Designer In Training
Alfred attended Catholic boarding school until the age of 18 and aspired to become a fine artist contrary to his parent’s wishes that he pursue a traditional profession - preferably in dentistry. He says, “As a child, I had fantasies of living in Florence as a painter.” Alfred was close to his mother, but at a young age, he feared his father. He was born left-handed and his father used to hit the offending hand until he learned to do everything with his right hand. When Alfred announced his intentions to become a painter, his father compromised and agreed to send him to Paris where he studied couture at the famous Chambre Syndical de la Couture Parisienne, the same design school that produced Saint Laurent and Kenzo.
In 1966, leaving Hong Kong for the first time, Sung arrived in Paris speaking no French but luckily had a friend from back home with whom he shared a modest apartment. He lived at No. 3 Avenue George V - albeit practically maids quarters - right behind Hubert de Givenchy’s atelier. “From my window, I could see the models and seamstresses,” recalls Sung. “During the couture season, there would be a petite runway show every day, which I could sometimes see from my window. Later, I would see the models, in their big sunglasses and scarves, sipping black coffee in the nearby cafes.”
At the couture school, he stood out awkwardly in his nerdy schoolboy clothing, and teachers ridiculed him on his french skills. For the first three months he was so homesick that he pleaded with his parents in letters to let him return. Gradually, over the course of many late nights, the young student mastered the old-fashioned couturier art of draping, cutting and sewing garments by hand. At the same time, he learned the importance of elegance and the beauty of simplicity. He began to amaze his professors with innovative solutions to such design projects as “create a wardrobe for Audrey Hepburn to wear during a week at Cannes.”
By the time he graduated in Paris, placing first in design and 17th in draping and sewing, he moved to New York and continued his fashion studies at Parsons School of Design, where he was classmates with Donna Karen, Bill Robinson, Louis Dell’Olio and renowned sculptor Judith Shea. Sung began his first job working as an assistant designer for a Seventh Avenue dress manufacturer. It was a time during which Sung slowly began to develop the respect for balance, order and simplicity that is the common denominator in everything Alfred Sung designs today.