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Face to face with the future of Shanghai fashion

Oct 26, 2023

Text by Morgan Becker

Photography by Landre Liangzhiwei

Styling by Pierre-Alexandre Fillaire

Document meets six emerging Chinese designers, working with and against the quintessential urban jungle

Back in 2020, as COVID made its rounds, Shanghai cemented its status as a fashion world capital. The sprawling metropolis—and China at large—has long been at the forefront of the streaming economy, bolstered by a digitally-savvy population, fearless and flexible in the face of a global shutdown.

Today, in-person shows are back. And still, Shanghai Fashion Week has held its ground, pioneering a hybrid model that caters to virtually any audience. Seats are filled at runway shows, then supplemented by digital showrooms—making space not only for novel markets, but also for designers just entering the game.

There’s Taotao, for instance, co-founder of ohayouki, bent on sustainability and reconnection with childlike wonder; or Qiao Zixuan, inspired by the life of the archetypal nomad, leaning on common material to critique constant production, and the alienation that comes with it. These creatives work in pursuit of highly-specific missions—distinct, but united by a storyteller’s spirit, intent on producing cutting-edge garments informed by personal and cultural conviction.

Here, Document catches up with Shanghai’s best and the brightest: six recent design graduates, working with and against the quintessential urban jungle.

Suskie, Snow Inspiration

Document Journal: What textiles, techniques, and symbols does your collection hinge on?

Suskie: I combined the fractal geometry of a snowflake with the structural line of clothing. According to the porous structure, which can absorb sound, I extracted the patterns, [proposing] the idea of reducing urban noise by laser cutting the fabric. I want the audience to feel the mysterious power of nature.

Document: What sets your city’s design scene apart from any other?

Suskie: Shanghai’s noisy, urban environment, [and its] fast-paced life. I hope to use the wisdom of nature to dilute these sounds, and explore the peace that belongs to nature.

Taotao, The Second Life

Document: What textiles, techniques, and symbols does your collection hinge on?

Taotao: This collection tells the story of a mermaid’s rebirth, as a way to express some thoughts about ‘sustainable fashion.’ Sometimes, [mermaids represent] the purity of love; sometimes, they satirize environmental pollution. We [tend to believe] that we can refuse to grow up, because of the courage and simplicity of our inner child. There’s a [character] in my own brand, ohayouki, called Weiwei—a fish with two legs, living on land, who acts slowly, a bit dumb and insistent, but is the best mermaid in my heart.

In the strange world [of this collection], a mermaid dresses up for an ‘adult’ ceremony and starts a second life. I adopted biodegradable knitted material with glass yarn tufting, crochet, and other techniques to create texture [variety], using white and purple as the main colors.

Document: What’s the central impression you’d like to leave on your audience?

Taotao: I hope the audience can feel the innocence of a child, and perhaps remember stories from their own [youth]. By [reconnecting with] that innocence, pain and fear can be healed.

“People are repeating single-cycle functions of production that emphasize efficiency, [but] they yearn to escape from these constraints.”

Ni Hui, Crushed Worm Will Turn

Document: What textiles, techniques, and symbols does your collection hinge on?

Ni Hui: The fabric is just common polyester, and the masks [are made of] ordinary plastics. By spray-painting and other techniques, the texture of these materials changed into something they’re not, representing an alienation towards humans in modern society.

Document: Tell us about the references that informed your collection.

Ni Hui: Modern cities have accelerated alienation. People are repeating single-cycle functions of production that emphasize efficiency, [but] they yearn to escape from these constraints. The process of urbanization continues to advance, and [we] cannot find an outlet from the suffocation. Under continuous domestication, they are still [fighting] and seeking breakthroughs.

Qiao Zixuan, Nomad

Document: What textiles, techniques, and symbols does your collection hinge on?

Qiao Zixuan: This collection is [printed] on jacquard and natural fabrics to imitate the environment of the nomad. The unique flowers—chandan, gerbera, and alpine azalea—were drawn with reference to the painting style of Henri Matisse. In digitally printing jacquard on a white background, [I created a unique] texture; lace topstitching achieved the effect I needed. I also made extensive use of weaving.

Document: How would you describe Shanghai in three words?

Qiao Zixuan: Crowded, busy, hectic—after staying in Shanghai for a long time, you will feel like a monkey trapped in a tree, floating in mid-air with no feet on the ground, longing to be a cow standing solidly in the grasslands. I hope my clothes make people feel wild, free, and vigorous.

Fan Jun, Seasons

Document: What textiles, techniques, and symbols does your collection hinge on?

Fan Jun: I used fabric with printed yarn, and [applied a] a pleating process. The design inspiration comes from the vibrant spring and the alternating summer of flowers and leaves. From cells to complete life, all natural things constantly undergo this process, growing and reproducing. I printed the scenes of the four seasons, expressing the perseverance of life through layers of folds, and combining it with a zipper—its teeth like a thousand gene chains telling different stories, showcasing the indomitable and tenacious spirit of life.

Document: What’s next for you?

Fan Jun: I hope my clothing brings joy to the wearer, and creates an image of being close to nature. The next step is to use plant dyeing technology to design collections with [traditional] Chinese elements.

Zengzhen, Under Skin

Document: What textiles, techniques, and symbols does your collection hinge on?

Zengzhen: The design relies on computer technology, a flat-knitting machine, and yarn [as a] raw material. The dark and retro Shanghai alley forms a strong visual contrast with the bright clothes, [representing] the past and present, reality and the ideal. In fast-paced urban life, people [live] under a dull atmosphere—day-to-day routine, uniform behavior and appearance. People tend to get caught up in the standards of the outside world and lose themselves.

Document: What’s your design philosophy?

Zengzhen: Beauty lies not in the appearance, but under the skin. No matter how the outside world [evolves], we must maintain our original selves.

Model Yuka Zhang, Dianwu Wu. Photo Assistant Jun Xu. Lighting Assistant Beiye Xu. Producer Jiajie Zhang. Special thanks to Jue Li, Lorraine Li, Yuzhuo Yang.

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