Metal, wood, water, fire, and earth – these five phases represent the fundamental elements of the universe, according to ancient Chinese philosophy, and striking a balance between them is key. Taiwanese designer Peng Tai is a firm believer, and he has structured his eponymous label based on this. “Once the elements run evenly, the world will operate in the right direction,” he says.
The core of Peng Tai lies in the balance between nature and humans. “In ancient China, our ancestors had this idea too – it is all about balance. We put the idea into the process of making garments,” says Peng, who graduated from the London College of Fashion with a master’s degree in menswear in 2017. “Metal is for sewing, water is for washing, and fire is for dyeing. If we balance each stage during the process, we can make a garment better.”
According to Peng, he never planned on launching his own brand. “I always thought I would be a pattern cutter. However, after I graduated from London, I moved to Paris and met my wife Isa. That was the first time I wanted to make clothing for someone, and that was the beginning of our brand,” he shares. Today, Isa Kwai continues to be his muse. She is also the manager of the atelier, where Peng has a team of 10 artisans.
Since 2019, Peng Tai has embarked on a three-year-long journey to base his collections on a single element found in ancient Chinese philosophy.
He admits that launching a womenswear brand was a challenge for him: “I am more focused on the understanding of pattern cutting, techniques and treatment of fabrics, which are the foundations of building up a garment. And my background in menswear is more technical.” Still, his ethereal womenswear designs, featuring asymmetrical ribbons, natural fabrics and voluminous smocking, speak for themselves.
And Peng certainly follows through with his concept of nature and elements. Since 2019, he has embarked on a three-year-long journey to base his collections on a single element. He started with metal for his debut, followed by wood, water, fire, and earth. “We separate the five elements as the theme for each season, and use that to develop a technical approach,” shares Peng.
For Spring/Summer 2021’s water theme, Peng and his team developed a new embroidery method and a process of weaving with water. From pattern cutting to sewing to dyeing, all steps of production are handmade in his Paris atelier, and no two garments are the same. “We believe it is quite personal, private and unique,” says Peng. He also hints at another project that he’s working on named “medication room and garment therapy”, which is set to launch later this year.
His label is definitely going places. It’s currently stocked in 23 cities, including Singapore at Dover Street Market, Beijing, Shanghai, Tel Aviv, Tokyo and Ho Chi Minh City. Peng believes the fashion industry and consumers are more welcoming to Asian designers compared to the past.
“It is a good sign, and an opportunity for us. Asia is rich in history, and there are many cultural aspects awaiting Asian designers to dig deeper, to find their own way to translate it, and share it with the world,” he says.