Mao Dress

“Even in her early beginnings, the designer’s signature “East meets West” aesthetic has been consistent in her career, motivated by her personal mission to serve as a sort of cultural ambassador for China.

“Perhaps because Hong Kong was a colonial city with a mixed culture, there was a lack of identity,” she said. “Growing up, you didn’t know where to belong. I felt as if I didn’t know Chinese culture that well. Fashion design is a part of me, but it was also a tool for me to learn more about the Chinese culture.”

Not only has Tam has succeeded in bringing Chinese heritage to a global audience, but she’s managed to become a cultural agitator too. In 1995, she collaborated with artist Zhang Hongtu on her Mao Collection, which featured the former communist leader’s face in satirical forms: in pigtails, in sunglasses, and cross-eyed with a bee stinging his nose. Tam reinterpreted the images through sequins, patterns, and different fabrics, and gave them a lightness that contradicted the revolutionary garb that people wore during his rule.”