Culturalee caught up with Taiwanese luxury accessories and handbag designer Grace Han as she exhibited her new collection at ‘Asian Art in London’, and celebrated the launch of her flagship London store. Grace Han has established a name for herself as a designer to watch since Catherine, Princess of Wales was photographed with one of her handbag designs. Grace told Culturalee about the relationship between art and fashion, and the influence on her creativity of her late mother, the celebrated abstract artist Wang Chen Jingwen.
Culturalee: You recently exhibited at Asian Art in London as part of ‘Metamorphosis’, which featured 6 high profile Japanese and Chinese contemporary artists. As an accessories and luxury bag designer, do you feel your creations could also be viewed as artworks?
Grace Han: I was so honoured to be part of the Asian Art in London exhibition, where diverse talents converge, fostering vibrant artistic exchange. Three art series, alongside my mother’s paintings, mark a transformative journey and a milestone for me. I see fashion and art as inseparable; through it, the Grace Han brand brings art, often perceived as distant from our daily lives, to a wider audience; on the other hand, the art’s rich stories and meanings bring infinite inspiration to the fashion industry. Not only was my mother an artist, but my grandfather was also an art collector. This lineage of art, akin to my mother creating on canvas with a brush, and myself expressing creativity on leather with a brush, signifies the artistic heritage. Each piece from Grace Han is crafted with an artistic perspective, making every design a unique work of art.
Grace Han exhibition at Asian Art in London
The participation in Asian Art in London preceded the opening of your flagship shop in London. What can people expect to find, and did you work with an interior designer on the aesthetic of the store?
The return to London of Grace Han designs after the end of the pandemic is truly appreciated, bringing a refreshing sense of renewal. In 2019, when we just established the brand, the pandemic forced us to close our physical store. I felt disappointed and disheartened, even contemplating whether to continue the brand. Fortunately, the then Duchess of Cambridge (now Princess of Wales) showcased my work in public, captured by photographers, reigniting my hope to return to London. I am delighted to reopen our flagship store here. The store’s design aims to evoke a sense of tranquility and belonging for everyone who enters. I chose understated, subdued gold tones and soft carpets to create a unique atmosphere. Additionally the shapes and designs of the lighting fixtures in the store were personally crafted by me. In this reopening, we also introduced a new canvas tote bag, cleverly incorporating the brand’s most iconic “pleats” element in a rotating, intertwining manner. This transforms the practical tote into a charming embellishment that combines both chic and elegance.
Where did you train in your craft and what set you on the path to becoming a designer?
Perhaps due to my unconventional background, my creative style is whimsical and unconstrained by conventional frameworks. At times I even use unexpected materials, such as the curtains at home, as inspiration for crafting bags. Manipulating materials and media in this carefree manner is akin to painting with leather. After graduating from university, I solidified my determination to venture into the realm of art. I pursued further studies in fashion illustration in London, where I delved into patterncutting, figure drawing, and oil painting. It wasn’t until I encountered leather that I truly found my unique creative medium. The moment I touched leather, a continuous flow of inspiration surged in my mind, engaging in the process of kneading and shaping leather. I immersed myself in the world of leather crafting and took on an internship at a leather workshop. Drawing inspiration from my mother’s artwork, I extracted elements from both Eastern and Western artistic traditions. After two years of communication and collaboration with a Taiwanese master artisan, I embarked on a development of a distinctive leather crafting technique exclusively for Grace Han. This fusion of Eastern and Western craftsmanship along with innovative elements, resulted in the creation of a unique handbags.
In summary, my artistic journey influenced by my upbringing and education led me to explore unconventional materials and eventually specialise in leather crafting. This has allowed me to create distinctive and innovative bag designs that reflect a harmonious blend of eastern and western artistic influences.
Grace Han, Gabriella Wilde and Zoe Zimmer
Your artist Mother has been a big influence on your work. What influence did she have on your creativity?
In the initial stages, my experimentation involved creating a pleated effect on organza. It was later that I discovered this inspiration derived from my mother’s painting techniques. In her art my mother often employed multiple lines to establish a sense of depth, ultimately using a single line to balance the entire composition. This revelation guided me to incorporate a similar philosophy into my bag designs. The Ballet Lesson, for instance, features a metal line at the base to harmonise the overall appearance of the bag. This design inspiration also symbolises the journey each person undertakes in seeking inner balance at different stages becoming the most emblematic creation of the brand.
Catherine, Princess of Wales has been photographed with a Grace Han bag. How did endorsement from a high profile member of the British Royal Family effect your career?
Following the Princess of Wales carrying Grace Han’s pieces, there has been a noticeable increase in sales. She possesses the ability to transform the brand into a success story, especially for small businesses like ours. However, the Princess of Wales would not be aware of the impact that carrying my bag has had on me or my brand. Due to our handcrafted nature, our production is limited and increasing order significantly is challenging. The influence of the Princess of Wales on the brand goes beyond sales. It also helps more people understand the meaning conveyed by the Love Letter collection. I once received a letter from a customer in Australia, who mentioned that purchasing the Love Letter handbag was a commemoration of his late wife. He expressed how by admiring the Love Letter at home every day, he felt as if he could see his beloved, whom he missed day and night. Such touching feedback as a driving force behind my continued creative efforts.