Celebrating a Decade – self-portrait by Han Chong

April Wan

A decade into its journey, self-portrait stands as a beacon of innovation and personal expression in an industry often clouded by fleeting trends and impersonal designs. As the founder and designer of this brand, Han Chong embodies the roles of storyteller, community builder and visionary. His goal was crystal clear: to craft garments that make women feel special. This vision was not simply about designing clothes; it was about building a relationship with customers and creating a community that resonates with the brand’s ethos. Renowned for its perfect party dresses, Han has mastered the art of creating reasonably-priced pieces without sacrificing quality. Gigi Hadid has been a part of self-portrait’s campaigns, and Han describes her as ‘the perfect Self Portrait woman’, further characterising her as ‘free-spirited’ and ‘always bringing joy to those around her.’ Check out our interview below for the story behind the timeless Bow bag, Han’s daily routine, and his preference for hosting or attending parties.

April Wan: Your brand, self-portrait, was launched a decade ago. Could you share your journey from the inception of the brand to its current success? What have been the significant learning experiences or challenges along the way?
Han Chong: When I started self-portrait, I wanted to create a brand that would make women feel special. Through building a strong creative language, we’ve managed to gain a very loyal community around us which we get to learn from continually. Of course, there are always going to be challenges, but it only gives us the opportunity to learn, grow, and continue to do so along the way. My real takeaway from these last 10 years has been to remain open-minded and to build strong connections with my teams. It has helped the brand adapt to the ever-changing landscape and challenges thrown our way.
AW: You’ve previously mentioned that your team rarely works overtime, adhering to a schedule set well in advance, sometimes months or even a year ahead. How do you maintain such organisation, especially now that you’re overseeing both self-portrait and Roland Mouret?
HC: I am a firm believer in balance – it makes me a better person, and leader. Since I started self-portrait, I set the tone of working hard during the working day – with clear schedules, timelines and communication with my teams – so that we can all enjoy our time away from the studio. Because of this set up, I was able to set up our Group (SP Collection) and was able to incorporate overseeing the addition of Roland Mouret into our day to day work, with the support of the amazing teams we have in place.
AW: As someone who values time efficiency, how important is a daily routine for you? Could you describe your morning and evening routines?
My professional life is so busy, that I really like to keep my personal life very simple and straight-forward. It helps me maintain a sense of balance and wellbeing. I always wake up and go to bed at the same time (except for when I’m travelling) and I try to walk or take the bus to and from my studio every day – it really helps me to start and end the day with a chance to clear my mind.
AW: Central Saint Martins has nurtured many prominent figures in the fashion industry, including you. In 2018, you initiated a scholarship program for five MA students at CSM, one each year. What inspired you to contribute back to your community in this way?
HC: Central Saint Martins (CSM) gave me the tools and confidence to be where I am today – so nothing makes me prouder than the scholarship I was able to fund with them. Driven by my own personal journey with the institution, I felt incredibly passionate about stepping up and supporting the next generation of creative talent. This programme has given opportunities to young designers that would not have had a platform to shine or learn in the same way otherwise. I learnt first-hand both how hard and rewarding it can be and I am so glad I get to help where I can.
AW: The Bow Bag has become an iconic item, regularly featured in our Christmas Gift Guide since its launch in 2022. Despite your stance on not following trends in design, the Bow bag has certainly set a trend. Could you share the inspiration behind this widely admired bag?
HC: My customers had been asking for accessories for a long time – expanding the self-portrait wardrobe to include bags was a no-brainer – but I wanted to wait until the timing felt right. When I felt ready, I wanted to create a bag that brought joy to our customers. Whilst we continue to concentrate on evolving the shape, colourways and textures, we’ve stayed away from launching a series of completely different bag shapes so that we can create an icon and a staple…much like our lace or rhinestone dresses. It’s therefore become a very familiar product and the perfect accessory to complete the self-portrait look, day or night. 
AW: self-portrait is renowned not only for its in-demand designs but also for its visually stunning campaigns. The brand has collaborated with notable photographers like Harley Weir and Tyrone Lebon. Could you elaborate on the narrative or themes that these campaigns aim to convey?
HC: I had been thinking about reaching our communities in new and interesting ways for a while, and during lockdown felt like it was the perfect moment to tell our brand and product story through content and campaigns rather than through the traditional fashion show format. We’ve been very fortunate to collaborate with some of the best creative names in the industry, who have become long-standing partners. These partnerships have meant that we’ve been able to focus on building out some exciting and fun creative ways of bringing the brand and the collections to life – always celebrating the heart and soul of our self-portrait community. 
AW: Gigi Hadid has been frequently featured as the face of self-portrait campaigns, how did this relationship come to be?
HC: Gigi is the perfect self-portrait woman – she’s free-spirited, she’s a mother, a sister, incredibly hardworking and always brings so much joy to the people around her. I love how our relationship has evolved and grown over the years.
AW: This marks the fourth collaboration between self-portrait and Gigi, with a special focus on capturing her in Paris. Could you share the storyline or inspiration behind choosing Paris as the setting for this campaign.
I often refer to self-portrait as being designed in London, but made for the world – our customers and community are international and curious about the world. For the latest campaign we wanted to take Gigi to Paris, following our campaigns with her in New York and London, to bring this concept to life. It’s a city we both find ourselves in frequently, one that self-portrait hadn’t yet shot in, and the perfect backdrop to our latest party collections.
AW: self-portrait has become renowned for its eveningwear, offering a wide range of party dresses. With the holiday season upon us, are you excited about any Christmas parties? Do you prefer hosting or attending them?
HC: I love to bring loved ones together and entertain – it’s very much part of my culture and the way I was brought up, surrounded by family and friends celebrating every and any occasion. It’s something that I try to do through my work and through my personal life – we recently had our annual Christmas party, which I love to host and spend months planning..it was a riot!!