Han Chong talks 10 years of self-portrait & women being women

Han Chong talks 10 years of self-portrait & women being women

by Juliette Eleuterio
7 min

Don’t you love it when women just? Us too, and so does Han Chong, the Founder and Creative Director of self-portrait. Adored by the likes of Amelia Gray, Gigi Hadid, and Emily Ratjakowski, who have both appeared in numerous campaigns for the brand, and recently spotted on Paris Hilton while celebrating Christmas with her long-time bestie Kim Kardashian, self-portrait has always been and continues to be for the girlies.

Embracing the feminine look, self-portrait isn’t just a brand filled with pretty clothing – although, one quick scroll through self-portrait’s website and you might start kicking yourself for not having ordered a dress for New Year’s Eve (don’t worry, there’s always next year). When founding his brand 10 years ago, Han Chong had a clear mission in mind: provide an affordable yet luxurious solution.

Priced on the lower end in the luxury market, self-portrait has surpassed its status of just a brand, and has now been catapulted into the cultural zeitgeist. How? By redefining the modern woman’s wardrobe and by juxtaposing luxurious, vivid, flashy, and often sequin-adorned pieces with a realistic lifestyle depiction. Taking care of the kids? Enjoying a coffee in a roadside Parisian café? Sun-lounging or driving around? All can be done while wearing self-portrait.

To celebrate the decade milestone, we caught up with Han Chong to talk about the beginnings of and the days ahead for self-portrait, his early Central Saint Martins days, and his main inspiration: women.

@mrselfportrait ©

2023 was a big year for you, celebrating 10 years of self-portrait. How do you think your brand has evolved over this past decade?

Over the last 10 years we have been able to build a really strong creative language and

community here at self-portrait. There is a lot of trust and understanding between us and our customers, which has led to a very loyal and respectful customer base. Watching the brand grow and our communities grow alongside one another has been very rewarding and something which motivates us all at self-portrait every day.

Looking back at self-portrait’s history, did you have an ‘I’ve made it’ moment, an event, a drop or a seal of approval that changed the course of the brand?

I’m driven predominantly by instinct, and this has helped me to develop and design campaigns and collections purely intuitively – as a creative person, I think I’m always too focused on the next thing and don’t have the capacity to think about what other people think of every activation or collection. 

But there have of course been moments and milestones for the brand that I have been incredibly proud of; from our campaigns with icons of our industry Bella Hadid, Gigi Hadid, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Irina Shayk, to launching a new Group (SP Collection), to getting really excited when a dress sells out online. There are so many indicators that tell me we’re on the right track – these are usually gut reactions, and as long as our customers are happy, that’s all that matters!

Let’s go back 20 years now. In 2003, you arrived in London to study at the prestigious Central Saint Martins. Was owning and creating for your own brand always the goal while studying?

I never had a fixed goal in mind when I was studying – I just enjoyed learning and creating. When I graduated, I balanced both art and fashion for a while, and it wasn’t until years later that I put my professional focus into one thing and fashion became my priority. 

Moving from Malaysia to London to study completely changed my life, and that’s one of the reasons why I started a scholarship with Central Saint Martins 5 years ago, to provide guidance and support to the next generation of talent to realise their creative ambitions.

Then, 10 years later is when you founded self-portrait. What was the ultimate motivator that convinced you to start your own brand?

I had been designing for a while, and at a certain point I realised that there was a space in the market for a brand that made brilliantly designed pieces for women at an honest price point – a brand that gave its customers permission to be who they are. I wanted to create work that touched people and when establishing self-portrait, I wanted to design collections that made women feel like themselves, that empowered them at any stage of their lives.

Knowing everything you know now, is there anything you would have done differently? 

I’ve always lived my life without regrets. Starting and running a business will always present

challenges but I’ve learnt as I go, and have used my instinct and advice from my mentors in the community to guide me. So I don’t think there’s anything that I would shapeshift!

@mrselfportrait ©

The aim, and the outcome, was always to make affordable and accessible clothing for women. Why is that so important to you?

I wanted my clothes to be accessible to all women. I’m a realist and know that women shouldn’t have to break their bank balance to look and feel good – and I’m hopeful that I can be a solution to that. We had amazing support from wholesalers right from the start who were missing this kind of brand, which gave me the reassurance that I needed, and we’ve never looked back.

Do you have women in your life that inspire you to design?

From a very young age, I’ve been inspired by my family and a close group of friends around me that I’ve gathered from around the world. I grew up watching women take great joy in dressing up for any occasion. I still get mesmerised with their outfits, the rituals and the joy it brings and this really continues to fuel my work.

Your designs are very glitzy-glam, often showing up on red carpets and for high-publicity events, but your campaigns on the other hand, such as the recent one with Emily Ratjakowski, captures women living their everyday lives, whether driving in the car or cooking up in the kitchen. What do you attribute these two opposites to?

It makes me feel proud that you ask this question because it summarises our customer and the women we speak to. Women are so nuanced and have so many facets and layers to their personality. The joy of what I do comes from designing for women with different attitudes and ways of living their lives – no same customer is the same and I love the idea of being able to celebrate this through my campaigns and work. It’s what makes designing collections so interesting.

Describe the self-portrait woman in three words.

She’s always herself.

Looking ahead, what do you want for the next decade of self-portrait?

I’m always looking for new creative ways to speak to our customers and to bring our brand to life, be it through pop-ups or bespoke activations and campaigns. It’s such an exciting time for us. I’m always thinking about what’s next, so watch this space!

@mrselfportrait ©

Main credit image: Martin Parr

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