The life and times of a budding fashion designer

It started with piecing scraps of material together to fit the contours of a barbie doll, now Xiangqiao Sheng has ambitions to combine technology and fashion design.

“This question literally creates resonance in my heart,” she said.“Time progresses and fashion evolved with them.”

Sheng, 25, has a BA in fashion design and an honours degree from RMIT. She had the chance to show off her ideas at this year’s VAMFF show. From metal dragons to sheets of mirrors plaited together in a scaly format to wrap around a body into a dress, something reminiscent of sci-fi noir wardrobe or a cosplay festival, Sheng credits her parents’ instructions for her austere style of fashion design.

“My family wanted me to study architecture as I spent a long time in art since I was 9,” she said. “However, the childhood memories (of the barbie doll) sparkled and I decided to study fashion design, so I became a fashion design student.”

Sheng’s technological oeuvre of dresses was formed in her mind by some interesting influences.

What, inspired the clothes that your showcased last night?

The inspiration of my design comes from thinking about the structure and nature of the fashion industry. From using valuable material and fussy silhouette in 17th century as a representation of ‘luxury’, to the proficient design skills in 19th century, and till today, the importance of time-cost, originality, uniqueness, big thinking and even breaking conventions become the criterion of ‘luxury’.

The materials you use are very picturesque, scintillating with diamong like quality. Why use shiny plastics?

My collection takes on a double meaning. Without using traditional luxurious material such as fur and leather as a conventional material for luxury design, I instead selected other materials to present forms such as the snakeskin that aims to break the routine of traditional fashion. As Artist Tadashi Kawamata refers to his own creative process with a statement – “I am not making a bridge. Instead, I’m channelling the idea of a bridge borrowing its existing shape and function, but creating something with a different role.” It inspired me to create a new sphere that embodies the philosophical meaning behind the idea of luxury. Secondly, I tend to use artificial materials, displaying vibrant colours to represent luxury fashion, reveal the cruelty behind such luxury. In a sensory perception, the shining material I used such as sequence and crystal chain provides flickering sensation to the sight, which reflects the superficial traits of ‘luxury’—also shining, dazzling in appearance.

The final products in your collection are very specific, almost specialist, can you give an example of how you create the concept of the dresses?

From a conceptual perspective, one of the garments adopted thousands of pins, with each pins hand-made and crafted onto the dress. This exemplifies the time-consuming process during the production of luxury garments, and human cost to the concept of ‘luxury’. The metallic fussy sweater used bread bag twist ties that twist and weave with a knitting sweater. The snakeskin suit and dress use two-sided sequins fabric, hold the pattern following as snakeskin pattern, coated with the ‘Self Levelling Clear Gel’.

So you would consider snake skin the ultimate underlying thematic thread in your work? Or is it rather a practical means of amplifying the model’s beauty?

The mirror snake dress uses reflective mirrors – the material to make disco balls, and the back of the dress cover with Compact Disc, which reflects the extravagant nightlife indulging in hedonic pleasure, however neglecting the tormented feature of the snake with its mouth open that signifies how such happiness is built on the suffering of animals. Lastly, most of my garments used sharp and strong shoulder line to symbolize the powerful social status of the women buyers, whose buying decision may cost the lives of many animals to make fur. This reveals the enormous labouring chain and cruelty across the fashion industry.

Could you elaborate on what made you create the snake attached to one of the dresses in your body of work?

Architecture is building things on a flat surface and I think fashion design is to build things on body. I discovered that origami is an effective technique in a way that designer can use fabric as paper to fold and structure 3D model. Meanwhile, this snake is modelled using origami technique. I always like to explore new materials, deconstruct them, which would generate new philosophical meaning, which will appropriately reflect my design concept. My collection demonstrates my whole design concept, (I would think of that as a story) and each garment links to each other in their very unique ways. I was sourcing different shining materials and finally I think disco ball is a perfect match to the story and I can also make that snake to match with my snakeskin pattern dress.

Was it particularly challenging?

It was a very challenging concept & technique – doing something that is never been done or taught before. But I really enjoyed my design process. I think it is all about using different materials to telling a story. I think I have a bit of ‘jumping thinking’ (my thinking jumps from topics to topics rather than in a logical process), it is hard for me to use one element to cover my collection but I can combine lots elements in order to make a collection.

Do you think there is a future in combining technology/architecture and clothes?

I think that interconnections between different field and industry are very important within this creative world. I think that true creativity in fashion is based on the existing knowledge that people have across distinctive speciality areas, and it takes on further steps to create a profound and innovative piece.

What’s the feeling like of establishing a presence in the fashion industry with lauded fashion houses?

There’s a saying from Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garcon which goes ‘I do not feel happy when a collection is understood too well… people (often) assumed things it had nothing to do with.’ If my concept is recognised and acknowledged by the fashion industry professionals, that would put a smile on my face, I would be content, happy. But if it’s not understood, I will not be discouraged and keep going wherever my creativity takes me.

Is there anything you would like to add that you think I should know?  

I think I often design using my subconscious mind, because my cognitive thinking is fairly logical. However, I often let my conscious mind to assist with my subconscious to create logical conceptual thinking. I never run out of creative ideas because whenever I encounter gaps conceptually, I will go straight to sleep and let my dream take control over

Photos: Reannon Lea Smith