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Brand to Know: A Hong Kong Label Making Bags From Art History

By Guan Tan

Matter Matters

When Flora Leung found her accessory label, Matter Matters in Hong Kong, she had one rule. She wanted to design bags not based on trends, fleeting inspirations or frivolous creative impulses but basic, unassuming geometry. 

"Simple geometric shapes on products are eye-catching," the 36-year-old Leung quips. "In the beginning, the inspiration for my collections were based on the simplest graphic [design] elements: triangle, square, and circle."

It sounds simple, but Leung's pared-back design philosophy stems from her decade-long study in art, graphic design and accessory design. She digested, reduced and abstracted all that she learnt to invent one new simple idea for her brand, Matter Matters. "With design ideas I conceived in school, I started my own label Matter Matters in July 2013 when I was 31." 

Matter Matters

There are three pillars holding up Matter Matters – also three remarkable moments in art history. You'll find traces of the Bauhaus, Art Deco and Memphis movements present in every single bag at Matter Matters. 

The German Bauhaus school of thought dates back to 1919. Until the advent of the world wars, it was literally a school with formal courses. Their designs were recognisable – crisp lines and shapes. Two crucial design convictions include, as Leung recites, "'form follows function' and 'clean powerful lines matter'". 

Art Deco stems from France in 1925 but reigned in the 1930s across America. Similar to the style mentioned in Bauhaus earlier, the Art Deco style stresses on symmetry and geometry. Yet, in Art Deco, the straight, lucid lines are often replaced by decorative lines that curved and swirled. For her brand Matter Matters, Leung reduced said art movement into one idea. "Art Deco gave me 'simple lines with a sense of elegance'," Leung quips. 

Later in the 1980s, a group of Italian designers came together and christened themselves "Memphis". One design element strung them all together – the use of colourful materials laminated in plastic. As designers around the world caught on with their philosophy, it eventually snowballed into an art movement. "The philosophy of the Memphis movement aims to challenge the idea that products had to follow conventional shapes, colours, and textures," Leung explains. 

Take the crisp lines from the Bauhaus, inject some sinuous lines from the Art Deco, add the colours, materials and textures from the Memphis, and you'll find yourself head-on with a Matter Matters bag. "In my head, I think I've always mixed all these together to create an accessories brand that is graphical – with humour and wit." 

Matter Matters

Looking back at the beginnings and artistic intentions of Matter Matters, Leung realises that she was perhaps reactionary to the accessories industry's conventions. Bags had a season's worth of life. After the new season arrives, they're reduced to waste. "I really don't want to have a label creating waste, and products [with] no value after a season," Leung protests. She wanted to design bags that were timeless and bore artistic value.

The brand's name clearly states that matter matters. Creation comes with a huge responsibility – time. Products should be made to stand the test of time and trends. Matter Matters' bags, therefore, do not abide by seasonal or popular trends. 

In fact, Matter Matters doesn't release new bags every season. There's no fixed schedule and it stems from Leung's design process. "I seldom give my design process a deadline. If I can't think of something new and good, I would prefer to rest and not squeeze myself to come up with ideas in a very short period of time... If I can't deliver anything good in a season, I could take half a year off to be a buyer for the shop," Leung explains. "I always wonder why do designer rack their brains and constantly come up with new designs. Good designs are capable of staying through the seasons."

Consumers shouldn't have to keep checking in for new bags anyway. They're supposed to be good with the bags they already own and use. 

It's a difficult notion to erase from the dominant consumerism culture that we now live in. Leung admits that Matter Matters is not a brand for everyone. "It's not the general crowd and I love this." The customers who walk into her store in the K-11 retail mall along Tsim Sha Tsui, the shopping belt of Hong Kong, are "customers from creative fields". 

Like art pieces, these are bags that demand the most discerning eye. "I don't need everyone to love them. I could be satisfied if the brand is able to please those who understand art." If so, these are some exacting bags choosing their rightful owners.