In 1988, Taiwanese textile designer Sophie Hong (洪麗芬) was visiting Hong Kong when this bundle of black fabric in the darker corner of a small gift shop caught her eye. Hong said she fell in love with the fabric at first sight, for it was like lacquerware — shiny, stiff, and stunning. After inquiring the store owner, Hong immediately took an overnight ride from Hong Kong to Guangzhou to find the original fabric maker.
The oxidized fabric originated during the Tang dynasty and first became popular along the southeast coast of China. Retracing its roots, Hong learnt the original method in order to bring back this uniquely textured "lacquered silk (湘雲紗)."
Leather-like durability with feathery softness is a signature characteristic of "lacquered silk," which is created by first soaking white silk cloth in yam leaf dye repeatedly. After using a broom made from horse tail hairs to "paint" black river mud over the cloth, Hong then leaves it to dry under strong sunlight until the fabric turns into a silky material of deep indigo brown.
In addition to being cool and pleasant to the touch, lacquered silk is easy to wash and dries quickly, making it highly prized once by the fisherman villages that dot the southeast Chinese coastline. However, due to its intensive time commitment and complicated steps, the traditional manufacturing process was slowly being forgotten.
After continuous research and experimentation, Hong created lacquered silk with earthy tones of deep indigo, black, brown, and dark red, as well as variations that carry embossing and prints. Hong certainly did not invent lacquered silk, but she deserves all the credit for its innovative new forms and contemporary revival.
Her exquisite artisanship of dyed fabrics combines minimalist designs with western architectural lines and oriental fashion traditions. With her command of color, texture, and creativity, she created "Sophie's Silk (蘇菲紗)" and went on to launch her brand "Sophie HONG" onto the world stage of haute couture fashion