When she started art school in her native Beijing, Snow Xue Gao was such a fashion neophyte that she didn’t know who Coco Chanel was. “I thought I was going to be an architect or an artist,” says the 25-year-old, who now counts Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela as influences. An assignment that involved filling sliced-open produce with shredded fabric sparked an interest in textiles, and a fashion design competition convinced her to rethink her focus. Eventually, she landed in Parsons’s Fashion Design and Society M.F.A. program, from which she graduated last year. She’s since shown her fall collection at New York Fashion Week, as part of VFiles Runway; gained a superfan in Rihanna; and opened a studio in Manhattan’s Garment District.
It’s there that Gao works out her distinctive ensembles—mash-ups of traditional Asian garb and Western clothes that she wraps and ties around a live model (usually her best friend), a process she developed while working as a stylist in China. For Gao, twisting is both technique and metaphor. A strong-shouldered jacket with peekaboo printed silk cuffs riffs on both 1980s power dressing and Qing dynasty floral painting; a Chinese brocade dress straddles East and West with one magua-style raglan sleeve and one shoulder strap fashioned from a necktie. “My jackets are not going to be kimono jackets or Western jackets,” she says, “but Snow Xue Gao jackets.”
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