Introducing style aficionado Zaneta Cheng, fashion and features editor at Hong Kong’s leading luxury lifestyle magazine Prestige. Zaneta honed her eye for unearthing emerging talent at uber cool Tank Magazine, and now she is exploring her passions for design, craftsmanship and global trends across the glossy pages of Prestige.
Find out more about Zaneta’s journey from tie-dying old T-shirts to finding her niche in fashion journalism, her best advice for embracing an eco-friendly lifestyle and the role fashion magazines can play in the global sustainability movement.
How did your love of journalism and fashion first begin?
My love for fashion started when I was pretty young. My dad is in entertainment and since I was maybe four or five, we would pick outfits for him to wear to shows or even just to work. I remember also writing a letter to my best friend when I was eight or so, something about wanting to really up my game in terms of personal style. I loved to shop and I always wore the weirdest clothes – nothing cool, mind you, nothing actually fashion, but I would see prints in neon pink and want to clash that with a sort of fluorescent hippy pant. I loved that outfit and wore it for the yearbook. It definitely stood out and while I still love to clash prints, I think I've definitely improved in that department since. I'd also tie dye old t-shirts that might have faded or cut pieces up in order to keep wearing them and to try out a new style without going to the shops to buy a new piece.
Journalism was really a very late development. I had no feeling for words until I watched Nigella Lawson on TV when I was 14 years old. I think her program Forever Summer had just come out and I really loved the way she used words to make food come alive. Funny enough I'm terrible at writing about food even today. Then in college, I took a journalism course and found it really tedious so I actually thought I wouldn't ever be a journalist. But I then started editing the literary magazine (Penn Review) at my university, the University of Pennsylvania, and fell in love with the editing process and how weekly meetings discussing words and their impact would then end up as a tome that I can keep forever.
I definitely think I'm more of a practical, hands on kind of person. Lofty ideas stress me out, which was why when I was doing my masters degree in Shakespeare at the University College London, a photographer friend said to me, why don't you stop writing about costumes and clothes that not many people even wear and go somewhere where you can write about what you think real people should wear. So he recommended me to Tank and it opened up my eyes to what being a journalist entails. I fell in love with the way it mimics school.
Can you tell us more about your global fashion journey, from your experiences at Tank Magazine to now more recently at Prestige Magazine?
I loved Tank. I thought the idealism, creativity and openness with which they approach fashion is so exciting. It was a magazine that proved to me with every issue that fashion and culture could be intellectual, smart, speak to society and react to its tremors with a clarity that other industries lack. Without my initial training at Tank, I would probably be less open to new, emerging designers. I probably wouldn't know what to look for or what to appreciate because there aren't many magazines that do that in Hong Kong, least of all luxury lifestyle magazines. They have a creative agency and Tank really loved to experiment with all sorts of platforms from podcasts to TV to still image, new apps – it was such a cool place to start out. Tank made me fall in love with fashion from fun and snappy pieces for digital to longer pieces for print. It was also super cool to be around Masoud and Caroline who own the magazine because they were people I had looked up to so much.
At Prestige, I learned a lot about what a more traditional magazine is like. I really feel like I grew up in this magazine. It feels like my home where I really had to learn the ropes from the very bottom up. There were definitely a lot of growing pains!! There's obviously a different approach to fashion at Prestige, not only because of the different market but also because it's a luxury lifestyle magazine where fashion only forms one part of the larger conversation about that month's most luxurious and coveted items. So it's learning to figure out what a totally different reader would appreciate and how to provide content that speaks to this type of reader but also trying to work in that intellectual approach to fashion that I learned and admired at Tank and adapting it in the fashion pages that I now look after.
In terms of global perspective, I really love Tank for exposing me to the types of fashion images that have really shaped my eye for what I like and dislike in imagery. I mean, they used Jurgen Teller and Marc Ascoli for shoots and really pushed for excellent images that set industry standards. But being in Hong Kong, I've been really impressed by the imagery that I see from China, like Modern Weekly, T Magazine China and Wallpaper China and when I took over shoots at Prestige, I've really also tried to work in these global influences into the shoots that we present now, which is something of a departure to the image direction that Prestige pursued before. This is definitely nerve-wracking though! Because the images really need to be excellent in order to prove that the changes made were worthwhile.
What do you enjoy most about your work in fashion magazines?
Fashion is one of the most immediate ways you can communicate who you are. I love that regardless of how involved in "fashion" somebody is, getting dressed is something every single human does everyday and what they choose to put or not put on their bodies speaks volumes about who they are and what they represent or stand for.
At the risk of sounding a bit shallow, I just love how beautiful it can be. A really good fashion show always makes me cry. Clothes really move me and it's beyond a privilege to be able to experience a designer's vision in person. I then love how my feelings and my sense for that season's trajectory can be communicated in the fashion pages of the magazine. From curating a selection of pieces I find to be the most striking for that particular trend, or diving deeper in an interview about why something might have been hugely successful that season, the pages of a magazine really allows me to indulge in these things that I love which is design, craftsmanship, and beauty among other things. What I also love is that I get to engage with current affairs and the issues of the day through a lens that I feel takes the harsh edge off of reality but can nonetheless be one of the most immediate and effective ways of communicating a stance or argument.
Can you tell us more about Hong Kong’s fashion industry?
Hong Kong's fashion industry is actually super fascinating for me because for such a small city in terms of surface area, there are so many niche subcultures that influence the way Hong Kong people dress and the way Hong Kong designers design. I think one of my favourite designers in Hong Kong, if not my hands down favourite designers are Yat Pit, a brand that really digs into local Hong Kong culture and gives it this romantic spin. I love a good layer of romance over any art form. Hong Kong people have looked abroad for inspiration for WAY TOO LONG and what I totally adore about Yat Pit is that they have given new life, new perspective and a huge injection of romance to the market stalls and quotidian life of Sham Shui Po and traditional Hong Kong culture.
They see beauty in the floral shirts that hang on the streets and they appreciate the kitsch of Temple Street market. They rework cheongsams and traditional Qing coats into something at once high art and totally wearable. I have this velvet skirt from them that has been handpainted in oil with the Victoria Harbour skyline. So cool. Next on my list is a bag made of upcycled jade. I also really love that they have seamstresses in Sham Shui Po to help them with cutting and production. They don't produce many collections at all because they both still have their full time jobs but everything they do is just golden and I love it. My only quibble is that they don't produce enough collections to sate my thirst for what they do!
How did you become interested in the sustainable lifestyle movement?
Does tie dyeing old t-shirts from the age of 7 count? My mother also gave me all her old clothes from Prada, Armani and 45R. I think she always couldn't bear to let clothes go because of her emotional attachment to the memories she has for each piece. I just have a hard time letting things go – it's definitely a bit of a problem – but it means I'll try to find ways to preserve pieces for as long as possible because each one is a token from a moment in my life. Of course, then I started being exposed to designers who were doing ever cooler things within this realm like Kevin Germanier and Marine Serre and because they were able to create objects of such art, I began looking deeper into the topic.
Personally I use definitely less plastic - glass waterbottles for me all the way. We get a lot of press releases and items that are wrapped in the most ornate and beautiful but definitely wasteful packaging. I try my best to make sure everything I'm sent gets used or given to people who will cherish the item and not throw it away. I have basically eschewed buying fast fashion in recent years, opting for beautifully and sometimes (when I can afford it) more ethically made pieces. I also eat less beef, which is sad, but I think really quite necessary.
What role do you think fashion magazines such as Prestige can play in the sustainable fashion movement?
Talk about it! Write about it! I make sure we feature relevant designers and industry players that our readers would love who are also part of the sustainable fashion movement. It's important to spread awareness and I do my best with the platform that I have. Play a part in further defining this mammoth term. Applaud successes and investigate failures.
What do you think the future of sustainable fashion retail is?
I think it's definitely a growing market, and it’s exciting to see labels emerge such as The R Collective who are focused on upcycling - upcycling is definitely a promising and exciting step towards a sustainable future. I think sustainable brands really need to look into their practices and make sure, as they grow their brand, to keep it true to the original intention and core mission. I'm digging all the reusable packaging that brands like Colgate have introduced - fashion retail needs to come up with something like this. So it's really still the wild west and a huge land of opportunity.
What are your some of your favourite fashion, lifestyle or beauty brands?
The R Collective obviously! Also Stella McCartney, Gabriella Hearst, Tome, Kevin Germanier, Marine Serre and Bethany WIlliams for fashion. Tata Harper, La Bouche Rouge. I think for beauty brands, the key is to not buy cotton buds made of plastic. I try to use less sheet masks, plumping for cream masks instead. And definitely NO face wipes or hand wipes. That stuff is SO BAD. They don't break down and the world is full of that weirdly textured fabric waste – it's in all the oceans and stuck in most sewage canals. So gross.
Do you have any advice you can share for someone who is just embarking on their sustainable beauty and/or lifestyle journey?
Credo in New York is excellent for sustainable clean beauty. Go on Net Sustain and other curated collections of sustainable clothing. Definitely try to read up on it first and understand what part of sustainability you want to support. Try to bring reusable bags. AVOID single use plastic. Try to avoid excess packaging. Reuse things. Repurpose things. I use jam jars to grow succulents. DON'T MINDLESSLY THROW THINGS AWAY. I really loved learning how my French roommate in college would repurpose her things. It takes a special kind of creative brain to give new life to old objects with style and panache. She did that really well. You can too. Prove it to yourself that you're original and chic because you can repurpose something beautifully.