Designer Focus

Designer Focus: Penny Chu

New York based designer Penny Chu is fascinated by the transformation of sheets of paper into complex 3D objects; she dissects the architecture which surrounds her into her own perception of the buildings and applies these concepts into her work. For the past six years, her intricate millinery pieces using her paper folding techniques have been featured in countless editorial works and fashion shows.

Penny Chu
Was there a particular moment that made you decide you wanted to work in fashion?

I’ve loved fashion and clothing ever since I was little and amassed a large collection of vintage headwear and clothing over the years. I was exposed to and learned a lot about architecture through an old job and my love for both now goes hand in hand. My mother taught me how to sew and knit when I was young, which made me appreciate the significance of handwork and craftsmanship. Six years ago, I sold all of my vintage hats during a major shift in my life. I looked at them and thought, “Why don’t I learn how to make them instead?” and from then on I decided to embark on a path of pure creative work.

Do you think you have a responsibility as a designer to respond to the social and political issues of our time?

The world is not only black and white; there are many shades of grey. I want both individuals and societies to be open-minded and accepting of other people and ideas that diverge from their own. As a result, I love to combine motifs from nature and different cultures even if it may not be overtly obvious in my designs.

Work in progress

In your opinion, what’s the problem with fashion today?

Fast fashion has inverted the way in which we consider and shop for clothing. We used to shop by season and waited for sale season to get good prices. Now, because clothing is so cheap, accessible, and continuously on sale we shop with considerably less intention on the daily and throw items out only after wearing them a few times.

What do you feel are the most important ingredients in building a brand?

I aspire for my brand to be a representation of who I am and how I view the world. My freeform styling technique is liberating for my artwork. Its boundaries are only defined by my next concept. I can just sit down and start working—and then the material itself tells me what to do. 

What excites you the most about the future of fashion?

We are lucky to live in such an exciting time when we see more natural materials being used in 3D printing.  

Penny Chu

How do you balance your creative vision with the harsh realities of the fashion industry?

Creativity feeds my soul—it makes me happy and it rounds me out as a person. In this fast fashion industry, it is hard not to compromise my artistic vision, but I would rather be a starving artist than cater to the cluttered vicious cycle of trends.

Tell us any anecdotes about the making of your last collection?

My work is inspired by the work of the naturalist Ernst Haeckel. He was also an artist, biologist, philosopher, physician, illustrator, and artist whose work highlights the symmetry and perfection of form seen in both microscopic and macroscopic worlds. I find his drawings of deep-sea creatures to be the purest of forms found in nature, and I apply it to my designs.

Penny Chu

What’s your take on the advent of commerce via social media?

Social media is the great equalizer. It has democratized fashion. What the world sees is not controlled by just a few people.

What makes a design compelling?

I think it really comes down to the originality of a piece and the use of new materials.

What would be your dream collaboration scenario?

I absolutely love Iris van Herpen, so this would be a dream collaboration.

ChuChu NY on NJAL