Text by Kadri Karolin Kõuts | Features Editor
Photos by Sybil Kot | Editor-in-Chief
It was unsure whether it’s the natural charm of his Cambodian descent or the whooping orange-colored suspenders, but Roger Thyvane Ouk brings a certain feeling of warmth into the otherwise very sleek and somber Wow Suite on the 37th floor of W Hong Kong. While our team admires the panoramic view to the harbor, Roger carefully adds a finishing accessory or two to his outfit, occasionally seeking for a hint of approval from his beautiful wife and business partner – Jade. What is certain, though, is the incredible dynamic between the multi-talented couple behind Thyvane, a menswear brand dedicated to ties and bow ties that salute diverse cultures and personal style.
After many years of practicing law in Melbourne, the first-generation Australian decided to follow his lifelong passion and swap jurisdiction for fashion design. Although Roger has now distanced himself from the courtrooms, he continues to ponder with the idea of authority and conflict by transcending narratives of the past to a more contemporary shape and form. Having designed a collection called “Promise & Power”, Roger nonchalantly refers to Terracotta warriors of the Qin dynasty, the Thirty Years’ War and the ever-so peculiar dressing habits of Louis XVI when talking about the rather hostile evolution of the tie.
With an intention to create a dialogue between the product and the customer, Thyvane explores a broader concept in fashion rather than just designing a traditional line of accessories. Roger and Jade Ouk are eager to work across disciplines and pursue collaborations with architects, artists and creative minds alike to push the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not.
Tailored jacket, Henry Bucks pocket square, Calvin Klein T shirt and H&M shorts.
What is the essence of fashion for you?
Fashion in a way elevates me to another plane. I think it has the ability to move people emotionally, and psychologically, to another level. There is truth and fiction in fashion and you have the ability to control that. It interests me what other people choose to wear and why, the meaning behind that. And it’s because I’m more of a visual person.
Where do you get your inspiration?
When I dress up, I’m inspired by other people a lot of the time. And then there’s an element of wanting to bring something unique and personal to the outfit. What I wear and what I design is sometimes inspired by different themes. What is consistent is that I draw a lot from the composition put together by balance and beauty that Mother Nature is able to strive.
Do you follow any fashion blogs?
I follow The Wanderlister, The Sartorialist, Facehunter, GQ Style. I’m not there to look for inspiration, but just to see what the present trend is. They give you a good sense of what you could wear to fit in. I’m drawn towards historical context more than individuals. I may want to go back into the 17th or 19th century costume and see what people are wearing. People that I really admire are those that I don’t know – the unknown – who are able to carry something with such flare and character and poise, and who seem to be dressing more for themselves than for anyone else.
Do you hunt for brands?
There are certain brands, which are renowned for making particular items very well. The Italian suspenders I wear – the quality of that product exceeds a lot of others that I’ve worn in the past. So there are times when people are seeking brands because they begin to understand the craftsmanship behind it. But there are times when quality doesn’t play a role and it’s just the brand itself. Personally I would never shop based on the brand.
What makes a woman look good?
Putting clothes aside, the first thing is confidence and that doesn’t necessarily mean having to be loud or flamboyant, or wearing the latest trends, but I sense that the person is very comfortable in their skin. That goes for both men and women I think. It’s the attitude that you bring to a room because that can have a greater impact than what you actually wear. But assuming you’re walking into the room with that, what will set you apart… I’m just thinking back on the iconic women Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Jackie Onassis. What they bring into the room is elegance in style. Timeless beauty. So what makes a woman look good…The ability to wear something with poise.
Do you like the fashion scene in Hong Kong?
I think for men, there’s real refinement and conservatism. It seems that a lot of men do pay attention to detail and follow trends quite rigorously. There isn’t yet however that avant-garde, adventurous culture that I’ve found in other places. But Hong Kong men are increasingly taking more risks particularly in the area of accessories, which is really exciting. People tend to be very neat here, in terms of what they wear within the business and working community. It’s clean and sharp, but there is that convergence towards the mainstream.
Tell us about the transition from being a full-time lawyer to becoming a designer du jour.
I’ve always had a fascination with fashion. When I was in the university, studying law, I participated in a mock board and I had to look for a tie to wear for these moot proceedings. I’d been preparing a number of months for this event in a real court, but it wasn’t a real trial. And I couldn’t find any ties that suited my personality or which spoke to me, or reflected the historic cultural context, which I was from. So making a tie for that event kick started everything.
I’ve always loved fabrics and things of texture. After that, I began looking for materials that I thought reflected me and that other people would appreciate. A lot of people were asking for the tie, they wanted a copy. I’ve always designed outside of my work career. There’s a strong creative side to my personality and it feels really good and energetic and positive when I create. I love the law; I love what it stands for. At the same time, it’s very challenging. It gives you a real discipline how to tackle particular arguments. It brings out thinking to my fashions in terms of wanting to really analyze why I’m doing something and the purpose behind it. On the other hand, fashion influences the law in a way that people are taking a different approach to things. In some respects, it makes me more open-minded.
What does Thyvane stand for?
The core of the brand is about reflecting, about a dialogue. It’s about understanding the person that is beyond what they are wearing. Thyvane’s item strikes a conversation or an enquiry, so it can be anything. We started with neckties because they’re quite conventional but also common items for men to wear. It comes from a specific historical context and we’re able to imbue that with a different meaning depending on the type of fabric or the design. That’s what is really fascinating and interesting.
Tell us more about the design process.
It’s a combination. Sometimes there’s an idea that I have in mind and I’m inspired by nature or animals or particular architectural forms. Then I create something that’s influenced by that. Which means writing it down, drawing an image, finding the appropriate colors and then sourcing fabric to match, thinking about the silhouette that would reflect the idea. Other times the cloths or fabrics themselves inspire me. They move me to want to do something with them. With some of our products, we look for the best method of creating it. Our latest collection is handmade in Australia. For other products, sometimes a machine-made one, you’re able to achieve the consistency you wouldn’t get with a handmade product. And we go down that line. In the end of the day, we’re looking to deliver the best product.
What does “Promise & Power” represent?
When I moved to Hong Kong 2.5 years ago, I noticed that a lot of people had come to the city from all corners of the world and they were drawn to the allure of a promise of wealth, of opportunity. Whatever it is they thought that Hong Kong could help them deliver. And that’s the promise. The power aspect of it is that ties have always been associated with military adornment and royalty. So the collection sort of explores people’s desires in fashion, not necessarily ties, and this notion from the commercials and advertisements that promises them this lifestyle, which has elements of power.
I’m very excited about this collection. This is an instance where I was actually inspired by the fabric itself. We found snakeskin that feels like tissue paper. We’re also using lace, which is just amazing. Men should be able to wear lace too, so I came up with a lace tie for men. We had to go through a number of prototypes because it’s challenging to make a bow tie from such a delicate material. It has lining and interlining and requires a special technique. When we go back in history, lace ties were the like the pinnacle of the tie. All the royal monarchs wore lace cravats. Back then; people had a hundred ways how to tie it, now we only have 3 or 4 ways. It’s interesting, if you go way back, the time men were giving themselves in terms of dedicating to their looks and the types of things they were wearing, you don’t see it these days. Outfits used to have a lot of detail, a lot of embroidery. Now it’s mostly associated with women. When does it shift along the line?
There have been so many advances in technology in fabrics, in cut and design, but ties have remained the same. I find it really fascinating. It’s interesting to see people’s reactions. There have always been checks, particular colors or paisley. What’s going to be the reaction if they’re not that? What I’m saying by beginning with ties and bow ties is look, I am part of the system, I studied law, I have a tertiary education, but at the same time I’m not part of the system. It’s not a complete rejection, but I want to reflect more of what I call is modern and have that presented. Admitting to a system is not reflecting who I am. I want to recognize the alternative backgrounds, so it’s becomes a dialogue. There’s more to you than meets the eye. And I think that’s really nice in fashion, when people begin to recognize more than just the way it looks. I’d like to evoke something more than just a casual conversation. So you’ve chosen to wear that. Why? Can you tell more about it?
Plans for the future?
We have an online store where you can purchase directly. We’ll release the new collection shortly as well. In addition to stocking at Kapok, we’re hoping to give our potential customers the opportunity to feel and see the products by stocking at other places as well. Ultimately, it would be nice to open our own store, a retail space, so we can meet our customers directly. I may also explore doing limited runs of items such as shirts and jackets. It’s all about being able to have a lot fun while creating something.
Do you have any final tips for our male readers?
I have a lot of men come up to me and say, ‘I’d really like to wear that but I just don’t know whether I could’. So what I’m getting from them is that there’s this underlying urge to want to do something, but something is holding them back, or restricting them from doing it. I tell them to just go ahead and do it! They’re worried about what people would think, they’re not sure how to style it… The first step – just do it and see how it feels.
A lot of men also say that they don’t know how to tie a bow tie. This is one of the most exciting things about this accessory – the fact that you go home with a product and you’ll learn how to do something. There aren’t many products that give you that sense of satisfaction. I remember when I first tied a bow tie and it felt great! The energy that you spend dedicating yourself to doing something makes the product that much more interesting and valuable. Another great thing about bow ties is that you don’t necessarily need to tie it up. There’s a certain relaxed look of having them untied.