Makeover guru GOK WAN loves tigers but wants women to stop being catty, writes SAMANTHA LEESE
“I LOOK LIKE J-Lo!” says Gok Wan. The British stylist and TV presenter is referring to the fluffy white bathrobe he's chosen to wear for our interview. We're sitting in Wan's State Suite cabin aboard the luxury Eastern & Oriental Express railway train, en route to the Majestic Tiger Ball in Kuala Lumpur.
The gala dinner and charity auction, attended by the city's great and good, will raise funds and awareness for Save Wild Tigers, a UK-based charity founded by Simon Clinton, who grew up in Malaysia.
Wan, who was born in Leicester to a Hong Kong-Chinese father and English mother, is no stranger to charitable causes, to which he says he dedicates 25 percent of his time, focusing on anti-bullying and LGBT organisations. However, the friendly and vivacious Brit is best known for his TV makeover shows, in particular How to Look Good Naked and, more recently, Gok's Style Secrets.
For a 2012 documentary, Made in China, Wan travelled to the mainland to meet the people and tour the factories that supply the Western rag trade. The journey, which also allowed him to explore his ancestry, had such an impact on him that he had the show's title tattooed on the back of his neck.
His other projects include a current stint as a host of This Morning for the UK's ITV, and he continues to design clothing, underwear, glasses and a beauty line for various British high-street brands. Gok's Wok, his latest cookbook of fast, fresh and healthy Asian recipes, is out now.
Before swapping his robe for a sharp blue Richard James suit, Wan chatted to Prestige about tigers, mean girls and fashion's democratic revolution.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH SAVE WILD TIGERS.
A friend of mine came over for lunch one day and said, “You've got to meet this guy Simon. He's the most passionate guy I've ever met.”
Tigers are hunted for “medicine” and their skins, and the majority of that stuff goes into China. This might be slightly controversial, but I think when you're Asian you feel partly responsible. Just imagining that by talking to people and raising awareness, there's a chance my godchildren will grow up with tigers in the world, is quite emotional. It's not purely selfless: When you're lying in bed preparing to say goodbye to the word, it would be amazing if part of your legacy were saving tigers.
DID YOU FEEL CONNECTED TO ASIA, GROWING UP IN BRITAIN?
I was born in England and I regard myself as English. My relationship to Asia growing up was through food. My dad worked in catering and every story he told us was about food, [like] putting sweet potatoes in the ground to cook before he went to school. We had all these wonderful stories about Hong Kong, [but] I had no real understanding of what it meant to be Asian until I hit my twenties and came to Asia for the first time.
I got off the plane in Bangkok and I distinctly remember the smell. It was just the most incredible thing, it was like coming home. It was the most bizarre awakening I've ever had in my entire life. Everything fell into place because I recognised the smell. It was life-changing.
FASHION IS SO GLOBALISED NOW. DO YOU SEE A UNIQUE ASIAN APPROACH TO STYLE?
[There's] absolute globalisation in fashion. We're exposed to the same brands, the same ad campaigns and the same celebrities, [but] we can now do our own research [through blogs and social media], rather than relying on magazines to tell us what to wear.
There's been a humanised revolution in fashion, where the consumer is starting to dictate what they want to the media rather than the other way around. It's no longer just about Vogue.
I can tell the difference between a Hong Kong girl, a Seoul girl and a Tokyo girl. If we were going to be obscenely crude about it, it's often down to how their hair is done, how tight their clothes are and their “couture swag”, as I call it.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON NEXT SEASON'S COLLECTIONS?
I think SS15 is neat, simple, pared down and elegant. The last three years we've been slightly messed up with what we've wanted from fashion. Do we want '70s? Tailoring? Leather? Futuristic? It's been a bit crazy. So this next season, with beautiful prints, great illustration and wonderful cuts, will be one of those seasons where you really look forward to getting dressed.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WORK IN FASHION?
My sister [Oilen] inspired me so much when I was growing up. She still does. In the nicest possible way, I'm still slightly obsessed with her. She's clever, brilliant, bright, wonderful, tenacious and moral. She's four years older than me, and I remember watching her step out of her school uniform and transform herself. Within moments her hair was in a quiff, the hooped earrings were in – this was the '80s – the big oversized leather jacket, the long tube skirt … and I would love it. I was fascinated to see what she would wear every day.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WOMEN ON YOUR SHOW(S).
I've always liked women. I don't like boys, they annoy me. I always tell the girls, you've got to dress to your body shape. Even if it's the hottest most amazing incredible trend, if it doesn't suit you just don't wear it.
WHAT'S THE MOST COMMON OBSTACLE TO SELF-CONFIDENCE THAT YOU'VE SEEN?
Girls have got to stop being mean to other girls. I hear women talking about it all the time. Women have fought since the 1940s for independence, equality and power. Don't take it away from each other through fashion, do you know what I mean?
It's hard in Asia, because women here are really truthful. They just say what they think.