Fashion stylist Caroline Fung talks trends, digital fashion and working in the fashion industry
You may have heard of the reappearance of the “low-rise" fashion trend, especially with brands like Miu Miu bringing back low-rise mini skirts in their collections. And whether you like it or not, the nostalgic 90s thin eyebrows trend may be back – but not everyone is here for it.
This includes Caroline Fung, a fashion stylist and makeup artist based in Hong Kong and Australia. Fung styles celebrities – for red carpets, premieres, TV, music videos and more – and regular people just looking to elevate their everyday outfits and personal style. For her, she’s inspired by the challenges of styling people of different sizes, shapes and tastes and the excitement of the fashion stylist’s day-to-day.
Her lookbooks are giving comfort and confidence as style essentials – not just the latest trends.
TMS met with Fung to learn more about her work as a stylist and her thoughts on how fashion is evolving these days.
We all approach style differently – some play around with trends while others stick to a classic look rather than experimenting. Fashion trends come and go, influencing our decisions on what we wear and how that outfit can represent us. But, how exactly do we become stylish?
Following the latest trends may be the easy route to seeming up-to-date and fashionable. However, Fung thinks that rather than following trends, comfort should be prioritized.
“I think it’s important that we wear something very comfortable because that makes us feel confident. Being comfortable doesn’t mean to wear pajamas, so don’t get me wrong," she clarifies, although she admittedly wears sweatpants on Zoom calls from time to time (so do we!). “But with a lot of my clients, I do make sure that we’re trying new things, and, at the same time, they’re comfortable with what I pick for them."
When Fung is styling someone, she wants to make sure they look good, but she also wants to make sure that they’ll actually wear the look and feel comfortable – and confident.
“A quick example would be, if I go shopping with you and we try a nice pair of Christian Louboutin shoes or heels – they’re known to be very pretty, modern, stylish, but even the designer himself said his shoes are not made for comfort," says Fung. “So if you’re someone that [doesn’t] wear high heels often, even though we bought that pair of shoes, I’m pretty sure you probably won’t wear it, and it’s going to end up on your shoe rack, looking brand new, a decade later. So I try to avoid these type of situations."
As someone who’s lived in Australia and Hong Kong, Fung’s tastes have been influenced by two vastly different cultures.
“It definitely influenced my taste," says Fung. “And, even with the things that I like to watch, as simple as accounts I follow on Instagram, the fashion brands that I’m in touch with in Australia and also in Hong Kong and also the people that I meet in Australia. It’s very multicultural. So I meet a lot of friends here from Thailand, Korea and from different places in China. So it really broadened my horizons and really helped me to look into different cultures as well. And, I think this is evident in my work."
Neither 100% Australian nor 100% Hong Konger, her multicultural tastes also show up in her clientele, who tend to have similar tastes and preferences.
“I believe that we attract people with the same sort of vibe, and that’s also my niche and who my clients are and what they like as well," says Fung.
Australia and Hong Kong also differ when it comes to popular brands and styling trends, which are usually based on what’s available in the market. “I think, just by the makeup products that we would use, and the makeup brands that we are exposed to would be very different. Whereas someone that was locally from Hong Kong wouldn’t be looking at Anastasia Beverly Hills, for example. That goes with fashion brands as well," explains Fung.
For example, the popularity of different brands like SHEIN and TaoBao in the different regions will be pretty relative.
“One thing that I’ve spotted is that people in the West will think that SHEIN is a very cheap website for fast fashion. But, when I look at their website, a lot of the things that are being sold on their website [are] available on TaoBao. So, for someone from Hong Kong or mainland China, they wouldn’t think that SHEIN is just like fast fashion and stuff like that, because TaoBao is something like that. There’s a lot of shops like that on TaoBao," explains Fung.
She also explains how Australian brands are becoming even more popular in Chinese fashion. “They don’t have a lot of people walking into their shops in Australia, but they do very well online," says Fung. “So I think this is something that Australian brands are becoming more popular [for]. The style from Australia, it’s very wearable but unique as well. It’s great for going to events or parties and even cocktail parties … And, a lot of A-list celebrities are actually wearing those brands to their events."
Australian brands like Camilla Marc and Alice McCall are making their way across the sea and even around the world. “Even MISHA – it’s an Australian brand – they have around 200 or 300 thousand followers on Instagram. They have Kim Kardashian wearing their brand as well," says Fung.
But, Fung points out that looking stylish begins with self-confidence more than products. So, for anyone who is looking for an instant “glow up," Fung recommends a confidence booster – whether you get a fresh haircut, blow dry or even pop on your favorite lipstick, the instant boost of confidence can immediately make you and whatever you’re wearing look better.
“You’re probably wearing the same old white T-shirt, but somehow after the nice blow dry, that white T-shirt somehow looks a bit more white or it looks more new as well. And then, we can slowly work on your makeup skills or your wardrobe because that takes a lot more time."
Styling as a job
Fung studied styling during university in Australia, but she didn’t really have the hands-on experience necessary to succeed in this line of work. But an introduction to an industry veteran meant Fung would have a mentor to help her break into the scene.
“I suppose, I came to Hong Kong without really having a solid plan," recalls Fung. “I was just thinking, ‘OK, I like to do design-related things and most likely work in the fashion field or even in graphics. I was then later introduced to my mentor through a good friend from Sydney, so it’s funny how everything links together."
That hands-on experience was just what Fung needed to develop her approach and learn to style for diverse people, bodies and events.
“There’s a lot of different body types, there’s a lot of preparation that we have to do beforehand, she explains. “So we need to fight for the latest samples, and then we have to do a lot of tailoring afterwards, and we also have to predict how that outfit will look like for different occasions – whether it’s on TV or it’s a real-life event or a shopping center, or it’s for a music video. So there’s a lot of brainstorming that goes [on] behind the scenes."
In Fung’s case, a typical day isn’t necessarily a set schedule but consists of checking emails for samples, brainstorming outfits through mood boards and scouring the internet for new trends and news.
“Everyday is a little bit different, but I generally would start off with checking my emails, and I allocate a time in a day to do some simple exercise," says Fung. “Most of the time I’ll be watching crypto news as I get ready. And, I’ll be always looking through the internet to discover new social media trends, friends and news.
“With the initial meeting, I will ask them a lot of questions. Like, sometimes they will say, ‘OK, I want something edgy and modern.’ But, what is edgy, what is modern? Everyone’s description would be different," explains Fung. “Everyone’s image in their mind would be different. So I can’t tell what they’re thinking inside. I need to ask them a logical question. What color is [it] that you are specifically talking about? The type of style that you like – do you have any reference photos?"
As exciting and glamorous as the world of fashion styling may seem, it comes with common misconceptions, one being that it’s easy.
“A lot of people only see the nice magazine cover that you did or the nice styling work you did, but they didn’t see the hours that we’ve put in before bringing it to a photo shoot or even during the photo shoot, there might be last minute things that we need to change on the outfits," says Fung. This also involves lugging heavy suitcases around and a lot of heavy lifting.
One of Fung’s most memorable projects involved a trip to Shenzhen for the first time, shooting in the middle of seemingly nowhere. “It was raining hard, the toilets were placed outside. I walked into the cubicle. You can see the rain leaking in," she recalls.
“So basically, if I have to go to the toilet, I have to hold onto an umbrella. It was also like a squat toilet as well. So I was like, ‘I just can’t do it, I can’t do it.’ But those are the exact same toilets that those A-list celebrities are using, so props to them," recounts Fung.
Fashion in the metaverse
Digital fashion has lately been piquing many people’s interest, including Fung. Whether it be styling avatars or using AI technology to dress ourselves through the screen, as we can see on apps like Snapchat’s AR try-on features, it’s clear that digital fashion is evolving.
“A lot of people are probably disappointed when they enter the metaverse or play their games because it doesn’t look as polished or it doesn’t look like it’s from 2022," says Fung. “But, I think it’s the technologies that’s behind it that’s so precious. And, it’s like watching the internet slowly blossom out."
Fung particularly likes digital fashion – not for the metaverse, but for people. Platforms like Dress X that employ AR technology to essentially photoshop pieces of clothing on your personal photos open a new path to a diversified wardrobe and a potential alternative outlet to combat fast fashion. No more buying things to wear once – this technology allows for a whole new world of fashion beyond the physical.
“The crazy thing about this is that a lot of designers are really interested in this because they’re not restricted to fabrics anymore or the way the fabrics would move or how it sits on your body. They can create outfits with water or fire as well."
The Stylatude and what’s next for Caroline Fung
With Fung’s interest in digital fashion, she’s recently built a beauty and fashion content-curated platform called The Stylatude. Accommodating those who need creative inspiration or freelancers who need tips on selling their skills, the space can help anyone connect and inspire others in the creative industry.
“We find interesting people specifically in the creative industry to share their stories. And on a day-to-day basis, we create bite-sized content for short attention spans, millennials and Gen Z’s. It’s really targeted for people that love the creative space, or they’re just looking for more information and tips on creative marketing," Fung says.
This shared space for inspiration and communal creativity is all about helping creatives find their footing in an industry that can sometimes be hard to articulate.
“The biggest problem would probably [be] just putting yourself out there," Fung says of creative freelancing. “I think a lot of people have difficulty talking about what they do. I had that as well.
“A lot of people have difficulting marketing themselves, selling what you do," says Fung. “This is what freelancers need to do. You need to put your work out there. You need to let people know what you do. And, this is something that’s not that easy. Because, if you’re just working in a corporate job or if you work for a company, that’s not something that you need to do. You don’t need to tell people what you [did] at the office today."