Lydia Pang | In Her Shoes
We first met Lydia Pang in 2016 and were immediately drawn to her incredible style and warm presence. Lydia is a Welsh-born half-Chinese Goth, Art History geek and Feminist.
After 9 years in London, working in branding and art direction, Lydia made the move to New York with her long-term boyfriend and their dog Betty. Here, she works as a Creative Director at Refinery29.
A woman of multiple talents, she works with creative teams to constantly craft new ways to bring brands to life - improving conceptual clarity, visual refinement and design cohesion. Her other ‘day job’ is Global Art Agent for photographer Maisie Cousins, who recently exhibited at the Tate Britain and sits in the top 40 Dazed100 talent list.
We sat down with Lydia and asked her a few questions about herself, her career and what inspires her relentless creative approach.
Can you tell us a little about your background – what path led you to working in the creative industries?
I had the most magical childhood. It entirely shaped who I am today. I just remember my childhood being fun, filled with food and family and noise and adventure. My parents are incredible humans, you know, the type of people you just wanna be. Fucking funny, liberal, mad, passionate and smart, generous and warm. They always pushed me to be bigger and louder and better. They pushed me to have love and passion. My father owns this no bullshit approach which I aspire to. He always said ‘just do what you are fucking obsessed with and one day someone with pay you.’ My mother is a visionary, she sees things differently. A born curator, her artistic touch is deeply inspiring. We used to have photography shows in our house. I remember being in the darkroom with her as a child, just soaking it all in, deciding who I wanted to be. My sister is beautiful and eccentric, wildly intelligent, doing a PHD in Cancer at the moment (no biggy) and we are best friends. So yeah, I come from pretty special stock. My mother and father, despite being divorced since I was 7, were and are best friends. I just remember my childhood being filled with fun. My family are enormous. Colourful. Their personalities can fill a room. And we’ve had tough shit happen to us and we’ve always all risen and gathered and supported each other. We are solid. I was brought up to have opinions, to push myself always, have strong family values and embrace the daily sweetness of life. We are hungry, life greedy people, us lot.
My education didn't happen in school so much. I always liked school, I did well, really well. I was smart but used to get in trouble for dressing like a tiny punk. I went to a comprehensive school in a little town in Wales, my best friend and I would get thrown out of class for pissing around and distracting people. We both came out with top grades and the teachers fucking hated us. We were too big and loud for that school, we wanted more, we wanted to question shit and learn about gender and hate and art, real fucking art. They couldn't give us that so we jumped their hoops whilst causing trouble and then hunted for fresh meat in London where we both did our degrees. We could finally breathe. The school system is fucked, it doesn’t allow for you to be different, if you’re a different shape then you fail. I hate that for people because it lets down exceptional humans just because they don’t wanna learn about long shore drift. You have to be square and if you’re not you’ve got to just squeeze yourself into that shape for them and go through their processes to win big. Which is what we did.
Mum used to teach me about photography, she did her photography degree while I was in school and I used to adore being her photography subject, going into the studio, learning about the chemicals she used in the darkroom, flicking through her books. I still remember them all now, Sally Mann, Julia Margaret Cameron… all the great women. I remember the feeling when she gave me Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida and when she showed me that chapter in John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, an essay of photographs. My mind was blown that you could shape a critical theoretical argument through imagery alone. We’d look through issues of Vogue and talk about camera and authorship and subject and styling and lighting and branding. That’s where I decided who I wanted to be and what I wanted to know more about, school was just the dry chicken bones.
When do you do your best work/feel most creative & inspired?
I like coming up with ideas with my partner, Roo, we used to be creative partners at my last agency Anomaly and so although we don’t work together anymore we like to collaborate and do personal projects. When we are sat around our table, pot of green tea, our dog snoozing next to us and old school emo on the speakers, I feel the most relaxed and inspired all at once. Completely autonomous and open. I also feel I work my best under pressure, game face, eyebrows on, walking into client meetings and on set. I like the rush of expectation and problem solving on the spot. I also love discussing and collaborating, best ideas always come from many minds.
I do my best work when I’m happy and in a safe space with like minded humans, which is why I feel very happy and inspired in my current role at Refinery29 because we’re all singing from the same joyous punk rock hymn sheet! We all want to use creativity for good, to drive forward a social agenda, connect brands with consumers in authentic and innovative ways, have a meaningful dialogue with the millennial woman, help her claim her power. The heartbeat of R29 is the reason I wanted to be in this industry, to reclaim media for female power and use visual culture to inspire and activate.
My whole life revolves around this perpetual hunt for newness and more and pushing creative work. I love that energy. I am motivated by the power of imagery and visual communication. It inspires me that this tool can be crafted and used for good or to change a behaviour. I am driven by the notion that I have the power to curate imagery that makes people feel something. Visual communication is a powerful tool for good and when used elegantly can shift perceptions. I want to make people think differently. And brands are a good vehicle to do this. We listen to our desires. They’re a great platform for change. One day I will make something great, really great, it will disrupt and it will be for good.
How do you avoid inspiration fatigue?
I don’t force it, I comfort myself that ideas will always be there, no one can take them from you, they’re infinite and eternal, so there’s no need to get stage fright! If something isn't flowing it’s usually because something isn't right, am I doing this for the right reason? Is the strategy right, the brief, the way I’m coming into it? Do I need to get a tea, have 10 minutes immersing and deflating before I use my brain that way again? Probably. I spend a lot of my day coming up with many ideas on the spot with very tight timelines, and they’re not always perfect, but I try to make sure they’re true and I believe in their purpose, and that if someone questioned me, I could defend my thought with integrity. You can’t be too hard on yourself, we’re only human and really really great ideas only come around now and then. It’s about letting go of the burn of expectation but holding onto the joy of self fulfilment. The creative mind is such a complex little bean, ego led and stimulus fed. Sometimes I feel like my eyes are so full of inspiration and thoughts, from store windows to street style to typography on signs to the shape of a plate in a restaurant or the lighting in a space, I’m soaking everything in, but sometimes I can’t actually see the clarity of my own opinion. So I’ve started to gift myself important time out, white space, blank, zero. And that comes from changing up routines, reaching flow in scenarios where I can clear my mind like spending hours cooking or not taking my phone whilst walking Betty (my dog), reading etc doesn’t work for me because I start drinking in ideas again. It needs to be somewhere mindlessly mindful.
What’s your mantra?
I don’t really think I have a mantra. I just like to give everything my all. That’s how I was brought up. All I know is to give a shit and put all your energy into whatever you’re doing, from making a ragu to presenting to a room. And despite how exhausting that sounds, without that I just feel sad and deflated. I like being pushed and positive and projecting forward and aspiring. It’s what drives me everyday, from the little things to the big things. So I work this way, I take design decisions seriously and when I turn up on set I really turn up. All of me. Eyebrows and all. Sometimes it means I get in fights or I have a cry or I care too much but I can tell you one thing, I always bring it.
What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
To do what you love and live and breathe it, let it be who you are, celebrate the wins, even the tiny ones, my parents taught me that. We were always celebrating something!! I’ve never seen any real distinction between work and projects and my personal life. Some people think that’s unhealthy and weird but I’m happy and I pity people who have to shut down from their jobs like it’s a horrible nightmare they live all day to facilitate the weekend. That’s not life! Work isn't work, it’s what I care about. I’ve realised over the years that if you just follow what you love and are truly interested in, with dedication, you will succeed in what you wanna do. I remember for my dissertation I chose a random subject I thought I should be writing about to be smart and get a good grade, I struggled so hard. I sat in the library trying to get into it and feel it. I read papers for months and nothing. It just was not happening. I pretty much lost my shit, I was (am) such a perfectionist and hard worker, I believed I could just work myself into brilliance. But I was silly and young. A few weeks before the hand in after some enlightenment/direction from my all seeing parents, I realised I should have just written about something I gave a shit about and stopped worrying about getting the top grades. My parents always told me to follow passions, and I took my eye off the ball. I projected to the end and scared myself with the potential of failure and disappointment. Silly girl. So then I wrote my dissertation on my favourite artist and theories that excited me, I smiled the whole time, sipped my coffee and it felt like a fucking breeze. And of course I came out with a First, and specifically was highly commended for that essay. I think about this all the time in work, it reminds me to just go with my gut, go with what feels right and it will be the best solution. The key now is not caring too much or you go quietly insane.
Something inspiring you right now
This isn’t new but it’s certainly something that feels viscerally present right now, being in NYC in the political climate we face. Art as a vehicle for social change, exposing, revealing, provoking, even disturbing. The world is so ugly and divided right now, creativity is evermore a salient vehicle for action. I feel that dystopian visualisations and such visceral artistic responses that expose the dark cracks of humanity, will in turn, reveal and let the light in. Recently really into the erotic surreality of Florian Joahn’s work … I’m finding Robert Montgomery’s words more powerful than ever, Marilyn Minter’s recent Brooklyn show even more poignant than ever, also last month saw a piece in the Guggenheim by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu called ‘Can’t Help Myself’ check it out, it’s incredibly moving! Art will save us, I truly believe, because it reaches many and shines a mirror on us. If there was ever a time for art to have purpose, it’s now! Chaos always breeds creativity.
Ten quick questions
I can’t say one right now... LFW has just finished and I was especially bewitched by Gareth Pugh’s gothic goblins this morning, more generally and daily Margiela, Vetements, Ximon Lee, Issey Miyake, Roberts Wood, Jil Sander, Jacquemus, Melitta Baumeister, Andrea Jiapei, Raf, Comme Des Garcons …. told you.
Cooking shows, both British and American, the cheesier the better.
Places they know your name
Juice Press, Diva Nails on N5th, Anthom store,
I’m going to St Lucia this week for my 11 year anniversary with my boyfriend, that’s been a dream! Next up New Orleans as I wanna try a beignet. And Japan, I love the minimal design aesthetic, wabi sabi, graphic lines and organic material.
MK1 black Golf convertible
Common People, PULP
I don’t really have one, I kinda of aspire to be an amalgamation of all my feminist art crushes with my mum, Rei Kawakubo, Claude Cahun and Jil Sander. I want to look like a shot from a Paul Jung shoot while getting my coffee.
Flat fried noodles, expensive minimal tailoring.
Book on your nightstand
I jump from one to the other, night to night. Right now, The Feminist Fight Club, re reading Ways of Seeing (in memory of late J Berger), Hold Still (Sally Mann’s memoir)
‘Green Trick’... looks like a big mossy green ball or eucalyptus.
VERY HARD to pick one, I’m an art history grad, my heart beats for art, so this isn’t a simple answer for me. Deep breath. Collective eternal loves include.. Cindy Sherman, Louise bourgeois, Dan Flavin, Marilyn Minter, Man Ray, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Mark Rothko, Donald Judd, Sally Mann, Robert Montgomery, Mary Kelly, Guerilla Girls, Nan Goldin, Andre Kertesz… too many. Never ever one.