Environmentally-conscious fashion is currently on the rise and designers are finding new and interesting ways to use sustainable fabrics as well as modes of production. But there are also designers like Shangguan Zhe of Sankuanz (pronounced san-quänz), who are raising awareness by providing a chic wardrobe for an environmental apocalypse that seems all the more inevitable with a climate change non-believer now acting as Commander-in-Chief.
Zhe was born in Changting, China and is all-too-familiar with the devastating effects of pollution. (A recent study estimated 1.6 million deaths in China a year are linked to air pollution). Tired of the climate in bustling city centers, Zhe recently moved his business to Xiamen, an island city in the south of China. Here, not only does he have more space for manufacturing, but also room to think creatively. And many of his peers have followed suit, forming what Business of Fashion called the "Xiamen Fashion Gang" and compared to the Antwerp Six.
For his first major collection, which he showed last season at Paris Fashion Week, Zhe imagined futuristic armor for men who decided to leave earth behind entirely for the air, or lack thereof, of outer space. The collection was called "The Safe House A," and was what a street style star would look like if he came straight from Mars, or perhaps the set of Arrival.
For his Fall men's show last week in Paris, Zhe continued on his doomsday streak with chic hazmat suits complete with breathing tubes, military-style jackets and boots, and he even incorporated some of the same fabrics used in NASA space suits.
"Sometimes, the function and aesthetic of a garment is a mere illusion,” said Zhe. “You will eventually get wet on a rainy day. Your style will eventually look outdated, embarrassing, and ridiculous. To quote Ludwig Wittgenstein: Sometimes problems are not solved by answers, but by the disappearance of problems themselves. ”
So, in other words, you might actually look your best when dressing for the worst.
When did you start designing?
I established my own atelier right after graduation from Xiamen University in 2007. Because I majored in graphic design, at first my designs were mostly T-shirts with the graphic designs I created. Nowadays, however, I prefer fashion design as my main method of creation. I use it to express my ideas and my opinions on the world.
Tell me about the collection you’re working on now
This season, I wanted to explore the relationship between chemistry and human beings now and in the future—from their communities to their ideologies and social characteristics. In this collection, you can find a lot of details from biochemical protection suits in the materials and colors. Graphic prints with words like "Visual Pollution," "Immigrant," "Natural Selection," "Destroys", and "Massacre," are also included, as they reflect the danger and rebellion of global contemporary society.
How is this collection different than past collections?
Starting from the last season, Sankuanz has been in the process of converting its theme from "youth culture" to "science and technology," as well as the current situation of human existence. For fall, we've also furthered our exploration and innovation of materials with DuPont fabrics and the fibers found in NASA space suits.
How would you describe youth culture today?
In contemporary society, youth culture has become more and more prominent thanks to the popularity of the Internet. The youth are fascinated in unique culture and trends. Sub-culture and underground culture spread faster and faster via the Internet, and are welcomed by enthusiastic followers — eventually becoming mainstream. Globally, the long tail of youth culture helps every unique individual find his own community online. This leads to a tribal-ization of youth culture. Young people receive strong acknowledgement and sense of belonging inside the tribe. But between different tribes they are strange and alien, even by intention. The ideas of youth have great influence on me and my designs. In both science, technology, and the arts, young people play a pioneer role. They dare to make attempts and to innovate.
Why are so many Chinese designers flocking to Xiamen right now?
Actually, it is not a fashion city at all. No one cares about fashion. People don't spend much on fashion here. But Fujian Province, where Xiamen is located, possesses great resources for clothing manufacturing. So, we are well situated for production purposes. Compared to heavy pollution in Beijing or Shanghai, Xiamen's environment is very nice. There is sea and mountains. It is very comfortable to live and work here. For me, a comfortable life is very important.
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