A designer's eye
Clark Chung had a lifetime in the fashion industry under his belt – designing for the likes of J Crew and Calvin Klein – before he moved into his Hell’s Kitchen railroad apartment eight years ago. He found the place on Craigslist, was still single, and it was perfect.
But, naturally, over time his aesthetic, along with his living arrangements, evolved. He’s not only left the fashion industry – opening his store November 19 on W49th St just over a year ago – he’s also now married, making room for another human in his not-huge New York apartment. His husband, Xin, uses an alcove as his workspace. And, since New York Pause, they're both working from home.
When we first spoke for this interview, pre COVID-19, he explained: “When I first moved in, it was very minimal – like Danish modern. Everything was very natural, with a lot of wood and neutral colors. But as a shopper – an addicted shopper and a vintage fanatic – I couldn't stop buying."
Travel gave him the opportunity to scour thrift stores and antique markets overseas, and a lot of Japanese influences have found their way into his one-bedroom apartment, as well as pieces from Taiwan, or back home in Texas.
“I love the mix of American and Asian, and whenever I travel, I always bring back something. And that's how the apartment came together.”
There's still a natural element – crystals and rocks – as well as texture and an element of whimsy – a sculpture of a feather tickling a foot, Japanese anime figures, a Godzilla model, and papier mache masks. “I don’t like anything too serious,” he says.
That goes for his eclectic art collection too. “The piece above the sofa is by Bruce Lee – he’s one of my favorite artists that I always buy whenever I'm in Texas. There's a little whimsicalness about it, and I just love the color and texture. Everything he paints on is something that he finds – it's never a new canvas.”
Two other pieces of framed paper cut art are his own. And, over the fireplace, against the exposed brick, are photographs of last king and queen of Thailand. “They’re very old, he says. “I just thought they were so beautiful.”
In fact, there’s very little that is new – the mattress, of course, and a black marble table that is the centerpiece of the living room. A chair he found on the street and reupholstered it. “It was this ugly, beat-up, mustard yellow, not in a good way,” he says. “So I just wrapped it up in denim. Now I've been using it and the denim is kind of faded, which I love even more.”
Native American fetish necklaces, African masks, Latin American sculpture, beautiful butterflies in perspex boxes – he’s an inveterate collector. And – bonus – now he has the excuse of buying up stock for the gift shop.
“Everything I buy for the store I have to love,” he says. “My husband will say, ‘Oh, if you don’t sell them, at least you could keep them.’ And sometimes it’s very difficult to let something go.
“I'll text him and say, ‘Oh my God, that Mickey Mouse jar is sold.' And he’ll be like, ‘Good. Get it out of here.’ But I loved that thing. It was so cute.”
But some things are absolutely not for sale. Like his collection of Comme des Garcons pieces.
“It’s my favorite brand in the world,” he says. “My past life is fashion and I think that's where I get a lot of the color sense and inspiration from. I kind of want to see crazy shoes. Even if they’re for women, I’d buy them – I just think they're cool. Whenever I see an interesting piece, I buy it.”
And, wherever he is, that shopper’s eye is never switched off. “It's always, always on,” he says.
Post COVID, of course, he and Xin have had to make some adjustments. "We are doing OK and taking it day by day," he says. "Days when I feel a little uncertain, I make phone calls to family and friends, which immediately cheers me up and reminds me that we are not alone in this. We never had this much time before, so we are taking advantage of it.
"We are learning how to cook new recipes, painting, working on new items for the shop, and even learning how to cut our own hair and our pup's too!
"Our biggest challenge is trying to drive more traffic to our online shop. Our main business has always been brick and mortar, but since the shop has closed down temporarily, we need to focus on online, adding new items and creating more content. And we're posting a lot more one-of-a-kind items that we share on IG stories that people can buy direct."
As for the future? "I hope that, after all this, we can all be kinder to each other and treasure the physical human connections."
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