Interview with INF designer Wei Kuo

Interview with INF designer Wei Kuo

The interview with INF designer Wei Kuo was a special treat for us. The Taiwanese break dancer turned designer garnered global attention with his fashion campaign video during the Covid pandemic. The heartwarming story blends his love for local culture, traditions, and values while championing the positive changes modern times bring. Wei Kuo hasn’t ceased making waves locally and internationally ever since.

You were a rebellious person from a young age. Did you get into trouble a lot? Any special memories that made an impact or make you laugh when you think of them now? When I was a child, I was mischievous and had a strong curiosity about many things.

I wanted to try everything myself, often leading to punishments from elders and teachers. My grandfather used to say that I was like a bullet, flying here and there, never able to stay still. One of the most unforgettable events from my childhood was the 921 earthquake, considered the most severe seismic disaster in the history of central Taiwan.I remember being awakened in the middle of the night by the violent shaking. At that time, I was only in the fourth grade, and my parents hastily carried me downstairs (we lived on the fourth floor). Buildings around us collapsed, and the ground behaved illogically, rising and falling. If we had delayed our escape even a little, I might not be here today.

Around 1 AM, the nearby distillery exploded due to the earthquake, and despite the late hour, the sky was ablaze with an eerie red glow, quite a frightening sight. On our way to safety, we rescued an elderly couple trapped behind a door by fallen objects. It was the first time in my life that I felt the essence of humanity and a profound sense of survival.

You experimented with your hair and changed your clothes as a young person. How did every one around you respond to it, especially your family? How did you cope with the pressure of everyone around you trying to bring you back into normality?

 For my parents, it was undoubtedly a source of great concern. As civil servants, they found it challenging to comprehend creative or art-related pursuits at that time. Even experimenting with my own hair and body was beyond their understanding. Rei Kawakubo mentioned in her autobiography. Anyone who challenges tradition and takes an unconventional path will inevitably face fierce attacks from the legitimacy. It was more about knowing from the outset that facing criticism was a price to be paid rather than how to endure the pressure. Of course, not everyone around me had a critical perspective. I have a friend who is a psychologist, and she often view my thought processes as interesting research subjects. She frequently inquire about my opinions and perspectives on other cases.

How did you get into breakdancing and how has it inspired and impacted your designs?

As I mentioned, during my childhood, I was filled with curiosity about everything, constantly seeking novelty. I wanted to personally experience everything, and even if I failed, at least I had challenged myself. This mindset kept me constantly searching for things to challenge and overcome. I have tried various pursuits such as being in a band, skateboarding, painting, playing the piano, and more.

When I discovered a dance form that defied biomechanics and gravity so profoundly, I felt like it was what I was born for. This activity was even more rebellious than I was – it aimed to challenge the gravitational forces I had never considered defying. I committed wholeheartedly to this new passion, even participating in petitions to include breakdancing in the Olympic Games in Taiwan. After mastering the art, I supported myself by teaching at universities and performing in various events. Breakdancing, or b-boying, has provided me with a deeper understanding of biomechanics and the dimensions of the human body. In my design work, I can naturally consider dynamic needs, as street dance involves continually rearranging basic movements to express the unique qualities of the dancer.

The elements of deconstruction and reconstruction, fundamental to breakdancing, have profoundly influenced my thinking in the field of design deconstruct and reconstruct is also the core philosophy of the INF brand. You are a rebel yet you love the traditional culture and are spreading it across the world.

How do these two sides of you go along with each other?

I would like to redefine the term “rebellion” For me, it not simply about opposing existing values and culture; rather, it involves a thorough understanding of tradition and presenting innovative approaches that are suitable for the modern era. Every culture has its context and development, and while many aspects may have disappeared or been eliminated with the evolution of time, reinterpreting their essence through design and re-doing allows the new generation to see and appreciate their cultural values.

I believe this is an essential social responsibility for a design brand. Instead of opposing the past or present, the real uniqueness lies in creating a sense of conflict by combining traditional and modern elements—a feat that has not been attempted by anyone before. Your fashion film with Chen Shu fang has brought tears to many eyes. You could not possibly present your collection in any better way.

How did the idea come about?

Any interesting stories about it that you would like to share? How much did it change things for INF? Amid the global lockdown during the initial spread of the pandemic, major fashion weeks responded by introducing online participation formats. It was our brand first participation in New York Fashion Week, and we noticed that many brands recorded their runway shows to be streamed online during the fashion week or produced video content resembling commercial advertisements. However, we felt this was aligned with our vision.

We hoped for fashion to be more rooted and attentive to the resonance between clothing and individuals, going beyond mere product displays. We aimed to convey fashion and culture through storytelling and decisively chose to express this through microfilms. After the microfilms were publicly broadcasted during New York Fashion Week.

We received numerous comments and sentiments from New York such as This is the fashion week I want to see. The most heartfelt fashion week performance. The two microfilms released during two consecutive seasons at New York Fashion Week solidified INF role in Taiwan as a cultural conveyor.Shu-fang Chen, having recently won Best Leading Actress and Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Horse Awards, is not only a cause for celebration due to her long-time dedication to the film industry receiving recognition, but it also deeply moving for me. Having watched Shu-fang Chen act since I was a child, witnessing her convey the emotions of the story to the extreme through subtle body movements or facial expressions was truly touching. Especially during the scene where she shed tears, both on and off-camera, we were all moved to tears together. I believe this is a testament to personal charm and influence.

You use black color a lot. Why is that For me, black is a color with immense allure. Beyond its propensity to easily absorb the invasiveness of other colors, it also carries the capacity to embrace and absorb all light. This dual nature of being both invasive and inclusive is exceptionally captivating. Creating subtle and understated variations in black through elements such as silhouette, lines, or differences in materials is a highly challenging endeavor. Achieving this distinction is a dedication that we continually strive for.

How was the experience of working on the collection inspired by the female divers?

Another very interesting aspect of local culture. You did not make any fashion film about it? Do you think the attention you brought to this dying community might be able to save them? Exploring the theme of Ama, or traditional female divers, was an incredibly fascinating experience for us.

We visited one of the few remaining Ama villages and engaged in in-depth and intriguing conversations with Ama divers who are close to a hundred years old. It felt like a journey through time, transporting us to the beautiful era they described.

Collaborating with the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology, we delved into historical materials they provided as a creative starting point. We also utilized real-time underwater footage from their collection as audiovisual material for our runway show. In terms of sustainable fashion practices, we actively contributed by participating in beach cleanup activities.The collected litter was repurposed as print material for our clothing, utilizing digital technology to edit it into seasonal prints. Additionally, we incorporated recycled PET bottles as fabric for our garments. Our fashion show caught the attention of FTV News, one of Taiwan three major television networks. After watching our showcase, they requested contact information for the Marine Science and Technology Museum and the Ama divers for a more in-depth follow-up report.

We were thrilled to share these resources with the reporter, and although our contribution may be modest, it a step towards promoting and preserving cultural heritage.  This film serves as the final installment of the INF trilogy. Due to the substantial scale of the project, we won't be dedicating much effort to other film productions in the near future. Sustainability is important to you and you use a lot of recycled material.

Do you think that the fashion industry is moving in a positive direction at a fast enough pace?

I believe that when it comes to protecting the Earth, no matter how quickly we act, it will never be enough. Therefore, we should all maintain a conscious commitment to environmental protection and constantly explore ways to do better. Every small effort counts, and simply ensuring that each person avoids littering is a significant contribution.

How would you describe Taiwanese street fashion and how different is it from Western street fashion?  

Through the continuous organization of Taipei Fashion Week, Taiwan has, to a certain extent, expanded. The perspectives of its people and enhanced cultural literacy. Compared to many years ago, there is a noticeable increase in individuals pursuing. Their own style and expressing themselves in the realm of fashion. People are becoming more adept at disregarding judgment from others. However, as the Taiwanese fashion scene is still in its infancy, it may fall slightly short.

When compared to international standards and remains somewhat conservative. Versatility and multi-functionality is another important component of your designs. INF has, in essence, incorporated this feature into a considerable number of our products. Rather than that, it something we have consistently worked towards – striving to ensure that each product offers multiple ways of wearing and functional versatility.This not only enhances the intrinsic value of the product but also reflects our commitment to sustainable fashion. By making garments multi-functional, we aim to extend their lifespan, allowing them to accompany. Whether you want your pants to transform into a bag or your long shirt into a short, we got you covered here at INF.

None. (laughs) Every time I finish a creation, within a month, I start to dislike my own work. And the details could be richer, and so on. I think what satisfies myself is always the next piece of work.

How has the experience of breaking into the Western market for you?

Has it impacted your designs in some ways? How are the Western customers different from Taiwanese? We have gained significant support from retail and individual customers in the United States. The Middle East, and the United Kingdom. Through online channels and our bi-annual pop-up shops during London Fashion Week, we have received considerable recognition. Unlike customers in Taiwan, Western customers are more focused on the inspiration and stories behind the products.

They are willing to take the time to engage in conversations to understand the effort and narrative behind each item. This aspect has consistently moved and grateful to me. The resonance between souls, mutual understanding, and ultimately the purchase of the product are emotions I truly cherish. Currently, the brand is actively working to expand its presence in overseas distributors. We hope that through international procurement. The brand can take a significant step forward, introducing Taiwanese culture to a broader audience.

Can you take us through your creative process?

After that, I deconstruct my perceptions of them. For me, the creative process is lengthy but interesting. Through continuous absorption of the cultural aspects of my subjects, I let them collide within me with other ideas. After digestion, I then pick up the pen to start sketching designs. I’m not particularly fond of sweets, but only during the creative process, my brain sends signals like, & Hey, you need to intake some sugar, mate.&  I always end up buying cheap chocolate and drawing while chewing.

What are your future plans for INF?

We aim to enhance brand visibility by expanding overseas distribution points, join boutiques. Online platforms, and even collaborating with department stores. Besides participation in London and Taipei Fashion Weeks constantly, we are gradually making strides into the film industry. We hope to receive more interesting collaborations and business opportunities in the future, providing us with enough strength to continue. Our silent cultivation in the fashion industry and contribute quietly to cultural dissemination.

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