Some people just don't seem of this world. Their lives seem so otherworldly, they are clearly extraordinary beings. (If not extraterrestrial ones.)
Hwahwa Lala, aka Lala, is one of these people. I was first introduced to her via my Instagram Explore page, where she immediately commanded my attention. All I could think was: Who is this person with a closet full of Rick Owens garbs? What does the world look like through her architecturally accentuated eyes? How can I find the confidence to walk through life like she does? I've seen and interacted with plenty of Fashion People™ in my life, but none as arresting (and, let's face it, intimidatingly inspiring) as Lala—and we've never even met in person.
With the new year, though, and an intention to further refine my style, by understanding what flatters and empowers me, I figured it's time to go bold: I reached out to Lala.
What follows is our conversation about style, fashion, the inspirational power of being uncomfortable, and the validating ability design has over one's personality.
Photo courtesy of Lala
What sort of style phases did you go through before settling on the style you have now?
I was very much into Comme des Garçons and Vivienne Westwood in my very early teens, which continued into the early 2000s. I liked Alexander McQueen’s rebellious streak, too. Being Asian, I had a moment with Yohji Yamamoto; his avant-garde tailoring and Japanese design aesthetics appealed to me. I discovered Rick Owens, though, in 2003. It felt like a knife in the heart—his almost-couture tailoring and clever details. He had wholly new takes on fashion.
Was Rick the first person that really set you down the sartorial path you’re on now?
I’ve been devoted to his strange, otherworldly beauty since 2003. I only connect with his mainline designs, though. It’s sophisticated, poetic, playful, minimal, brutal, and always projects the nuances of life. It’s all there, from gruesomeness to beauty. His design matches my strong features. You have to have a fierce and strong look to wear and create a dialogue with his most unique pieces, otherwise, they will wear you instantly.
Do you believe form follows function, or does function follow form?
The discussion of form following function dates back to the days of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe—two architects I love. But that discussion is over. New technology makes it all possible. Let’s move forward. Form and function should be one spiritual union.
How much does comfort play into your style and is a little bit of pain worth the look?
Comfort is key, but not above the look. Pain to gain, you know? My tolerance for it is high. I’ve spent over 300 hours getting my body fully decorated with Japanese tattoos. I motivated myself to find the pleasure in that pain.
How do you define luxury?
Luxury is a wide concept. For me, it’s deeper than price, quality, and rareness. Luxury symbols are everywhere. You see people wearing them, yes, but they don’t appear luxe. They can afford luxury but does that make them luxurious? It’s vulgar and dilutes those symbols, which is fine with me because I’ve never had an interest in symbols. They’re commercially driven.
For me, luxury is the connection with individuals that see me and I see them, finding new routes and paths to walk on. I don’t mistake luxury for craftsmanship. I am highly into craftsmanship translating into good design and art. Luxury exists in its original form when it carries real emotions. If you feel a deep emotional connection to something, like a signed first edition of Hemingway, a handcrafted Wegner chair, or even a delicious cake, that’s luxury.
How do you define ugly?
What’s ugly is subjective. What one person thinks is beautiful, another will find ugly. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I salute those opinions because they drive us forward.
But beauty, to me, is simple: It’s the moments [when] we feel free and like real human beings. Beauty is inside you and should shine through. Everyone has the capability to show their beauty and unique expression because we are all so.
If something makes you uncomfortable or nervous, is that then a reason to explore it?
For sure. If I feel too pleasant toward a painting or design, I walk away. If I’m still thinking about it after 10 minutes, one day, or one week after, I know there’s something more there to explore and return to.
What does the color black mean to you?
Well, I only wear two colors: black and white. For me, there really are no other colors. Me, in black, is power, rebellion, evil, strength, fear, coolness, and sophistication. Me, in white, is minimalist, purity, goodness, clarity, possibility, perfection, and faith.
Is there a trend out there that irks you to no end?
While we have all experienced “irksome” trends, everything comes around again and everything is built and improves upon some trend in the past.
Photo by Danielle Levitt