Oh Hello Jo — Chelsea Mak

Jo Rosenthal

Although she’s only been designing her own line for a little while, Chelsea Mak has been in love with fashion since before she could walk. She studied at Parsons after dipping her toes into a million different jobs. “The rest,” she says, “is history.” Chelsea is from a Chinese background and that’s something that has played a huge role in the way she designs. I met Chelsea when she threw a party for her first collection. The party was an ode to her family history and all of her friends and a rock band were there; that’s how I knew I wanted to be a part of her world. I got the absolute honor of interviewing her about her life, love of Keanu Reeves and exactly what a day in her life looks like.

Talk to us a little bit about how you got your start as an artist and creator… I’ve always been wildly into aesthetics and clothes.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time reading my mom’s Vogues. My favorite way to pass time was to go through each spread and ask myself which outfit I’d rather wear and what I’d wear each outfit to. During my childhood, my mom spent a lot of time getting dressed up for something, and I spent a lot of time on her closet floor advising and dreaming. I am a Pisces, so innately I am a dreamer and a creator.
How did you know you wanted to make clothes and what is your work process like?
I knew I wanted to do something in Fashion, but wasn’t clear which part of the process I wanted to be a part of, so I did a million different fashion internships and ended up in PR. Ultimately I quit because it wasn’t creative enough and I ended up enrolling in the Fashion Design program at Parsons and the rest is history. My work process is tricky because it has to come naturally or it feels bad and inauthentic to me. I’ll have ideas floating in my head for a period of time and make random notes and sketches here and there and at some point those ideas incubate enough and I can produce a mood-board or a theme and then tie them to other things I’m feeling at the moment.
Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?
I grew up in San Marino, California right outside Los Angeles proper. It was an interesting town to grow up in because while it is historically conservative white and has so much history (General Patton used to live there and his home still exists) it’s placed right next to cities like San Gabriel and Monterey Park where there was a huge influx of Chinese immigrants. Neighboring cities sometimes called our town Chan Marino because there were so many Chinese people. I had the best childhood honestly – my dad made us ditch Chinese school on the weekends to go skiing with him and my mom and I were always driving to Robertson Blvd on the weekends to go shopping. I owe my parents everything.
JR: Talk to us a little bit about your family history and how that plays a role in your designing…
CM: My dad is from Hong Kong and my mom is from Taiwan so I spent a lot of time in both places growing up. My family lived in Hong Kong for several years while I was young and if you know anything about the history there they used to be colonized by England so the city’s got an insanely dynamic and interesting mix of east and west. That has played a huge role in my designing because I’m a little bit of an anglophile but the brand as a whole plays homage to my Chinese heritage. I used to have a British accent when I was young and I’m sad I lost it.
JR: What’s the most rewarding thing about what you do?
CM: I’m a really emotional person, so the fact that I get to create something that stems from my intuition is insanely rewarding and cathartic. I also love getting to work with other like-minded creatives.
JR: What’s your advice for a young person who wants to do what you do?
CM: Work a ton for work experience! Every encounter in the workplace no matter how big or small is an opportunity to learn whether it has to do with your professional skill set or interpersonal communication. People really underestimate good ole’ work experience these days, but there are so many areas myself where I feel I could have gained a little more experience in.
JR: How does where you live affect your work and your process?
CM: I work from home in Los Angeles, which can be challenging because I don’t see a lot of people, let alone stylish ones on a day to day basis. It’s probably why I get a surge of inspiration when I travel.
JR: Who are some artists or designers or people you look up to?
CM: My old boss Scott Sternberg! I learned everything about design and branding from him, his ability to translate taste and feeling into a tangible experience is incredible. I also look up to all the creative friends I have around me. Everyone has such a distinct styles, ways of thinking and doing and such insane work ethics — it’s super inspirational to be around.
JR: Can you talk to us about your obsession with Keanu Reeves?
CM: Keanu is just so good looking and pleasant to watch on screen. He makes my insides (and everyone else’s) feel like it could cave into itself and regress into another dimension. I would not say no to anyone like him who wanted to be my boyfriend.

“My work process is tricky because it has to come naturally or it feels bad and inauthentic to me.”

JR: What’s a typical day like for you?
CM: Wake up, meditate, have coffee and dive into emails and meetings. On the occasional perfect day I find myself lounging, sketching and playing dress up in my own closet while dreaming up something new.
JR: If you weren’t pursuing fashion, what would you do?
CM: I think I would be a landscape architect or an interior designer – definitely something to do with space and aesthetics.
JR: What are you working on now?
CM: I am currently working on the FW2020 collection for Chelsea Mak! I’m really excited about starting something new, and it’s my third collection so I really feel in the groove of things now.
JR: What do you do when you’re not feeling very creative?
CM: Oh man, that happens a lot. Cry about it until I’m creative. Eat a lot of snacks. Scroll through Instagram which sequentially makes my creativity worse.
Birthday: March 19 1985
Favorite color: Pink
Do you wear pajamas? If so, what kind? Cotton Nightgowns in the summer and Silk Chinese Pajamas in the winter
Ask a friend or lover 3 words that describe you and why:
From my dear friend and photographer Jamie –
“Energetic – drops rhymes on call
Thoughtful – be your house guest once
Erratic* – be your house guest once”
*I think this was a nice way to say I’m moody : )
For more info on Chelsea and her fabulous clothing line, check out her website & instagram