Kitty Wong on Her Nostalgic Hong Kong Food and Girly Fashion Illustrations
February 11, 2022
Kitty Wong’s illustrative work is some of the most recognisable artistic imageries found in the city.
Inspired by her childhood enamoured by the glitz and gritty cityscape, Kitty’s illustrations capture the nostalgia and magic of a past and modern Hong Kong.
Her vibrant and bold watercolour illustrations of nostalgic Hong Kong treats and long-legged models roaming Hong Kong have been featured in works with Dior, Lane Crawford, Apple, Chanel, K11 and Elements Mall.
To uncover the brains and brilliance behind her colourful haute couture creations and reminiscent portraits of Hong Kong snack cuisine, The Beat Asia sat down with Kitty to explore what her art means for herself and Hong Kong.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver from the age of eight, Kitty has harboured an affinity for her hometown since immigrating to Vancouver in 1996. “When I was [in] university [in Toronto], I would routinely look at Asian food bloggers and have a longing for Asian food and my childhood,” she told The Beat Asia in an interview.
In her formative years living as one of the only Asian immigrants in her high school in Abbotsford, British Columbia, an hour drive away from Vancouver, Kitty grew strong links to her distant Hong Kong youth.
Kitty ventured to Toronto to study fashion design at Ryerson University, a career destined for her since a young age. "As a little kid, I always wanted to do fashion design,” Kitty explained, describing a passion about designing haute couture-esque custom dresses.
Returning to Hong Kong in 2010 and becoming an assistant fashion designer for consumer company Li & Fung in May 2011, however, Kitty met the corporate side of fashion designing – technical drawings, factory consultations, and a lack of creativity – leaving her disillusioned with her job.
In early 2012, dealing with a thyroid illness that flared up due to work stress, Kitty quit her job and began devoting her recovery to illustration. “I began painting and drawing, which is what I always wanted to do as a kid.” Popularity of her art shared on Instagram soon grew, giving Kitty a chance to pursue her creative outlet as a full-time job.
It was in October 2012 when Kitty began pursuing her passion of illustrating. She attended luxury events featuring high-profile individuals in the fashion industry, networking for commissions on fashion illustrations.
When jobs began to come in, Kitty knew that her passion could turn into a full-time career. “With illustration and painting, it just felt very natural. It was easy to be hardworking.”
It was not until 2015 during a summer residency programme at the School of Visual Arts that Kitty matured her distinct style for female fashion illustration and inspiration for telling the stories of Hong Kong through her art.
“[Previously], it took me a long time to find my style. When I first started painting, I was painting runway fashion designs, but it was not anything personal to me. On my trip to New York, I fell in love with the city, so I wanted to paint about my experience there.”
“From that point on, it inspired me to tell the stories of my time in Hong Kong, my home, using my art. That’s when I began drawing the Hong Kong fashion [series].”
Her client work in recent years with the likes of Dior, Chanel, Maybelline New York, and K11 shows Kitty in her full potential to draw stunning, long-legged women in the backdrop of classic Hong Kong environments.
Kitty’s two approaches in illustration tend to usually cut through each other. Her illustration style drawing food harps back to her university days longing for Asian cuisine, a nostalgic story of her connection to her childhood in the city, employing detailed techniques to show the richness of each classic Hong Kong snack.
Her signature fashion illustration style primarily captures Asian women in a “girly” and fashionable way. “I remember when I first moved to Hong Kong. I felt like a lot of the advertising [only featured] European women. I wanted to draw more people that looked like me, Asian faces. We can be glamorous, too.”
Kitty’s gouache and pencil drawing of influencer Taylor R in a bubbly multicoloured dress standing tall against the rainbow Choi Hung cuts deep to the vibrance of Kowloon. Her Miss Central Market illustration perfectly captures the classical femme qipao dress style and streetside daily culture of the city.
Her big break came in a project with K11 Mall in East Tsim Sha Tsui in 2017. Kitty was tasked with designing 10 fashion illustrations involving her classic long-legged style, based on famous Hong Kong foods.
The project, “The Taste of Summer Fashion,” allowed Kitty total creative freedom to transform a series of glass showcase frames around the mall with her series of fashion illustrations inspired by Hong Kong street food. Her creations included "Miss Egg Waffle," "Miss Fishball," and "Miss Peach Bun".
“The importance in creating fashion illustration,” Kitty told The Beat Asia, “is to tell a story about the brand. Brands love the artisan connecting with that."
Kitty’s work with K11 propelled her to new heights in her career:, commissioning work with Xiaomi to create funky Hong Kong girl phone cases, Aerie to design athlete portraits celebrating Hong Kong’s Olympians, and working with Tiffany & Co to design delicate floral portraits for gift cards.
Her illustrations have notably caught the eye of Lena Dunham, who featured a watercolour portrait Kitty produced on her Instagram account, and Hong Kong actress Grace Chan.
With everything in Hong Kong, there is a story to tell, and Kitty wants to capture that. “I just love telling [the] Hong Kong story, painting the old architecture and street scenes. A lot of people always tell me, you need to branch out and draw other cities, and I do want to. But I love discovering Hong Kong and it’s small details.”
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