Fashion Rebel Chris Chuang Defies the Lawyer Stereotype

Standing in front of the wardrobe to choose an outfit to wear, some may play by the rules. If you are Chris Chuang, however, even a small accessory can be a way to defy convention.

Lawyers, including Chuang who is a partner at Cheng, Yeung and Co., navigate rigid rules dictating their attire every time they step out in their professional capacities. Some of these rules state that suits and dresses should be a dark colour, shirts and blouses should be predominantly white or of unemphatic appearance, collars should be white, shoes should be black, and no conspicuous jewellery or ornaments should be worn.

Chuang recalls a classmate who wore a purple shirt to a hearing, which resulted in the presiding judge asking the senior partner of the classmate’s firm for an explanation. To err on the side of caution and maintain the professional look expected of his profession, Chuang limits showing what he calls his full-blown playfulness mode to after-work hours.

However, there are times when this mode comes out even during work hours. “I try to be rebellious in subtle ways. I believe coat and suit linings can be playful, and I still have a black cashmere coat from Shanghai Tang with blue lining. Paul Smith made suits with floral lining and the brand’s socks are generally playful and with a sense of humour. For shirts, the buttonholes can be in the colours of the rainbow,” said Chuang.

“I sometimes trade my black shoes laces for pink ones. I believe brown shoes are becoming popular too, as the judges cannot see the colour of your shoes after all. Wristwatches and cufflinks are other items one can have fun with. A bowtie can make one look special too, I have one from Alexander McQueen with tiny skulls printed all over which look like polka dots from a distance,” he added.

Chuang believes that his mother played a big role in sparking his passion for fashion. “My mom is very talented and good at embroidery. She made my outfits when I was young and even made suits for my dad. It has been a family tradition for some time that she would make fashion items for each family member for the Chinese New Year holiday,” he said.

An overcoat that she made for him, with the backslashed open like a flying beetle’s wings, is one item of clothing that Chuang still remembers fondly. He also recalls accompanying his mother on trips to buy fabrics for her garments.

However, it was only after he became an articled clerk that Chuang began exploring the fashion world in earnest, an exploration that he has continued to this day and believes will be a lifelong passion. He still enjoys looking back at some of his old stylings from time to time.

To Chuang, fashion is a unique form of art. “I see fashion lovers as painters. Instead of applying paints on canvases, the former co-ordinates various fashion items on the canvases of their bodies. I see fashion lovers as singers. Instead of expressing emotions through songs, they dress to express their emotions. I see fashion lovers as actors or actresses. By wearing outfits from a bygone era or that are unique to certain places, they can pretend to be someone else from the past or another country,” he said.

An affinity for outfits that produce movement when in motion, such as skirt pants, was discovered a few years ago due to the sense of play and freedom that they give Chuang. He is so obsessed with the movement that he has recorded it in slow motion using his mobile phone.

Crafting each day’s ensemble usually take Chuang five to ten minutes. “If it takes more than 15 minutes, there will usually be issues with the styling. My mood, the occasion, weather and any applicable dress codes are my usual considerations. I tend to agree with Tom Ford, who once said that when he is depressed, he dresses up and it makes him feel better,” he said.

Out of the many off-duty ensembles that Chuang has crafted over the years, the three depicted in the photos stand out to him. The first ensemble, where the aim was to portray Santa with a twist, involve a vintage red overcoat from Yohji Yamamoto. Chuang wore it with the reversible side open, alongside a feather headpiece from Bali and a woolen scarf from Iceland.

Adding the icy touch up effect on Chuang’s face for the final image made it interesting, he said. Comments ranged from “you looked regal”, “the image has a Russian feel” and even “you look like the monk character in ‘The Journey to the West’ story”.

The second ensemble was Chuang’s reinterpretation of the Ironman character. The illuminated device on his back is actually a clock made by local designer Simon Chim. The black jacket which opens at the back is from another local designer Jeff Mui. This ensemble reflects Chuang’s exploration of local designers’ work, which began around ten years ago. “I feel obliged to support them if their work is up to par,” he said.

The third ensemble is Chuang’s portrayal of a vampire, his all-time favourite look to portray for unknown reasons, he said. The shirt and the coat are from two of Chuang’s favourite brands Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons and his sister helped with the makeup

“If I were only allowed to wear outfits from one brand, I will choose Comme des Garçons. I adore the rawness, edginess and playfulness in their work,” he said.

Chuang adheres to the belief that genetics plays a large part in dictating one’s fashion sense. “I describe my style as playful and experimental. Minimal and dandy styles are not appealing to me for some unexplainable reason,” he said.

Although reading books, watching video clips on styling and fashion shows are some ways to improve one’s fashion sense, he says making styling mistakes is the most important way to improve it. “My fashion sense is constantly being refined through countless trials and errors. Now I can quickly tell whether certain ensembles of outfits are in order in terms of their colours, fabrics and proportions,” he said.

Chuang’s fashion advice for lawyers and those in other professions where there is not much room for manoeuvre in the dress code? “Choose a style that makes you feel comfortable. If you only feel comfortable in polos and chinos, that’s totally fine,” he said.

When exploring a new style, Chuang suggests trying on each outfit. “Cut is a magical thing. You want a wardrobe with items that will last. Try to avoid fashion trends because while fashion fades, style is eternal, according to Yves Saint Laurent,” he said.

Chuang earned a Bachelor of Laws with honours from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in 1992, earning a Postgraduate Certificate in Laws (PCLL) from the same institution a year later. He kept his ties with his alma mater by serving as a part-time lecturer for the personal injury litigation elective course for PCLL students from 2009 to 2012.

Admitted as a solicitor in Hong Kong in 1995, Chuang was appointed as a civil celebrant of Marriages in 2006. He qualified as general mediator in 2009 and accredited as such two years later. His practice spans various sectors including insurance law, personal injury litigation, medical negligence, arbitration and mediation, family law, company and commercial law, civil litigation and building management.

Chuang’s work involves advising insurance companies on the underwriting of policy terms and conditions, conducting insurance-related arbitration and litigation covering a wide range of insurance policies as well as advising on matrimonial matters including divorce, child custody, ancillary reliefs and maintenance. He is also experienced at drafting wills, applying for estate duty clearance papers and applying for grants of probate and letters of administration.

A member of the Law Society of Hong Kong, Chuang indulges his sporty side by serving as the captain of the society’s volleyball team. He was the convener of the team from 2006 to 2009, became its vice-captain in 2010 and served as the captain from 2012 to 2015. He is also a keen tennis player.

In his professional capacity, Chung has served as the speaker of a continuing professional development course accredited by the Hong Kong Law Society and organized by Courses and Seminars Limited on “Tips on Legal Principles and Practice in Personal Injury Litigation” in 2000. He has been a member of the Legal Aid Service Counsel’s Interest Group on Processing, Assignment and Monitoring of Assigned-out Cases since 2003 and is also a panel solicitor The Duty Lawyer Service of Hong Kong’s free legal advice scheme.

One non-sport passion that Chuang enjoys is travel, with Italy and Japan being two of his favourite destinations. When he travels, exploring local flea markets is a constant on his to-do list. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Chuang to cancel six travel trips that he had planned for 2020. “I hope the COVID-19 situation will be over very soon so that I can fly again,” he said.