Christian Stone is the Hong Kong-born designer producing crochet balaclavas, backpack boots and a whole lot more. Graduating from Central Saint Martins, Christian Stone’s brand combines extravagant designs with playful cut-outs and motifs. His designs have donned the likes of Coi Leray, A$AP Rocky and Billie Eilish.
Stone experiments with bold, neon colour palettes and voluminous silhouettes, resulting in a collection of futuristic designs that would be as at home within the digital world as they are on the runway. His ability to blend larger-than-life boots with delicate, disintegrated knits propels his looks into the 21st century, and beyond.
Despite his success creating exciting, innovative clothing designs, Stone didn’t always plan on being a designer. We caught up with the designer to talk through his journey in designing, his creative process and the iconic crochet balaclavas.
How did you get into designing – was it a passion before CSM?
Yes, designing has always been a passion of mine. However, it wasn’t my goal to become a fashion designer at the beginning – I actually wanted to design toys for a living. Throughout my childhood, I always made and customised my own toys, which brought me immense joy. If I wasn’t building something from scratch, I would be breaking apart existing toys, then reconstructing the fragments into something new, which mostly made my mum quite mad.
Despite this, my interest in these little DIY projects has allowed me to live in my own creative world and play with my own creations. During my teenage years, I wanted to study in an art school in order to pursue a career in toy design. When I first started the Foundation course at UAL, I was going to apply for the BA in Product and Industrial Design. It wasn’t until our tutor made us work with fabrics for a fashion project that I realised that the way I would go about making a piece of toy can also be applied to creating garments. If designing a toy is about working around different parts of a simple mechanism and forming a certain function in the end, then designing clothes is just about the same to me, but with fabric on a body.
It was very refreshing to suddenly be able to design with a totally different medium and present my outcome as garments, when my creative process is the same as how I would design a toy. This revelation excited me, and with my tutors’ encouragement, I chose to apply for the Womenswear Design course at CSM for my BA instead. Fortunately, so far, I have never regretted my decision – and likely never will.
From that, what has life been like post-graduation? How have you got to where you are now?
After I graduated, I was fortunate enough to be featured in the V-Files runway show during New York Fashion Week. It was a fruitful experience which has put my name on people’s radar and helped me garner my first order with H-Lorenzo. It was then I realized that I might be able to start my own brand and potentially make it work.
Although the conception of Christian Stone the brand seemed quite straightforward, the journey of building the brand has been extremely tough mentally and physically. Because I started out relatively strong with V-Files and H-Lorenzo, I think I was quite naîve and arrogant at the beginning. I would apply to different opportunities without adequate experience or credentials, and expect that I would instantly be chosen. Obviously, I got endless rejections, and things didn’t work out like that which was disheartening but very humbling at the same time. I learned that in this industry, I cannot take any opportunities for granted, and most of the time, it just takes time and preparation to achieve certain goals. It has been an equal mix of despair and hopefulness that has got me to where I am now.
You mentioned the trials and tribulations of building a brand, which I’m sure apply to the design process too. Can you talk us through your creative process?
Yeah – I usually design for a certain fictional character in mind under a specific narrative. This character might be a spin-off version of certain characters from a video game, a TV show, or a book. Then I would start to gather research on what they do for a living, where they live, or how they carry themselves. Ultimately, I would have a mood board full of images that inspire me to design garments catering specifically to their lifestyle, their wardrobe needs, and character trades, and it goes from there!
You’ve spoken about your graduate collection as an ‘attempt to genetically alter the code of dress, making it into what it might be in the apocalyptic future’ which was really interesting – could you speak a bit more about this?
My graduate collection is titled “Mutant Artisanal”, and was inspired by the disheveled and transient nature of today’s world. New forms of technologies are quickly churned out, and past inventions are quickly forgotten and eliminated. My goal when making this collection was to create designs as artisanal clothing with the mood around artifacts that look partially prehistoric and familiar, but at the same time, bizarrely new and functional.
To achieve this, I cut up second-hand garments and forcefully combined them in the most inharmonious ways, almost like altering their DNA as a metaphoric means to reviving ‘dead’, obsolete technologies back into their second lives like brand new forms of hybrids. The collection in the end appeared as strange inventions which found themselves in the creation of human’s ancient ancestors, but subsequently became new clothing inventions for the dystopian streets, perfect for zombies and mutants to wear who are surviving in this turbulent, apocalyptic world.
Aside from that collection, do you have a main source of inspiration?
Yes, my main inspiration has always been functionalities within everyday garments and objects. I am most interested in subverting expectations of functions and concepts of dysfunctionality. Coming up with “the functional twist” has always been an important design approach for me, therefore I observe what people are wearing on the streets every day, why they need certain pieces of garments, and how they are using their clothing in order to turn functions on their heads. I want to redefine them and create something new.
Artists such as Anna Uddenberg, Banksy, and Marcel Duchamp, whose sculptures touch on recontextualising functions, along with many unknown creators of certain cursed images of dysfunctioning objects online are my source of inspiration to name a few.
Your balaclavas are iconic and have already attracted a lot of attention. Do you have a favourite design to make or wear?
I love making my balaclavas, and I am very glad that people love them! Recently, trousers are my favourite garments to design. I love the fact that different trousers can make a person sit, stand and walk differently. And just changing the trousers can drastically alter the whole silhouette and the vibe of a person.
It was cool to see A$AP Rocky wearing your designs! How did this come about?
I actually had no idea A$AP Rocky was going to wear my design until the music video came out. I did not receive any request or communicate with his team beforehand, so when my work was credited on Instagram for the video, I was really shook!
Because A$AP was wearing the exact style of the headpiece I had just sold to H-Lorenzo, he or his team must have purchased it directly from there. Much later, I stumbled upon an interview of A$AP Rocky on Youtube, he said that everything he wears, he actually purchased. Evidently, he really meant what he said.
If you had to describe yourself and your work, how would you do so? Are they linked or separate entities?
I would describe my work as a wearable medium that transforms people physically and emotionally. Actually, the swing tag on all my products in stores has a caption that reads “Feel The Transformation”. This is me telling the person who is putting on my designs to enjoy the transformative experience in becoming a more empowered character who celebrates individuality because the shapes I create are designed to give the wearer a strong and edgy silhouette, and the colour palettes I use are meant to make them stand out.
My personality and my work are definitely linked. I’d like to think that my sense of humour is what constitutes the playfulness in my designs.
Do you have any advice for emerging designers, from your own experiences or what you wish you’d known starting out?
I don’t think I am very qualified to give advice because I am also still learning as a young designer! But I would suggest having a couple of signature products – that would really help. For instance, my brand is known for the Geisha Backpack Boots and crochet balaclavas. These designs are what I would like to call my “heroes” because they are the first items people would recognise and subsequently buy from Christian Stone, and these are the products that have helped open doors for me and got me where I am now.
I wish I could have learned to not compare myself to others, and be more forgiving towards myself when certain opportunities didn’t work out much earlier on. Building a business is like a very long marathon, it is not worth it to have crippling depression over lost opportunities. It is much better to just learn from the mistakes and move on.
Great advice! What’s next for Christian Stone?
I am getting into production for SS22, and I am in the process of making my online shop and website. It would make me very happy to see more people enjoying and wearing my designs as much as I enjoy creating them!