Inflatable couture

Inflatable couture

A local artist uses balloons to create dazzling pieces of 'fashion items'


Artist Phoebe Chan Kin-pui with a model wearing one of her pieces.
Artist Phoebe Chan Kin-pui with a model wearing one of her pieces.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP
Give 1,200 balloon tubes to clowns, and they will twist them into an endless series of dogs, cats, bears and dolphins - much to the delight of children.

Give them to Phoebe Chan Kin-pui, though, and she'll weave only a single item out of them. But it's an item you can wear for your prom.

Chan, 38, specialises in making one-of-a-kind wedding dresses and party gowns out of balloons. She is one of the only four certified balloon artists in Hong Kong.

Balloon art is no child's play. Aspirants have to pass written, oral, and practical examinations locally and abroad.

Chan taught herself the art by researching online and watching a television programme on balloon twisting two and a half years ago.

Initially, she began twisting balloons for her then-two-year-old daughter. She created cartoon characters and made her a princess' gown from balloons. But as her skills improved, so did her confidence. She entered competitions in Japan, Malaysia, the United States and Belgium.

Her intricate costumes, hair accessories and decorative arrangements amazed judges. This year she was named New Artist of the Year at the annual World Balloon Convention in Dallas, Texas.

Chan combines balloons with fashion in her work, creating an unlimited variety of new forms. Thanks to her new-found art, she's also realised her childhood dream of creating designs for runways. "My father, who runs a textile factory, did not approve of me choosing a designer's unstable career," Chan says, adding that he can't stop her now.

In her office, she works amid boxes of rainbow-coloured balloons made of rubber and shiny foil. She uses at least 300 balloons to make a simple dress. Elaborate wedding dresses require four times more material.

She usually uses balloons filled with air. But after experimenting, she's found that deflated foil balloons can be shaped into flowers to be used for a dress.

"I am not formally trained in balloon art so I have no preconceptions," Chan says. "I never limit a material to its conventional purpose. Take a carton box as an example. I can rip it apart, soak it in water and fold it into different shapes."

Since her rise to fame, she has received many orders. She says she owes her popularity to a fine eye for details. For example, she will insert one balloon into another to get the exact colour for a dress. Her dresses are also famed for their body-hugging qualities.

"Balloons are bulky and add weight visually," Chan explains. "But I design my dresses so tight that they press into the flesh, narrowing the waist. I always make sure my dresses fit the wearer perfectly."

Her balloon dresses last for up to a week, but can only be worn once.

That may seem wasteful, but Chan also takes environmental issues into consideration. All her balloons are biodegradable and are made of eco-friendly materials.



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