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Hitchbird Exclusive Interview with Designer Noel Chu

How a girl from Hong Kong made it big in the international fashion world—and hopes to bring others with her

Photos taken by Adinda De Boer (Left photo): Bamboo collection in 18K Gold with Diamonds from John Hardy (Right photo): Batu Classic Chain Rings from John Hardy
Walking into Noel Chu's design studio (Noel Chu Atelier) is a bit like walking onto the set of The Devil Wears Prada. Large, paned windows let in natural light, involuntarily shining a spotlight on the rack of wedding gowns in front of it. Most are the bride's staple—white—but I spotted a flash of yellow and an ice-blue creation that froths with a gauzy skirt. There's even a black one tucked way back in the corner, a glamorous semi-transparent piece that hangs next to several tuxs.

The ratio makes sense. After twenty years in the industry, designer Noel Chu has carved out quite the niche for herself in the wedding gown world. Her creations have been on Elle, Harpers Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan, right next to the biggest names in the fashion world. Of course, she shows love towards the boys, but it's the brides she gravitates towards. The girls who throw their heart and soul into planning their big day, and she's right there to make sure it's as special as it deserves to be.
Noel Chu's Design Studio
Today happens to be a photo shoot for her latest collection at Authentiques, which Hitchbird co-organized. Surrounded by immaculate needlework and mannequins, I met her successor Victor and got an exclusive interview as to how Noel, from one of the busiest cities in the world, catapulted her way onto the international stage of one of the busiest industries known to humankind.
What attracted you to enter the wedding gown industry?
The strange thing is I didn't grow up wanting to be a designer. My parents are both in the fashion industry, but society then was all about the Big Three (accounting, law, and architecture), so I studied sociology in America before taking a job as a lawyer in a courtroom.

Around the same time, I started noticing my parents were coming home downcast and worried. The business wasn't doing so well and I recognized it needed to go through a major rebranding to revive.

That was when I officially entered the wedding gown trade. My parents had built their company from ground zero. Both came from very humble roots with childhoods that were less than financially stable. They started with pyjamas before working their way up to evening wear. It would kill them and me to see all that hard work devastated.
(Left photo): Jennifer Behr bobby pin crystal flower from Lane's Bridal Accessories; Women's batu classic chain silver diamond earrings stone london blue topaz earrings from John Hardy (Right photo): Tie headband rhodium multi-crystal strads from Lane's Bridal Accessories; women's dot silver diamond pave earrings & Women's dot silver diamond pave toi moi ring from John Hardy Bottom left photo: Women's dot silver kick cuff stone with 10.5-11mm fresh water pearl, women's dot silver diamond pave long drop pendant with 10.5-11mm fresh water pearl & women's dot silver diamond pave earrings with 8.5-9mm fresh water pearl from John Hardy
Photos taken by Adinda De Boer
Women's dot silver kick cuff stone with 10.5-11mm fresh water pearl, women's dot silver diamond pave long drop pendant with 10.5-11mm fresh water pearl & women's dot silver diamond pave earrings with 8.5-9mm fresh water pearl from John Hardy
Atelier now is built on the fruits of their toil. Using the foundation of what we already had, I carved out a section for wedding gowns. It was an instant hit. Polytechnic University graduates in fashion today come up to me and say they remember walking by my designs on their way to school in Tsim Sha Tsui. My creations are really out there and loud and explosive. In its prime, our family owned seven shops, all selling wedding gowns.
It's amazing you gave up your career in law to help your parents.
I wouldn't say that. My parents worked so hard to build up their company. A problem came up that I had the ability to solve and I was glad to do it.

Though I confess it's a decision that has haunted me for many years. I didn't use to enjoy talking about it during interviews because it felt like poking a wound with a sharp stick. But in hindsight, I know I made the right choice. Many of my friends have quit their jobs as lawyers or have stopped practicing to start a family, but I'm still incredibly happy with my life. After 20 years, I'm not tired. To me, that's enough.
Wow, 20 years! That's incredible. What continues to motivate you every single day?
Definitely my clients. This isn't an easy industry to work in. Fame is fickle and as my dad can attest, you can have work seven days a week, 365 days a year. He's so hardworking and I channel his work ethic every single day in my craft.

My clients make it worth it. They're my friends, and their trust and encouragement is better than anything money can buy. I never formally studied fashion and I learn from each client, each dress I make. We embark on a journey together. It's my duty to bring happiness to them on the most special day of their lives and create a dress that measures up to them in every single way.

My team is a big motivator, too. They're beyond talented and I wouldn't experience the success I have today if it weren't for them.
(Left photo): Jennifer Behr hair comb crystal leaves big from Lane's Bridal Accessories; women's bamboo 18k gold diamond flex cuff & women's batu classic chain silver diamond braided ring with citrine from John Hardy (Right photo): Flower bouquet by Gary Kwok Flower | Design; Jennifer Behr comb crystal 3 flowers from Lane's Bridal; women's bamboo 18k gold diamond small interlinking ring pendant & women's bamboo 18k gold diamond flex cuff from John Hardy
What plans do you have for the future? Is there anything you can share with us on the future of fashion design in Hong Kong?
I really want prove local designers can be and are as good as those overseas. My pieces have been presented side by side international names on catwalks. We're not inferior in any way, but there seems to be a block in general against local brands. Everyone thinks something that's made two oceans away is better when there are unbelievably talented folk here with just as much heart. Local designers often end up quitting because materials are hard to come by and there's little support. It's heartbreaking. I hope to lead by example and inspire a new generation of designers.

I also hope my team can carve out their own little pocket in the fashion world and shine. I don't want the fame to solely be attributed to me. My colleagues play just as big a part in crafting each and every one of these designs. And of course, my parents and their legacy will always be top priority.
(Left photo): Photo taken by Adinda De Boer; Jennifer Behr headdress crystal flower around from Lane's Bridal; women's batu classic chain silver drop earrings with citrine and red sapphire & women's bamboo 18k gold diamond flex cuff from John Hardy (Right photo): Tie headband rhodium multi-crystal strands from Lane's Bridal; women's dot silver diamond pave earrings & Women's dot silver diamond pave toi moi ring from John Hardy
Part of that new generation is Victor, your successor. How did you two meet?
Like me, he didn't envision working in the wedding gown industry at first. He was interested in women's wear, the kind in magazines, but it's a rare field in Hong Kong. After graduating, he came here and developed a passion for wedding gown design. He loves it for the same reasons I do, to help clients make their big day as special as possible.

A lot of people come in and leave because they want to try new things. You can usually sense who really wants to break into this industry. I sensed that in Victor during his interview, a determination and passion for the craft that inspires my own. I admire him a lot. Like I said, this industry is gruelling and when he joined, our company was quite small and didn't have a lot of resources. He stayed out of sheer love of what he does.
Photos from Noel Chu's studio
Pictured: Noel Chu and Victor her successor
What advice do you have for designers hoping to break into the industry?
Never ever, ever give up. Know it's going to be hard at first. As a new hire, you'll be expected to do heavy lifting or run errands, but I guarantee it will pay off in the long run. Try everything and be open to learning.

Credits:
Photography courtesy of Adinda De Boer
Dress designed by Noel Chu and modelled by Ruby Fung
Hair & Makeup done by Joman Wedding
Hair Accessories from Lane's Bridal
Other accessories from John Hardy
Flower Bouquent from Gary Kwok Flower | Design
Photographed in Authentiques

About Noel Chu
Noel Chu comes from a family of designers. After dabbling in law, she decided to embrace the family business and is now one of the most distinguished designers in Hong Kong. Her couture gowns are tailor-made to reflect the individual spirit of each bride—and hers.

About Ruby Fung
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Ruby has always had a deep appreciation for art and fashion. Since completing her diploma in Design Studies at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2007 and the comprehensive foundation training at the London College of Fashion, Ruby went on to receive her Bachelor's degree in Fashion Print from the prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.

About Adinda De Boer
Adinda De Boer is a local and destination, fine art wedding photographer from Holland, based in Hong Kong. With a background in design and styling, photography seemed like the logical step to take. She started in lifestyle photography and expanded her specialties to portrait, engagement and wedding photography. Her work is known to be natural, intimate and personal.

About Joman Wedding
Founded by award-winning makeup artist Joey Tang, Joman Wedding conducts their hair and makeup services with one golden motto: "On your special day, you shall feel like yourself but only prettier, sexier and as perfect as possible." Their team of elite artists have years of wedding experience under their belt and hail from all over the world, including places like London, Canada, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Working over 100 weddings per year, they welcome destination weddings and all bridal occasions from engagement shoots to the big day.

If you have any special stories about your business that you would want to share with Hitchbird, feel free to let us know by emailing our editors at: hb@hitchbird.com.

Now we’ve certainly saved you readers the best for last as Noel Chu will be sponsoring a HK$5,000 wedding gown cash coupon for Hitchbird’s upcoming “Hello Summer” Wedding Giveaway. To enter the giveaway, just click here and follow 3 simple steps!

Related article: Which Wedding Gown Best Fits Your Destination Wedding Location?

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