Designer Xander Zhou has been carrying a secret weapon for styled-up and -down sultriness for more than one decade now. Self-proclaimed fashionally inclined cultural ambassador Jessica Laiter takes us on a spin through Zhou’s Fashion Nation.
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Most people who aren’t obsessively scanning fashion blogs and Instagram accounts on a daily basis, are often baffled by that borderline sick infatuation many people out there share for fashion and design.
The catwalk can look like a mishmash of twisted, slashed, frazzled materials, in bright and dull, metallic and mat hues. It’s assumed to be a large splash of randomness. Nevertheless…
“Any collection has a certain rhythm to it, an internal logic through which the pieces can be better understood and appreciated within the collection rather that outside of it,” designer Xander Zhou explains.
Context is everything, Temper says.
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Just as is the case in most things in life, one collection, from an objective point of view, can be confusing. From the subjective viewpoint, however, it can make sense. Much sense. Collections themselves are often inspired by artifacts and people from around world, creating crazy and overwhelming scenes of valuable insights into other cultures.
They are the over-exaggerated extensions of a designer’s cultural interpretation. Taking it one step further, those exaggerated ideas are exactly those basics one must explore in order to truly understand and appreciate a designer’s innovative undertakings.
Innovation is a very personal thing and although Zhou respects tradition for its number of highly respected templates, like any designer, he does add a little bit of Xander and little bit of Zhou into the designing mix.
Originally from Jilin, in northeastern China, Zhou studied fashion in the Netherlands, but returned home for the opportunity to launch his eponymous label. The wonderful thing about China is that many of its designers are starting from a blank canvas, a fruitful foundation for the creation and expansion of China’s fashion industry. Creativity has all the space it could possibly desire in order to flourish. Zhou’s designs lean neither to the East nor the West.
He supremely focuses on detail, quality and originality.
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An example. The protagonist of Zhou’s AW15 collection was the All American Clint Eastwood Cowboy. The foreign perspective of this guy comes down to one macho macho, semi-barbarian, man who in his lifetime has had to jump two hurtles: The conflict that arose as civilization pushed nature aside and the growing desire to live and embrace a life independent of social constraint.
The man is often seen as an explorer with “noble” motives, grinding and pushing his way through many an obstacle as to gain the freedom he deserved.
Zhou has been reconnecting with his Asian roots since his SS16 collection. Steering clear of stereotypes, he has been exploring the connection between oriental mysticism and the futuristic modernity of Asia.
A blend of cultures and featuring an hyperactive virtual community culture, the continent’s people embrace everything electronic, scientific and technological. This vibe, coined techno-orientalism, has thus far inspired a number of Zhou’s collections, which also built on the previous theme of “diversity.”
For SS19, Zhou took his concept one step further by sketching a map of future humanity, merging the real and the ideal by creating a universe in which the characters in his collections can coexist and interconnect — whether they are human, android or alien.
In this universe, new boundaries of diversity can be explored. This “new diversity,” going far beyond ethnic, racial, cultural, sexual and gender identities, is the Milky Way of imagination, absurdity and romanticism, where the old standards to examine human society and its individuals have been completely abandoned.
Many of the models in the show wore tight T-shirts or tank tops either rolled up or tucked near the top of their artificially bulging bellies. Lest the baby bumps be mistaken for beer bellies, at least one model walked with his arms protectively cradling his stomach, as pregnant mothers are often prone to do, and one T-shirt read “New World Baby,” more explicitly referenced the child-bearing theme.
Further underlining the collection’s emphasis on futuristic visions of what humanity could become were the eerie-colored contacts some models wore — not to mention a model who appeared to have six arms sticking out of his six jacket holes. Whether it’s a genuine statement about lessening the limits of gender or a mere publicity stunt, this collection is sure to garner plenty of attention for Zhou.
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Much of Zhou’s inspirations are based on what he absorbs from daily life: Socializing with friends, traveling the globe and going about the gains, remains and sizzling fashion campaigns of the day. There haven’t been many directly apparent Chinese cultural influences to be spotted in his creations, thus far, though Zhou certainly does admire as well as respect the designs of his Chinese contemporaries like Masha Ma, Du Yang and Qiu Hao.
In the creation of his own fashion nation, Zhou in August of 2009 debuted as guest editor of China’s notable “iLook Magazine” and was placed on the cover as the featured symbol for it’s Coming Out theme. The issue appeared on stands exactly one year after China had hosted the 2008 Olympic Games, symbolizing China’s coming out to the world. The idea for Zhou in posing was to highlight and celebrate both new designer talent as well as the gay community.
The Zhou label long sported the slogan “Made On Another Planet” as a replacement for the very common ”Made in _____” label, based on the belief that when consumers cast their eye upon the “Made in China” tag, they will automatically side-eye the mass-production assumptions. Which, let’s face it, is true; we do still feel that way. This is the very reason why these designers are crucial to the evolution of globalization.
They are crucial to the creation of the New Made in China culture.
Made in The Milky Way
The 2020 COVID-19 lockdown has provided Zhou a rare opportunity to slow down and look back on what he has achieved. He describes his SS21 collection as “a system upgrade” for the brand. “Before, I created a small world for each season. This time, I uploaded them to a digital sphere and create a complete Xander universe,” Zhou said.
With a bright, sporty and futuristic undertone, the spring collection with 74 looks features new iterations of signature elements and styles throughout his career, with a nod to the SS16 and AW16 collections, where Zhou explored the cultural identities of the East and West in the modern era, respectively. The collection also continues his recent obsession with the concept of immortality and virtual reality.
Imagine ancient Chinese civilization colonizing the Milky Way with advanced technologies, which is the vibe this collection is going for. The lieutenants wear acupuncture needle-bejeweled knitwear and bomber jackets, the humanoid cyborg troops wear laser-cut dragon totem belly covers and parkas, and the starship operators wear shirts with traditional Chinese knotted fastenings.
From Art Deco angles presented in “Metropolis” to “Star Wars” Leia and Amidala inspired metallic bikinis or Mongolian robes and “The Matrix” galvanized trenches, the force of the marriage between sci-fi and fashion has long been awakened.
And continues to go strong.
Aside from being a beloved Temper author, do check out Laiter’s personal blog Chinese Graffiti!
Additional editing by Elsbeth van Paridon
FEATURED IMAGE: Xander Zhou AW19 via Highsnobiety
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