“Shanghai is the city that gives you all of China but a little bit more,” says Xuzhi Chen, founder of the emerging fashion brand XU ZHI. His diverse background makes Xuzhi a perfect ambassador for the contemporary Shanghai fashion scene. He grew up on the outskirts of Shanghai but had eyes toward the West. After studying womenswear design at Central Saint Martins in London, he went on to launch his namesake XU ZHI, a brand known for its appreciation of fine materials and craftsmanship. For his most recent capsule collection, Xuzhi designed a line of luxe pajamas inspired by and debuted at W Shanghai. Like the hotel itself, the Xuzhi pieces offer a captivating contrast of old and new that illustrates a time lapse in Shanghai’s design influence.
Just before he unveiled the collection to a captive international audience, we caught up with Chen at a local street market to hear more about his process.
As an artist, what inspires you the most when traveling?
Xuzhi Chen: The opportunity to throw myself into an entirely fresh and new environment, and meeting new cultures and groups of people who live a completely different life than I do.
When did you know you wanted to be a fashion designer?
XC: Back in high school. I used to have a teacher from France who’s truly artistic and romantic and would often lecture us about art and design. It was at that time that I first got to know great works of designers like Alexander McQueen, who had this amazing ability to convey emotions through his fashion designs. This is surely what I am always aiming to achieve with XU ZHI and my creations.
How do you capture ideas and translate them into your designs?
XC: It might be hard to explain. A lot of things could inspire and trigger me to come up with the collection ideas: artworks, a novel, or even just normal people on the street and the way they dress themselves or pose. After the inspiration comes the research phase, during which my team and I work to gather as much information and visual materials about the concept as we can in order to form a mood board. We set ourselves into the visual map and think about how we can position our work. Then with the right sourcing and production, a collection is born.
How did you first come up with the design for the capsule collection for W Shanghai?
XC: After I visited W Shanghai and had the first official meeting with W’s team. The interior design of the hotel is truly inspiring and already offered me a lot of valuable references to look at. When we discussed a collection on Shanghai and its past and future, I immediately thought of the childhood period of time I spent in the city, living in the traditional Shanghai lane-like neighborhood with grandparents. So to me, this collection also has a personal touch.
What is your favorite thing about Shanghai?
XC: It’s openness to people and culture. The combination of a lot of things here: old and new, east and west, avant-garde and traditional. It’s always been the most fascinating aspect of the city.
What is the energy like in Shanghai as compared to other fashion capitals?
XC: It’s been booming in recent years with a new generation of young designers coming back to China to work after studying abroad for years. Other fashion capitals are more established in a way, which might not always be that accessible to newcomers who just graduated and founded his/her own brand. Also, the easier access to sourcing and finding the production chain here in Shanghai or in China on a grander scale makes the city a promising fashion capital in the next decade.
How do different materials and textiles play a role in your designs? How do you source materials?
XC: Here at XU ZHI, we mostly use common materials: fine wool, yarn, satin, silk, denim, etc. What distinguishes us from other brands is the way we treat these materials. XU ZHI is a brand that has a strong focus on craftsmanship and innovation, and for each season we do often experiment to ‘reconstruct’ the texture of the fabric: yarn braided, silk reprinted, cotton coated. Basically anything we could test in order to have the best visual effect! For now, we source globally for materials for each collection.
Where is your focus on the day of a show or presentation?
XC: I stay backstage to adjust looks for each model. Making sure the show looks good is always my biggest priority.
What are three words to describe this your capsule collection for W Shanghai?
XC: Playful, modern, fun.