While studying at London College of Fashion, designer Xinyi Zheng became influenced by not just the world of fashion, but the world itself. His newest collection, the first following his completion of a BA track at the school, pulls from a range of inspirations – some sourced in reality, some in fiction. Incorporated within these designs are the illustrations of artist Yunong Xie, who also provides an aesthetic underpinning for the work. Here, Zheng speaks to Schön! about his collection and the accompanying photo series, staged, styled and directed by Lucien Zhaoyi Li.
When did you discover fashion, and how did you know you wanted to pursue it seriously?
Fashion has always been an infusive subject to me; we dress differently for different moments and it affects our mindset. Making something pretty is not as tough a task as creating something valuable. After I studied at London College of Fashion, I realized that there is so much more to consider about a “pretty” outfit – not only the designs but also the whole process of making them into physical things, as well as [my] concerns, ethos and value. It is necessary to pursue it seriously.
How did you meet your illustrator, Yunong Xie? Did you know immediately that you wanted to work together, or did that happen later?
We have known each other since high school. Yunong has always been passionate about illustration, and she always brings fascinating stories into her drawings. She really holds a uniquely personal style of illustration, which makes [her work] recognisable. The cooperation began with a mini project for Yunong during her MA course; she needed to cooperate with a different subject and I asked her whether she wanted to work with me on my theme and apply her drawings to clothing. Then we reached an agreement. We worked together for my final major project of [my] BA and we created something that we are both happy with.
The pictures are fascinating. Describe the shooting process and your motivation behind the set design, staging, etc.
I want to say thanks to Lucien, who helped me to create this shoot in terms of direction, photography, styling and set design. He is from the Fashion Styling and Production Program at London College of Fashion as well. So basically, I just showed some pages of my sketchbook and the garments to him as and talked about the idea of this collection. Because I was facing lots of work, all I had to do was trust him and let him do whatever he wanted… He told me he wanted to reference Leonora Carrington and Tim Walker’s work. I had no idea what it would look like until the shooting day.
Here is what he said about the shooting idea: “According to your garments and concept, I want to create a kind of surrealistic mood to talk about Alchemy, [and] talk about the Elixir of Life, which means ‘how to indefinitely prolong life’. So, I use these props like lab equipment, antique mirrors, collapsed scenes as well as the styling, makeup and hair as signifiers to represent the whole storytelling idea.”
Who or what are some of the main inspirations for these pieces?
For this collection, the inspiration is from alchemy and about the equivalent exchange, which inspired me to consider zero-waste fashion… There is a striking similarity between alchemy and zero-waste fashion. The idea is the creation of something new from basic elements, like metals or fabrics, with no extra waste. Symbols from medieval alchemist’s sketches are the main inspiration for illustrations and pattern designs.
What does the future have in store for your design work?
Well, it is hard to picture since I just finished my BA degree. But I will definitely stick with womenswear, focusing on sustainable fashion. And I am also looking forward to collaborating with different types of people, as I want to bring different languages into my design.
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fashion designs. Xinyi Zheng