There’s a Glitch in the Matrix, and Robert Wun Couldn’t Be Happier
Robert Wun creates the kind of conceptual womenswear that feels ripped out of the pages of science fiction. Orchid shapes burst forth from elegant, pleated gowns. A navy power suit unfurls into a waterfall of straps. There are bags that resemble birds, and interpretations of boardroom staples—a striped button-down shirt, or a crisp black blazer—that are anything but boring. Despite never having staged a runway show, Wun’s collections, made in his London studio, regularly inspire breathless reviews on social media, where they’re able to reach an audience that might otherwise be left out. But success for the 30-year-old designer was never a sure thing. Growing up in Hong Kong, Wun felt at odds with an education system he says didn’t value creativity. “They celebrate kids who are academically very successful, or successful in sports,” he says.“If you’re creative or a bit queer or a bit gay, you’re just that weirdo. You’re someone who people don’t think about.” Eventually, Wun made his way to London College of Fashion, but was left out of his graduation show. In 2014, with a lookbook he cobbled together for roughly the cost of a theater ticket, he launched his eponymous label. For years, he toiled away in relative obscurity. Despite the occasional request from the likes of Lady Gaga, Cardi B, and Celine Dion to wear his clothes, he seemed destined to be ignored by fashion’s mainstream.
Then came 2020, and the pandemic. While his contemporaries anguished over a lack of access to labor and materials, Wun felt emboldened. He clocked 15-hour days putting together his most elaborate and critically beloved collection yet. “I always feel that when there’s a crisis, there’s an opportunity,” says Wun, who attributes his “fighter mindset” to his parents. “When the whole world is made to believe it’s just in survival mode, you can actually break through.” The resulting clothes straddle the line between Wun’s two inspirations: Alexander McQueen (to whom he’s sometimes compared) and Niobe, the faux-crocodile-leather–clad pilot played by Jada Pinkett Smith in The Matrix films. If other designers’ visions of the future too frequently bring to mind the austere machine people of 1927’s Metropolis, then Wun’s more closely resembles the lush textures and colorful maximalism of the Capitol in The Hunger Games. (No surprise: He contributed a dress for the series’s final act.) “When most people think ‘futuristic’ in the fashion context, it’s just a silver girl in a robot world,” says Wun. “For me, futurism means unlimited imagination.”