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Role Call | Declan Chan, Style Director

Declan Chan, style director for Men’s Uno Hong Kong, says “Find your niche, and be consistent.”
Declan Chan | Source: Courtesy
  • Kati Chitrakorn

There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

HONG KONG, China — Declan Chan is the style director for monthly men's magazine Men's Uno Hong Kong, as well as a freelance artistic director and creative consultant. Having graduated from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where he specialised in multi-media design, Chan started his career as fashion editor at West East magazine, a bi-annual fashion title. After two years, he joined China's luxury multi-brand retailer Lane Crawford as senior creative services manager, a newly created role. Chan launched his own creative studio in 2013, working independently as a stylist and creative consultant. Chan has since worked on advertising campaigns with leading photographers, such as Nick Knight, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Inez and Vinoodh and Willy Vanderperre.

BoF: Please describe your current role.

I am the style director for Men’s Uno Hong Kong, a menswear monthly title in Asia. My job includes creating and styling key fashion editorials for each issue, liaising with international talents to create new editorial collaborations and stories, developing the digital strategy for the publication and attending fashion weeks to create content for the magazine’s digital platforms.

I do regular styling work for other titles, like Vogue Taiwan, Glass Magazine and South China Morning Post, creating fashion editorials with themes and trends that inspire me at that moment. I also create looks for models and celebrities, whether it’s for personal appearances, magazine photoshoots, video shoots or fashion shows.

Lastly, I am also an artistic and creative director, which means I develop creative proposals that express a brand’s message. When working with brands, I am responsible for selecting the best creative team — photographer, makeup artist, hair stylist, video director, graphic designer and animator — for the project. This also includes the casting of celebrities, models or influencers.

BoF: What attracted you to styling? Was it something you were always interested in?

I am a Sagittarius, which favours a diversified and non-conformist nature. The free spirit of my character fits well with the creative facets of the job. Not only does my role fulfill my creative appetite, it lets me accomplish two of my favourite things: travelling and connecting with people extensively. This kind of role allows you to cross paths and open up a dialogue with many interesting and creative individuals. There is no better way to learn the trade than this way. While there’s no guarantee whether or not you’ll be successful, it’s never boring.

How did I end up style director? The traditional education system in Hong Kong easily moulds kids to be competitive, but I was raised to be someone who knew a bit of everything, rather than be an expert in any one area. I found fashion styling to be a good place to anchor my creativity, after not being able to decide where I fit in fashion. Stylists express visual language through clothes. What contributes to your success is your taste, the portfolio that you build, the relationships you have with brands and the profile you create for yourself.

You need to create your own workflow, build up your profile, maintain a presence in the industry and be relevant, connect and collaborate with people, pay the bills — the list is endless.

BoF: You’re also a creative consultant. What does that entail?

I was introduced to the role while working at Lane Crawford’s creative department. During my seven years with them, my job was to develop content and projects with key marketing messages in mind. I was required to think like a marketer and interpret the message from a brand’s point of view, which was important because I had to deliver measurable results. This experience required me to collaborate with local and international talent, and taught me how to deliver projects with a global perspective.

Today, as a creative consultant, I work with brands to develop a creative strategy and create content to communicate their message to their customer through both digital and print. The most important thing is to be able to deliver a distinct and unique point-of-view for the brand, to make an impact and attract customers.

BoF: What are the challenges between freelance work and in-house?

Working in-house is a very important learning process for people who want to work in the fashion industry. It gives structure to your creative nature, and teaches you the kind of impact you can make with your work. The most crucial part, however, is that you learn to work as a team, from regular meetings to planning to the ultimate creation at the end. It’s important to learn this at the beginning of your career.

On the other hand, working in-house means that you are always contributing to the success of a bigger entity, which makes it difficult to develop yourself as a brand if this is something you aim to do.

With the speed of today’s digital age, there is a trend for creative people to grow themselves as a brand. You are your own entity and you determine your own fate. This comes with costs as well as benefits. Greater freedom comes with greater responsibility. As a freelancer, you need to create your own workflow, build up your profile, maintain a presence in the industry, be relevant, connect and collaborate with people, pay the bills — the list is endless. For me, it’s about fueling yourself with a positive driving force.

BoF: You also work with many Chinese clients. How has the fashion industry and aesthetic changed in China over the past few years?

The fashion media landscape in Mainland China is quite developed. In terms of knowledge, it is extremely sophisticated — people love to read and are learning more and more — whereas on an image level, China is starting to have its own identity. If you ask me, customers in China are the same as any other customer in the world. They want what fits their lifestyle and when they find it, they are eager to spend. Some Chinese customers still yearn for products that make a statement or are on-trend, but there are also groups of sophisticated customers who are ‘in-the-know.’ They look for clothes with a story behind it, and with heritage and quality. As a result, luxury brands are creating more thoughtful, intellectual content and products to speak to these customers.

BoF: What is the most exciting product or initiative you have worked on?

Lane Crawford's advertising campaigns and anniversary projects, along with my on-going Mo&Co digital campaign, which involves me flying around the world documenting fashion influencers in their daily lives, dressed in the brand's clothes, were all exciting for me. A lot of projects that I have been working on involve talents from multiple creative disciplines — that has really been the core of my work. It's exciting because it's always a challenge getting talents from all over the world to collaborate together.

BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?

For those deciding what to do with their career, learn as many skills as possible in order to find your strengths and passions. Then, try to anchor yourself to a workspace where you can learn from and grow with. Be part of a team and learn to be disciplined, but don’t be stuck in your comfort zone. When the time is right and opportunity comes, venture out and explore what you can do. Be mindful about the market and the impact you could make. But most of all, stay true to what you stand for. Find your niche, and be consistent.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.

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