Before travelling to Taiwan, I wish someone would have told me to bring an empty suitcase. In a country bursting with design studios, night markets and up-and-coming labels, it’s quite easy to take home more than a few handmade treasures. Even if you’re not looking for something new, you’ll likely stumble upon a pop-up shop and unintentionally end up with a whole new wardrobe.
The epicentre of all things creative is Taipei City, a mecca for those working in fashion and interior design. Many choose to produce their lines within the country, which has cultivated a thriving manufacturing network. Taipei’s architecture and interior design firms have transformed shops and cafes into minimalistic oases, while local brands tend to feature a Europe-meets-Asia flare. It all makes sense when you realize that many of Taiwan’s top designers studied and launched their careers abroad before returning to home soil.
Here & There Magazine recently caught up with a few of these creative powerhouses to uncover Taipei’s hidden gems. If you’re planning a trip to Taiwan, you may want to add a few of their recommendations to your itinerary. Otherwise, sit back and let their creations transport you east.
“It’s a bit like the story of Alice in Wonderland,” says Jolin Wu about her current situation in Taiwan. After living in London for over a decade, the fashion designer realized it was time for a new adventure. So, she slipped down the rabbit hole to the whimsical city of Taipei, where fresh influences led her to launch her own label. A graduate of London’s Central St. Martin’s and the Royal College of Art, Wu previously worked as a freelance designer for Alexander McQueen and Julie Verhoeven. Today, she infuses her eponymous womenswear line with romantic silhouettes, impeccable tailoring and an appreciation for history’s creative females.
Julia Eskins: You lived in both Taipei and London. How do the cities compare to one another?
Jolin Wu: London is more mature and complete. It’s a very creative city with a lot of competition... Taipei is more like a newborn baby, full of possibilities and perspectives!
JE: What area of the city do you like best and why?
JW: I love the Ming Sheng area, which is where my studio and flat are located. Here, you can find lovely traditional shops and trendy boutiques. I love the conveniences of Taipei. We have a 24-hour bookstore and I can always walk around, even at midnight.
JE: You seem to always have a muse. Who is inspiring you most right now?
JW: Recently, Georgia O’Keeffe. I adore her style and art. Actually, I’ve always pulled inspiration from fascinating women. My spring/summer 2017 collection was inspired by photographer Vivian Maier.
JE: Quick – describe your design aesthetic in three words.
JW: Humanity, excitement and emotion.
For Taiwanese designers Sean Yu and Yiting Cheng, love was born in the concrete jungle. Eleven years ago, the husband-and-wife duo founded 22 Design Studio with a simple idea: make innovative products out of concrete. Their handmade ring series turned out to be so successful that they’ve since designed concrete writing tools, stationary, timepieces and more. They’ve recently produced their first mechanical watch, which will be launching on Kickstarter in September. At its core, 22 Design Studio is about celebrating the ‘made in Taiwan’ movement and urban inspirations.
Julia Eskins: Taipei has influenced your designs and use of concrete and steel materials. What is your preferred way to explore your city?
Sean Yu: I like cycling to the mountains around Taipei city in the mornings. During my morning cycling, I can think deeply – a lot of important decisions are made during this time.
Yiting Cheng: I like to go to bookstores and walk down alleys to find inspiration. I get the latest news and then clear my thoughts and rearrange the information as I walk.
JE: What is the meaning behind the name "22 Design Studio"?
SY: It represents the age that we graduated from design college. It was when we started to genuinely believe in the power of design and our passion to do something interesting. We were classmates in design college and started dating shortly after we met. Thankfully, Yiting and I share the same taste in design. I make the objects and Yiting does the packaging and graphic design.
JE: Your studio's ethos eschews mass manufacturing in favour of artisanal craftsmanship. Do you think this production style is growing in popularity in Taiwan?
SY: Taiwan has great manufacturing resources. I think it is almost a perfect environment for someone who is trying to produce something. We were forced to hand-make our own products because there was no factory that makes delicate concrete objects in the world. But we soon realized that there are many benefits of making everything in-house, as we can control every detail and discover new possibilities within the manufacturing processes.
JE: I have a few hours to kill in Taipei. Where should I go?
SY: Tai Yuan Street near Taipei Main Station is very fun. I go there almost every week to find the materials and tools I need for my design work. You cannot find anything well-designed, but you can feel the energy of MIT (made in Taiwan) there.
YC: I recommend you visit Often Here for dessert and antiques and then go to Pon Ding for some art books and exhibitions.
It’s nearly impossible to talk about Taipei’s top designers without mentioning Kenyon Yeh. Working in product and interior design, Yeh has produced works for various international clients including TOPMAN and British designer Simon Hasan. He began his career in the United Kingdom shortly after graduating from Kingston University. It wasn’t long before he launched his design studio in London, where he began producing his handmade UNIKEA furniture collection. Today, he lives and works in Taipei, where he’s made it his mission to introduce the world to Taiwan’s original, minimalistic designs. His current projects include helming Esaila, a Taiwanese design publishing house, and the multifaceted creative space Pon Ding.
Julia Eskins: Design-wise, what changes have you noticed in Taiwan in recent years?
Kenyon Yeh: Over the past two years, Taiwan has become a booming design and art hub, with many independent designers who have very cool ideas. Here, manufacturers and designers work closely to develop products using old and new techniques. It’s quite a breakthrough for Taiwan’s new generation.
JE: You often collaborate with other designers. Which one has been your favourite so far?
KY: My favourite collaboration was with KaschKasch, a designer duo from Cologne, Germany. We introduced their Cherry lamp into our first collection. It was smart and unique. The lamp can be hung individually or create a bunch of Cherry lamps without any additional parts. It just clicks together magnetically. Now we have expanded the Cherry collection into a table version with the same DNA structure.
JE: Where can you be found on a Saturday afternoon?
KY: I’m often at my new space called Pon Ding. It’s a three-floor creative space. We sell coffee, books, magazines, zines and space for exhibitions, talks or workshop events. It’s located down a small alley in central Taipei and easy to reach from three different underground stations. The environment is calm because the area is populated with old Taipei houses.
JE: What is inspiring you most right now?
KY: For me, inspiration comes while observing the functionality of people, behavior and space.
Here & There Magazine is a digital publication covering art, design and fashion in cities around the world. Photographed and written through the eyes of two travellers with a passion for storytelling, Here & There features creative people, spaces and moments that reflect each destination’s distinctive aesthetic.