A few weeks ago, Graphic Designer Mo Choy, founder of MoChoyDesign, invited me into her lovely home to chat about her favourite garment. During part one she tells us about her creative background and her love of vintage clothing.
“It’s on. Ok. Hello. Hi Mo!”
Mo - “Hello Karen!”
“Tell us a little bit about yourself”.
Mo - “Ok I’m Mo Choy. I’m fifty years old and a self employed Graphic designer. I see you pulling a face there”.
“You look amazing!”
Mo - “Thank you”.
“…and i hope you know this. But I’m telling you now”.
Mo - “I work from home with my husband and two siamese cats.”
“What are their names?”
Mo - “The cats? Aida and Byron. As in Lord Byron and Aida Lovelace”.
Mo - “…and I’m a graphic designer. I work mostly in publishing and I’ve worked for many years in educational publishing and language teaching. And I also write. I have a co-author friend who I write for primary age. Language teaching. English as a Foreign language”.
“Oh right! Oh ok. see I’m learning! I didn’t know this. Ok . So, Mo. Tell me a little bit about your style. What do you love wearing?”
Mo - “I don’t really know how to describe my style but other people have said to me that my clothes are quite graphic. And I think my friend, when she said that, meant that I sort of look for…I really like interesting cuts and folds in clothing or an interesting drape. I often wear dark colours but then I do add in elements of surprise and bling and bright colours and patterns. I don’t do pattern a lot. I’m quite particular about it but when I do, I DO pattern.
02:17 “Oh okay yeah. You go for it. Yes I can see that in the dress you showed me. The dress that we’ll talk about later. Do you shop in a particular place or do you have a favourite designer, per se?”
Mo - “Not really. I kind of know the sort of shops that I like. I mean, you know, Karen Millen. All saints. Dave, actually, my husband, describes my style as ‘That stuff that I don’t know how to hang on the washing line’…”
“Oh my God. That needs to be a category, doesn’t it!”
Mo - “…because they’re such odd shapes. And I have to admit that I got a dress out of the wardrobe the other day, an All Saints dress, that I haven’t worn in absolute years, and it took me ages to work out how to put it on because it was such an odd shape! So many straps and folds!"
“I have a very nice shirt that I got from an independent shop in Greenwich years ago and part of the reason I don’t wear it as often as I could is because ironing it is an absolute bugger!”
Mo - “I gave up on ironing years ago. I just decided. It just gets a really good shake. My other thing, my latest place that I love looking at is actually Oxfam”.
“Okay. Tell me more”.
Mo - “I discovered Oxfam online. And this is where you can find such great stuff. Actually I think they’ve arranged it really well. Because it’s a very easy to navigate website. But I ordered four things recently and I just loved the idea that they were getting another life”.
“We’ve been joined by another cat”.
Mo - “This is Ada. Yeah so I actually found the top version of that dress i showed you…”
“Oh my goodness that’s brilliant!”
Mo - “…which was something that I’d been hunting down for…I mean that dress is fifteen years old now. at the time I was aware that they did a top as well and I kept thinking ‘Oh its bit expensive’, and I kept searching for it. And then it appeared on Oxfam recently. just my size”.
04:38 “There you are. The Universe was listening”.
Mo - "And it was exactly the same print and everything”.
Mo - “So I’m really quite delighted by that”.
“Why did you choose Oxfam? because it was online. or because you were looking for second hand clothes? or because you wanted to be sustainable? what were your reasonings.
Mo - “I must admit it popped up on social media, so that’s how I realised that they were selling online”.
“Yeah you see it didn’t know it existed online”.
Mo - “Yeah it popped up on Facebook i think. And I think I’d been looking at vintage clothes anyway because one my more recent hobbies in the last couple of years is Swing dancing”.
“We need…! You SEE! This is one of the reasons I love doing these interviews! I find out things I didn’t…ok go ahead!”
Mo - “…and um…all sorts of Swing dancing. And we’re learning, sort of, different vintage dances basically. And my normal sort of way of dressing is…I used to say in the past ‘I don’t really wear vintage very well. I’ll just make it look old or old fashioned’…and then I go along to these things and I like to feel appropriate but I don’t want to feel like I’m in fancy dress. So I am still finding my way with this kind of, a nod to the vintage. but in my way”.
“I like that. I like that”.
Mo - “Because I don’t want to be somebody else when I’m there”.
06:03 “…and you want to feel, like you say, you don’t want to feel like you’re in Fancy dress. But, also, you want to feel comfortable. Especially if you’re dancing!”
Mo - “Yeah”
“You know. That sounds brilliant. I’m going to want to see pictures or videos of you dancing”.
Mo - “Aidaaaa…”
“Sorry. I’m talking like this because Aida has now decided to jump on the sofa behind me and sniff my neck. Best offer I’ve had in years ,but anyway…moving on. Do you think that, in terms of fashion or style, have you always been interested in fashion? Or is it a new thing? Or do you think it’s changed in your decades on this planet. Sorry that sounds awful!”
Mo - I have been here decades, don’t worry, its true! I was always interested in fashion actually. In fact when I was at Foundation college, you do a module in each category of Art and Design, or whatever, and the Fashion tutor just kept saying to me ‘Can I really not persuade you to go and study Fashion?’”
07:10 “Oh my goodness!”
Mo - ‘And you know when you’re at school and you do a bit of Domestic Science? You do a bit of Needlework and you do some cookery. I mean it was quite limited. I loved making things but it was quite formulaic and I didn’t do an awful lot of it. So I didn’t even get as far as learning how to put a zip in. But I always, always sewed. Just made it up. But then always used to just make stuff and paint and draw out of whatever I had”.
“You were creative”.
Mo - “But I didn’t have proper materials back then… like I didn’t have…Dave and I were discussing this the other day. I grew up drawing on chip wrapping paper. because…”
“Did you?Mo - “My parents had a Fish and chip shop and takeaway. Up north they’re combined. Fish and chips and Chinese takeaway. Down south, no such thing. They’re totally separate. I spent my entire childhood just drawing and drawing on chip wrap paper. and I’ve now come back to this. Because I’d sort of become a bit detached from drawing. I became a designer later on. You’re using computers all the time. I was an illustrator when I first left college so I painted. And then I became a designer and was working on computers. and I became really detached from drawing. And I thought ‘ My hands don’t know what to do!’. And so I kept buying beautiful sketchbooks and then being too afraid to ruin the paper. The other day we saw some friends and their little boy, who’s four years old, was churning out picture after picture of trains and saying ‘Here’s another one! Here’s another one!’, and I said ‘I want to be able to draw like that! Angst free, no hang ups or anything’. And I just said I need chip wrap paper. When I was at foundation college I learnt this is actually called Newsprint in the trade”.
09:18 “I like the word you use. Because if you said Newsprint I would imagine a newspaper. Whereas if you say ‘chip wrap paper’ I see the colour. I can feel it. I’m almost smelling chips ,but not quite”.
Mo - “That allows you to just scribble away and make lots of mistakes and not worry about ruining anything or spending an awful lot on really good quality paper. And when I was young I didn’t really have that many materials. I would just use whatever I could find. I do remember painting with some old household paints that I found in the garage. Whatever shade of gloss my dad happened to have to left in there…”
“Hey, you use what you can, you use what you can. And, I have to say, I mean, both my children are creative but when Kareem, my eldest, was doing Art GCSE. When you go into Cass Arts and go into those places to buy sketch books and those sort of things, they had to be Christmas presents and birthday presents because they’re quite expensive”.
Mo - “They are”.
“Considering the image of the starving artist. Actually those people have to spend a lot of money on resources. So use what you’ve got. Absolutely. Definitely”.
Mo - “I would say so”.
“Tell me about your favourite garment! Which is why I’m here! I see you’re wearing a lovely pinstriped, is it pinstripe, waistcoat. Tell me more”.
10:58 Mo - “It is. Well this zip up top I’ve had for probably about twenty three years”.
“Wow. First of all ‘Still got iiiiiit!’. Can we have a moment of silence to appreciate that you’re wearing something that you bought twenty three years ago!”
Mo - “Thank you. It’s just high street sort of stuff. But I remember at the time thinking THAT’s so nice. It’s sleeveless. I like the way its cut away at the shoulders. I like the colour. I like the zip …just a little bit different.
Mo - “Back then I was Salsa dancing quite a lot. And I thought, this is quite nice for the evening”.
“‘Always danced’, she says. Dancer ‘writes down’. Ok”.
Mo - “And I thought ‘This will be really nice for going out in the evening and, you know, you can dress it up and that”. And then I started to like it for work type meetings. Because its pin stripe-y”.
Mo - “And I actually find that it keeps coming out of the wardrobe. I’m really comfortable with it. It’s got so old and ragged and the paints coming off the zip. I’ve tried to throw it out a few times but it kept coming back”.
01:28 “It walked back in itself did it?”
Mo - “Well I just kept getting it back out of the charity bag. Because…I don’t know why. I feel confident in it. And I match it with different things as the fashions have changed over the years. It’ll get matched with jeans, then skinny trousers after my boot leg trousers went out of fashion. Then now back to wide leg trousers. And it goes out to swing dances with wide leg trousers and plimsolls”.
“It’s almost like an old friend”.
Mo - “Yes. And I even, five years ago, took it to Vietnam, because I knew that there were lots of Tailors over there. And I thought ‘Now’s my chance to replace it’. And I said ‘Can you make this up? Just copy this style’. And I chose a fabric. It’s made to measure, supposedly. Came back…and I still wear this one!”
Mo - “I keep trying to replace it and chuck this out and I just can’t. ‘Cos this one somehow feels better than the new one”.
02:18 “Yeah its interesting, isn’t it. And that will have seen you through almost half your life. It sounds terrible but its true! I have clothing in my wardrobe they’ve just got such fond memories. And there are some things you just don’t want to get rid of. I love the idea of you putting it in the bag and then taking it back out again. It’s meant to be with you. Definitely. Tell me about that lovely dress that I’m about to take a picture of”.
Mo - “That dress is from Karen Millen”.
“Sorry…it’s very different from what you’re wearing”.
Mo - “It is. I was with a friend. She was getting married later on in the year so I had the opportunity to wear a nice dress. I’m not easy to please when it comes to clothing I think because I really know what I like. And quite often it’s, like, yeah something like that but with this cut like this or with that slightly like that. And Dave always says to me ‘You just imagine a piece of clothing and then get disappointed when you can’t find it. It’s just this fictitious thing in your head, rather than something you’ve actually seen’. But I saw this and I thought ‘This is somehow so me’. I’ve realised what it is now. It’s that combination of it looks Chinese but it is definitely a Western twist and a modern version of a Chinese dress. It’s not your classic Chinese Cheongsam but it definitely has that feel. I thought, ‘That just suits me’.
Mo - “It has lovely cutting and folding and gathers at the waist that I really like. And I’ve never spent so much money on a dress before, other than my wedding dress, but I’ve really got my wear out of it. I’ve really had my wear out of it. It’s been to lots of occasions…and now that I’m dancing at these different events and sometimes they go a bit more Fifties in style, the dress comes out. And I’ll even sometimes wear flowers in my hair with it, which I wouldn’t have done. It’s had a new lease of life recently”.
04:36 “That’s lovely. Tell me why you chose to wear this top and not the dress for our interview. You ummed and ahhed didn’t you?”
Mo - “I did um and ah. I think this top in the end is something that I really do just feel very comfortable in anywhere. The dress is more dressy and because we’re in my own home it feels kind of strange sitting in a very structured dress in your own home. But this is just such a comfortable top. In fact, talking about defaulting to this all the time, I had a meeting with a new publishing client, to me, a few months ago and I really did have that slight anxiety of new client. Slight panic. And I defaulted to this. But I always put something a little bit different with it, like silver shoes or a patterned neck tie or something like that.”
“It’s interesting that you call it defaulting as that has a negative connotation. I would put it another way round. Because that top has seen you through so many parts of your life that it’s almost like it’s a conscious decision to take it with you. It’s less so much of ‘This will do and l’ll dress it up’. It’s more of ‘You’re coming with me’, you know. Almost like a good luck charm, kind of thing”.
Mo - It is! It is the one item of clothing that I keep going back to that I just feel confident. whether it’s been work or whatever. I feel comfortable in it”.
“That’s brilliant. That’s brilliant”.
Mo’s ‘discovery’ of Oxfam online has changed her shopping habits. Recently O’ve been having conversations with women whohave fallen out of love with shopping based on some poor experiences. Do you prefer to shop online or in store?
Look out for the second part of my interview with Mo where she takes us down memory lane and shares her parents history and how it shaped her style.