In Nei Hoi, better known as Gemma Hoi, is a Macau-born fashion designer who recently established her own label in New York City, USA.
Gemma is preparing a collection to be presented during the New York Fashion Week (NYFW) next month, becoming the first ever Macau designer to present in the prestigious event.
To learn more how about how preparations for the event are going and the designer’s feelings ahead of this major international debut, the Times interviewed Hoi.
Macau Daily Times (MDT) – For those that don’t know you well, can you recount a bit of your story and explain how you started in this industry?
Gemma Hoi (GH) – I was born and raised in Macau. My father was a menswear designer, so it was under his influence that I wanted to engage in fashion design since I was little.
At 18 years of age, I started sending out resumes to different design companies in Macau.
To my surprise – since I had no prior experience in the field whatsoever – a company called Estawon granted me an interview. They were originally in search of designers with at least four years’ experience, but the head of the department at the time, Anne Chou, also the first to see my profile, thought she’d give me a shot.
After three rounds of interviews, Anne gave me the last challenge, which was to illustrate designs according to a set theme. Three hours later, I came out of the conference room that was used as the place for challenge, and handed in my design, which I was quite confident with. Then they told me “Gemma, welcome to Estawon,” and so I became the youngest fashion designer of the company.
MDT – What are your principles in relation to the fashion design industry, what values do you represent and what inspires you to create new items and new collections?
GH – Well, I think the current fashion market is no longer [made] of beautiful clothes, so I am only creating meaningful clothes [instead].
In Italian, the word Gemma means jewels or gems, and that was the name that I picked for myself as well as for my brand, because I believe every woman has her own unique luster, or quality, that will make her shine. However, it takes time and effort, and especially self-confidence to explore and express this unique “charisma.”
In a scientific study conducted in the United States’ Northwestern University, it was proved that “one’s choice of outfit and style does reflect and influence his or her emotion, health, and confidence.” Therefore, I personally pay [a great deal of] attention to how my designs can bring that positivity and confidence out of my customers. This is very meaningful to me, because although on a present and narrow scope, we are just making clothes, on a more futuristic and broader scope, the beauty and comfort brought by the clothing can also change a person’s life through bringing more positivity.
We all want to be special at some point, and there are many things that we can study and explore to help to find what makes each and every one of us special, and this is what inspires me to design.
MDT – How was the move from Macau to NYC? What challenges did you face?
GH – When I first arrived in America, the language was my greatest challenge. My mother tongue is Cantonese, yet to become a designer of the international market, I had to break through the language barrier. Luckily, art and design doesn’t necessarily have a boundary, as visual language is rather universal.
It is because of the visuals I present that Parsons School of Design recognized my talent, and thus granted me acceptance, since I wasn’t able to submit my application through the usual methods.
MDT – You are going to present a collection for the first time at NYFW. How do you feel about it?
GH – I’ve always dreamed about being part of the New York Fashion Week, and it has always been one of the biggest motivators that drove me to leave the peaceful hometown of Macau to the gigantic city of New York.
I still remember the first day when I arrived with two large suitcases, as I walked out of JFK Airport. I vividly recall how nervous I was when I was having trouble communicating in my less-than- proficient English. Yet surprisingly, here I am, after four years, being able to present a solo exhibition at the One World Trade Center last year, and this year, I finally entered New York Fashion Week.
I’m truly grateful for all the opportunities of growth that this city has offered me. I’m so proud now to say that “I am a fashion designer, and I come from Macau.”
MDT – Regarding your design, do you think that the fact you lived in different place, and with a quite different culture, influences you in any way?
GH – Yes, I believe design is reflected and influenced by the creators’ history, culture, and personality.
For example, my experiences at the patternmaking department of 3.1.Phillip Lim taught me the different possibilities that can be achieved through creating new patterns.
Another experience of mine in Marchesa’s couture department inspired me through the usage of mix-and-match materials to create expansive extravagance. It is through these western influences, and my own eastern background, that I now express a culturally balanced style of design.
MDT – What are you presenting at NYFW? What inspired you to created it?
GH – I named my collection “Time Traveller 1940s.” The collection is inspired by the uniforms of America’s female factory workers. The 1940s was a dramatic period of time when America was involved in World War II, and it was also the second bloom of the women’s rights movement [after] the 1920s.
These historical facts symbolize the rising from the ashes of womens’ rights, and embody the spirit of courage, freedom and democracy. Denim is a symbolic fabric, perhaps the most, in American history, and its toughness and ever-changing definition played a huge role in the evolution of women’s gender role. I hope my audiences can view this collection from a symbolic standpoint, and engage in the history, more than viewing the collection as a row of products.
MDT – What do you expect from NYFW? What will it represent to you?