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The last time A Sai Ta showed his designs at London Fashion Week was three years ago, and fashion years—a little like dog years—are somewhat elastic, with entirely new brands having risen and fallen in the interim. Back then, Asai’s hit pieces (the tie-dye mesh “hot wok” turtlenecks, the nunchuck-handle bags with their delicate embroideries, the knits and coats with their jellyfish strands of fabric) had already achieved cult status through the Fashion East designer incubator program. When he went quiet after his debut standalone show in fall 2019 (aside from a collaboration with Fenty, that is) there was a lingering feeling that Ta was only just getting started with his distinctive design sensibility—and more importantly, his ability to translate that into highly covetable hit pieces.

Asai was also, it’s worth noting, one of the first international brands to be impacted by the coronavirus: Ahead of his fall 2020 show, just weeks before the world at large went into lockdown, his samples got stuck in China. Over the intervening years—partly out of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, and partly just to flex his creative chops beyond the realm of fashion—Ta has experimented with art, film, and various other smaller-scale creative projects. “That break really allowed me to decompress and understand the journey and everything I went through,” Ta said. “There have been a lot of hurdles and challenges over the past four years, but I definitely feel I'm in the position now to take the brand to where I really hope it can go.”

First out was an off-kilter red velvet devoré gown—a nod to a top he made in the same material that served as look one for his debut Fashion East collection—topped with an asymmetric halter neck fastened to a lacquered ring of bamboo; the skirt featuring the wonky, wriggling lines of his “hot wok” seams, and fluttering behind like a parachute. (The lavish crystal gloves, meanwhile, were inspired by the chandelier installations of the Danish-Vietnamese artist Danh Võ.) A knit turtleneck dress also picked up from where he left off for fall 2019, blending the playful motifs that nod to his shared Chinese and Vietnamese heritage with traditions of British craftsmanship, the latter visible in the cable knits and worn with a pair of thigh-high tartan boots: classic, but eminently cheeky.

Elsewhere, Ta’s technical wizardry was applied to bolder and more novel forms. Ta’s blue and white porcelain prints were dissolved and abstracted across an elegant, sculptural open-necked jacket, while a couple of naughtier, party-ready pieces featured tiger stripes and tangled strands of frayed denim, the latter clinging around the body like fishing nets. The transformation of his “hot wok” technique into a boxy puffa jacket with a Muppet-like yellow faux fur trim around the collar will likely be top of a number of fashion girls’ wish lists next season, and sheer knit dresses that dripped with thick clusters of fringe—like a carpet yanked apart at the seams—carried a very of-the-moment hempy glamour.

The bags, in particular, spoke to Ta’s efforts to up his game in terms of luxuriousness: His signature nunchucks returned in oversize versions crafted from buttery red and white leather (Ta developed an all-leather version partly because people were getting stopped at airport security with the bags, thinking they were actual weapons), while a spiked black ball attached to a length of chain swung to and fro like a medieval morning star. The Asai woman was more decadent—and more dangerous—than she’s ever been.

To mark his return, the Asai community of friends, collaborators, and “hot wok” acolytes showed up in force: including the musician Tsunaina, who kicked off the show under atmospheric red lighting to sing a moody ballad, and his modestly-sized team that skipped onto the runway with him at the end of the show. Ta is one of London’s brightest fashion talents, and it was wonderful to have him back. May the fashion girls form an orderly queue.