Beijing menswear designer Xander Zhou is part of a new generation of Chinese fashion talent. He tells Katherine Rushton about his country’s position in
the global fashion market.
How did you get started?
At first I studied industrial design in Beijing but my heart wasn’t in it. I later had the chance to go to the Netherlands and decided to study what I had always wanted to do: fashion design. I did this in The Hague. After my graduation, I worked for [Dutch designer] Jeroen van Tuyl in preparation for his spring 07 collection. After that, I was eager to get something going myself.
Why did you choose to return to China?
In Europe it is very hard for young, upcoming designers to make a name for themselves, especially if they’ve not graduated from the top few fashion schools. Surprisingly, fashion media are mainly interested in ‘established’ designers. In China, it is not necessarily much easier for an upcoming designer, but things work differently. Before I came back, I had hooked up with other young, creative people (photographers, stylists, fashion editors and so on), most of whom had also spent time abroad and were ready to storm the fortress, like myself. It was easier to be given a chance in China, to actually show what you can do before being judged.
What advantages has your European experience given you in China?
It would be impossible for anybody who has never been outside of China to link up with the international fashion scene. European designers are probably still predominant in international fashion, so understanding a bit about their roots and their tradition is of great use if you want to get involved.
What are your influences?
All the things I encounter: my friends, parties, my travels … I often write down things that strike me. Then, when I make designs, I can always find inspiration in the things I wrote down. For my spring 11 collection, Base Camp, much of my inspiration came from extreme sports, and especially the fabrics used, for example hiking gear. Colour played an important role - much more so than in my previous collections - and I was fixated by the different ways the same colour can appear on different fabrics.
How would you summarise the difference between Beijing and Shanghai style?
Although both places are quite different, the fashion scenes are similar. Many Chinese would say Beijing and Shanghai are opposites - maybe fashion is what they have in common.
Do you think UK buyers are sufficiently aware of Chinese brands?
I think fashion-savvy Chinese know many more UK brands than the other way around. There is still a lot of potential (and work to do) for Chinese designers. l
Which Chinese retailers do you most admire and why?
Joyce and IT (pictured) are good examples of professional, large retailers. As for indies, Surfin’ Bird and Tips in Beijing are nice.
What was the last item of clothing you bought?
A Raf Simons shirt that has a zip on the back
Which other Chinese designers do you most admire and why?
Admire is a big word, and one I wouldn’t use lightly. As for Chinese designers I like, those would include Masha Ma and Qiu Hao. Du Yang is interesting too.
What’s on your playlist at the moment?
It varies, but Nina Simone seems to be recurring a lot.