This may have been her first official collection, but Lori-Antoinette Williams, the creative mind behind the Hak Gwai line, has been sewing since the early age of seven. Taught by her mother to hand-stitch, she didn’t attempt clothing until she was fifteen years old, making bags and hemming skirts on the Singer machine given to her by her grandmother, until she started experimenting with tops and skirts herself, her best friend and her cousin.
‘It was a “try on, take off, cut and stitch” method of sewing… I’m still learning sewing techniques now,’ she says.
This did not deter her from deciding to debut the Hak Gwai line this year, saying yes to Tobago Fashion Weekend organizers after the FWTT runaround. And many are happy to have seen what Lori-Antoinette had to offer, with top designer Meiling giving her favourable mention following the event.
‘Remembering what was said [about the collection] fills me with great pride.’
Hak Gwai presented a collection filled with black and white graphic print fabric that definitely stood out from the crowd and fit in perfectly with this year’s monochrome trend. With her love of black and white striped fabrics, the designer decided to play with the pattern and create her own print, manipulating the fabric and cleverly aligning the stripes to create alternate shapes and patterns. After creating the Dani dress first, the rest of the collection soon followed.
So where does the name Hak Gwai come from?
‘It’s a Cantonese phrase meaning “black ghost”. Locally, it is used to describe a Chinese person of African parentage. The name of the label had to be more than just a name; it had to have a personality of its own. I played with several words that held great meaning to me and my life’s experiences… There is no name more fitting.’
And what about the Hak Gwai woman, besides Lori-Antoinette herself of course?
‘The woman who wears Hak Gwai is confident and mysterious. She loves classic silhouettes and enjoys mixing the then with the now.’
She draws inspiration from a host of designers and design aesthetics, both locally and internationally, unable to name just one favourite. However, she specifically cites history as a clear source of inspiration as well: ‘… the who, why, where, how and when fashion changed, and what was worn [inspires me]’.
An admirable trait about this designer is her humility – ‘I don’t think I’ve earned the title of designer quite yet’ – which whets our appetite even further to see what the Hak Gwai line has in store for fashionistas. As far as Lori-Antoinette can tell us, she hopes to follow up her debut collection’s success with Dry Season and Rainy Season 2012 collections.
In parting, she shares with us her thoughts on Caribbean fashion:
‘That depends on whether you mean the runway or the street. For too long, Caribbean fashion has been characterized with floral patterns and easy-fitting “holiday” apparel. One has to wonder if the international press has actually been keeping an eye on our designers. There are some who have been consistently creative. On the other hand, there are those Caribbean people who believe that because boots are in style in New York, wearing boots in the Caribbean makes them equally trendy. You don’t wear flip-flops [in New York] in December, do you? That’s my question to them.
‘Trends have been adopted without any consideration to the climate, body type, time or place. More people should acknowledge the value of stylists, who can give guidance… when it comes to fashion, I am inspired by a few of the seasoned Caribbean designers and some of the younger creative minds. As for style, eventually we will get there because the Caribbean has its own unique personality, but to comment on the right now, it’s a copy and paste of six-month-old trends to be honest.’