Foam-infused black silhouettes evoke a keen sense of macabre with Chinese designer Feng Cheng Wang’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection termed “Love & Life.” A recent graduate of the London’s Royal College of Art, Feng found herself in a startling stage of despair when her father was diagnosed with lung cancer. She chose to translate the melancholic experience of her his illness into something creatively groundbreaking. Her avant-garde line up consists of boxy tunic tops, parachute pants and floor-length coats. She infused elements such as respiratory masks and IV bags in a refined athletic collection to reflect the eerie environs of a hospital.
Feng’s compelling show marks the importance of a deep inner message: the dearth of which is felt in collections today. With a sharp outlook and skilled hands she concocts garments that have minute details and the ability to be deconstructed into varied shapes. We sit down with her to glean her thoughts on this endeavor and the challenges that came with it.
Tell us about your childhood. Did you always want to be a fashion designer?
I was born in the south of China. Initially, my dream was to be an artist and not a fashion designer. When I was a teenager, I moved to Beijing. Even when I was studying art, there was always this feeling of alternativeness — my teachers could see it and so could my peers. I wasn’t drawing painterly flowers or sunsets. Fashion has always been an integral part of my life. It did not start from being influenced by an external factor but it began with me — I love dressing up. I don’t think I could ever get bored of it, and I feel the same way about creating garments. I was also never attracted to the conventional shopping experience and mall culture. My family is not very wealthy, so while growing up, the resources were limited. I was always frequenting thrift shops and vintage boutiques to quench my sartorial needs. This constant quest to explore new arenas and mixing things up was a major reason why I chose to become a fashion designer.
Your collection is inspired by your father’s illness. Tell us about how this idea developed?
I am the oldest daughter, and my mother was in a very fragile mental state so the entire responsibility and decision-making fell on my shoulders. It’s such a change in lifestyle when somebody so close to you falls critically ill. It really alters your perspective to life and you appreciate it more. We admitted him into a special hospital in Beijing that focuses on the treatment of only cancer patients. It was a quite a morbid experience to be in this isolated environment where all I saw was ailing patients and stark black & white uniforms. I was also present when my father was actually being operated on, and I remember his wounds being sown which proved highly inspirational to me. This explains my use of zippers through out the collection. I wanted to convey a deeper meaning through these detailing. For me, the zippers symbolize a sense of hope — it’s up to you whether you leave them undone or closed. This visual really stayed with me. I wanted to transform this experience into something positive.
Tell us about the techniques used to create your collection.
The zipper has a form of functionality. There are diverse ways to wear my garments and the silhouettes can be altered according to the zippers. The clothes can also be deconstructed completely. I also wanted to reciprocate the shape of organs, such as the heart and the liver, through the silhouettes of my clothes as can be seen with the foam detailing.
Did you ever feel skeptical about making a collection based on such a sensitive subject?
I know my collection is based on a sensitive subject, but honestly I didn’t think of what might be the consumer’s reaction to this — I just dove into it. My collection is more than a symbolism of a challenging personal experience, the end product is tangible — you can see and touch the garments and observe the intricacies of the detailing. At the end of the day, I always design while keeping in mind my consumers desires and tastes. I don’t just want my consumers to buy the garments just for the story behind it. They should love the actual clothes as well! (laughs)
Why was moss green a dominating color in your collection?
It signifies hope amongst all the abject seriousness of the black and white.
For me, the zippers symbolize a sense of hope — it’s up to you whether you leave them undone or closed.
How would you describe the aesthetic of your designs?
I don’t think my clothes possess a specific genre yet. A lot of comparisons have been made to Hood By Air, but I feel they’re more streetstyle and sporty where as we’re more luxe. It’s more influenced my European style that has elegant nuances in terms of cuts and fabrics. It’s modern and ubër comfortable, but I don’t like to categorize it under a certain banner or tag.
What was the most interesting response you received post your show?
It was definitely interesting to know what industry insiders though about my collection. Majority of the reviews in major publications called my show ‘highly intriguing’ and ‘conceptual’. I also love to read about how different journalists dissect and depict my collections. The latest and the most exciting development happened a few days ago when somebody called from Nick Knight’s studio to pull in a few looks for a fashion film. I’m extremely stoked about this.
If your label was a person, how would you describe him?
I would call him Feng Man! His tastes in terms of food would definitely be varied — somebody who indulges in Asian food by the street but enjoys a hearty British breakfast at the same time. He is a broadminded explorer with an affinity for sports and hedonistic experiences. This is a person who can’t be straightjacketed and bound down by rules. He would definitely thrive in urban jungles like London and New York given the fast-paced life in both these cities.
Menswear can be difficult. Why did you choose to go this route verses womenswear?
The first time I arrived at college in London, my tutor, Ike, exclaimed, “Feng, you’re probably my first Chinese student who’s studying menswear!” That revelation definitely made the experience more exciting and pushed me to discover unchartered territories. I initially designed womenswear a few years ago, but I never felt entirely comfortable with it. With menswear, I always felt at ease.
Being a woman, are there any obstacles designing for men?
I honestly found it difficult creating womenswear! There was just too much to it. The beauty about menswear if that there’s still so much untraditional work that’s left to be done. For instance, I would love to design a dress for men. Even if you browse through my current collection, I’ve made sort of a reinvented ‘skort,’ but it has an extremely rugged appeal. I don’t associate an apparent feminism with these silhouettes. An interesting and rewarding experience for me has been the fact that some of my clientele are women. I love the fact that my garments aren’t dominated by gender. It’s just about that out-of-the box thinking.
What is your opinion on androgyny and blurred lines in gender seen in the contemporary fashion space?
In terms of this trend, I love that it’s not something superficial and just a phenomenon on the runways. Many of my girlfriends love shopping at menswear stores and so do I. I’ve noticed this with my male friends who love buying jackets and sweaters from women’s stores. I think today there isn’t a need for clothes to be termed according to the gender they’ve been created for. I remember walking into many designer stores where menswear is segregated by sections. I’ve been constantly approached by pestering sales assistants who have led me away from the menswear section — it’s quite an unnerving experience when I intentionally want to buy from there! I don’t like this distinction between the sexes — it needs to be more easy-going. Brands also need to divert from their idea of conventional ageless beauty. I would love to see a 50-year-old bearded man in my designs! It’s not only for pretty boys.
It is not easy for Chinese designers to be recognized by the fashion industry as a whole. What do you think needs to change, and what do you see as the future for Chinese fashion?
Firstly, people need to eradicate their pre-conceived notions about Chinese designers. We possess our own style and method of working. I think we’re a group of young designers who are gradually gaining recognition and creating innovative designs. We are also vastly different from our predecessors, which gives us an extra edge.
When you feel the need to escape & unwind, where would you go?
Iceland or Greece — two places that are on top of my wanderlust list! I like places that have natural beauty but are thriving with creative talent as well.