karlmond’s work on his website here.