Interview with Innovative fashion designer Chunchen Liu

Defuze’ interview with innovative fashion designer Chunchen Liu

When it comes to innovative fashion designers whose clothes are also wearable, not a large number of names pop up. Fashion landscape is largely governed by the idea of recycling the old ideas with a catchy story or perhaps innovative materials. So designers like Chunchen Liu are a breath of fresh air. She takes inspiration from her own life experiences and presents them in a unique and beautiful way, yet manages to make her clothes very wearable and comfortable. We had the pleasure to chat with her and share her story with you. 

“The animated opening features my childhood doodles depicting my family backyard, initiating a dialogue between the present and the past. The animation employs a surrealist deconstructive approach, revisiting childhood dreams, environments, and moments through a contemporary lens. Simultaneously, various elements of deconstructed gardening gloves and clothing mimic the presence of birds, butterflies, trees, frogs, ponds, and more in the garden, vividly bringing the imagery from memory to life through animation.”

1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how did you get into fashion design?

My academic background is in fashion design and illustration. After completing my BA fashion design in Shanghai and Tokyo, I found myself uncertain about my career path. Simultaneously fueled by a lifelong passion for drawing, often contributing illustrations to various publications since childhood, I decided to pursue a course in illustration design in the UK. I hoped that exploring different art forms would bring more possibilities to my style and creativity. During subsequent studies, I discovered the application of diverse materials and innovative craftsmanship in my creations.

What solidified my determination to continue in fashion design was when a T-shirt I designed was selected by the charity organization “Jeans for Genes” and sold to raise funds for those living with genetic conditions. This experience inspired me, making me realize that fashion design has the power to influence and assist more people. Later, I completed the MA Fashion program at the Royal College of Artand interned at Samuel Gui Yang in London, accumulating valuable experience for establishing my own brand.

2-You childhood memories seem to play an important role in your design process. Can you delve a bit into it and how do you incorporate them into your designs while merging the ideas into the present seamlessly?I was born in a small city in Jiangsu Province, China in the late 90’s and early 00’s. It was a time of intense collision between Chinese traditional culture and Western culture. In my life, there are both traditional Chinese arts such as Chinese painting, carving and other handicrafts, and we also advocate learning western contemporary art. My family lived with my grandparents in a small Chinese courtyard surrounded by modern concrete jungles, which was filled with various plants, rockeries and small ponds.

It wasn’t like the explosion of information in the Internet age, so I was more focused on my inner world and I had a lot of childhood dreams and I also left a lot of doodles and drawings. Beginning with the gardening gloves often seen in my parents’ horticultural work, I deconstructed this material, weaving it into a harmonious symphony with other carefully selected fabrics in this collection. The gardening gloves with short life-cycle, now transformed, become unique and artistic pieces. Each part of the gloves naturally and gracefully adorns the shoulders of tops, the knees of pants, and the hemlines of skirts – reminiscent of the locust leaves from childhood courtyard gently scattering upon the green bricks. They also mirror the horse chestnut leaves that blanket the sidewalks along Eltham Road, where my studio resides.

3. What is your design process from the ideas generation to the finish product?I consider myself a keen observer of nature and life, uncovering subtle and easily overlooked nuances and details through my perspective. I often wander through parks, strolling along tree-lined paths covered in fallen leaves. I observe people’s attire and styles on the streets, in the underground, and on trains. Additionally, I explore hardware and gardening stores. These observations and experiences bring a wealth of new perspectives and inspiration to my designs.

I have a habit of initiating my design process by transforming fabrics and materials, expanding into various experiments to explore intriguing possibilities. These elements are then seamlessly integrated into the final products, creating items that are both uniquely captivating and suitable for everyday wear.

4. You were born and raised in China and then studied in London. Was it a big cultural shock coming to London and how has it affected your outlook of fashion as a means of expression?I was born and raised in China and have pursued my education in Shanghai, Tokyo, and London. There are indeed some differences in fashion education between East Asia and the UK. The fashion education I received in China and Japan placed a greater emphasis on the craftsmanship and technical aspects of clothing. In contrast, education in the UK places a stronger emphasis on exploring the designer’s self-awareness and expression, presented visually.

I believe there’s no inherent superiority or inferiority between the two education systems. Personally, I find that the integration of both approaches helps me better articulate my creativity and thoughts through the visual and clothing medium. Moreover, London’s cultural diversity and inclusivity provide a highly favorable environment for my creative process.

5. How does the East meets West in your designs?Traditional Eastern aesthetic preferences predispose judgments about spatial qualities, but in the context of modernism, there exists no absolute distinction of superiority or inferiority. Aim to blend the allure of Eastern aesthetic taste and a modernist perspective within the constructed spatial context, thereby detaching from conventional biased judgments and enabling each experiencer to establish their own perception. A sense of retro-futurism permeates this collection, creating functional, timeless, trend-less, and permanent attire. It encapsulates an unrestricted, daring, and outside-of-existing-stereotypes space.

6. Your clothes not only stand out in style but also seem very functional and comfortable to wear. Was that important for you and was it intentional?Yes, the purpose of our brand is to provide consumers with uniquely designed yet everyday wearable clothing. My designs incorporate observations. The Chinese lifestyle in the late 90s and early 00s, along with research into uniforms and sportswear. As a result, my clothing is both comfortable and stylish. Additionally, in the selection of fabrics, I deliberately choose functional materials such as quick-drying, UV-resistant, and waterproof fabrics to enhance the overall utility of the garments.

7. Your clothes are gender-fluid yet have a feminine sensuality to them. Can you tell us a bit about it?Gender fluidity has become commonplace in today’s fashion industry, but for me, it holds a unique significance. In my childhood, I often wore my older brother’s hand-me-downs, perhaps driven by a mindset to avoid waste. During that time, when gender concepts were less rigid in childhood. The style of clothing not only influenced my personal fashion choices but also shapes my current design philosophy.

However, traditional gender-blurring designs can sometimes be overly assertive. What I aim for in my designs is not the conventional unisex clothing but a balance between felinity and masculinity. I aspire to create garments that highlight the loveliness and beauty of women. While harmonizing with masculine traits, offering a nuanced and balanced expression.

8. Sustainability that was once an optional add-on has become sort of an integral part of most brands. We know that it is important to you. How do you make sure that your clothes are sustainable?In our fabric selection process, we prioritize deadstock fabrics and environmentally friendly materials. Additionally, we consciously choose products from suppliers recognized within the industry. Taking our ongoing development of AW24 as an example, more than two-thirds of the materials are sustainable and deadstock fabrics.

9. How has your journey been into the fashion world so far and what are the biggest lessons that you have learned so far?After establishing my own brand, I realized that apart from clothing design, there is much more to learn in running a brand. Areas such as marketing, production, finance, and team management all play crucial roles in the healthy operation of a brand. Therefore, I feel that, in addition to design. I need to invest more time in learning how to effectively operate a fashion brand.

10. What have been your biggest achievements that you are very proud of?Our brand just debuted its first collection online during London Fashion Week this September. I find joy in every bit of progress for myself and the brand. Whether it’s a stylist expressing their love for the designs and extending an invitation to collaborate. The growing numbers of followers and likes on social media. The praise and encouragement from strangers, each moment fills me with a sense of pride.

11. Fashion is a very competitive field especially London being one of the fashion capitals. To make a name for yourself and to standout is not easy. What do your attribute your success to?Certainly, London is incredibly inclusive with abundant opportunities, but the creative industry is fiercely competitive. Currently, I am a relatively unknown small brand. However, I firmly believe that my design philosophy. The brand’s unique design language and aesthetic style will undoubtedly resonate with its target audience. I have faith in the process of accumulation. I am confident that by consistently creating and strengthening. The foundations of the brand, it will carve out its own place.

12. What have been the biggest issues you faced while creating your collections and how did you tackle them?The biggest challenge, as a small brand, lies in the limited options for fabric and production suppliers. Consequently, I’ve invested considerable time and actively participated in trade shows to search for suitable suppliers.

13. Creating an amazing collection is one thing but connecting to your target audience is another ball game. In the end, it comes down to sales. How do you handle the business side of things?Generally it takes time for a young brand to build brand awareness among target audience and increase wholesale customers’ confidence. So, Chechen will combine DTC and wholesale at the same time. DTC channels are mainly divided into online and offline channels. Online channels include the brand’s official website, social media e-commerce. Offline channels include pop-up events and workshops. In the mean time Chechen plans to partner with sales agency to reach more industry contacts in the next season.  Chechen plans to solid brand identity and apply some support scheme like Fashion East and attend some competitions. In terms of marketing strategy, the brand will centric on content marketing to engage with audiences on Instagram.

14. Where will you like to see Chunchen in the next few years?I hope more people become aware of our brand and products. Additionally, I aspire to establish a wholesale business for the brand. Enabling consumers to easily purchase our products both online and offline. Simultaneously, I wish for the maturity of my designs, allowing for the expansion of product categories. Given my keen interest in designing shoes and bags, I hope to create new and groundbreaking items.

15. You are doing Masters in Illustration. Do you plan to incorporate that skill and knowledge into your designs as well?

Yes, in my current designs, I’ve incorporated a color palette consistent with my personal illustration style, blending vibrancy with cuteness. Perhaps in the future, I might create more print patterns to use in my designs. Stay tuned for what’s to come!


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