In 2015, university friends Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang became business partners. The design duo launched a brand of today that speaks to the current social and political climate by reimagining "girliness". Through strong, structured silhouettes, buckles and straps, they add elements to their designs that allude to fortitude and perseverance.
The designers previously worked at Gareth Pugh and Simone Rocha, and while the influence of each of these brands is apparent in their personal collections, it is also clear that they have defined their own identity. Across their Instagram feed they incorporate their Chinese culture and multiple reference points of inspiration. At just two years old, they have received international recognition and are stocked by some of the most respectable retailers across the globe. They are a part of the rapidly changing Chinese fashion scene.
We caught up with Liushu to learn more about the pair's work dynamic, film's influence on fashion and her take on style in Shanghai.
Where can we find you?
What is the inspiration behind your SS18 collection?
The collection is inspired by an erotic film, Les Fruits de la Passion, jointly shot by French and Japanese producers in the 1980s. The film created a sumptuous, sensual world and explored the adverse relation between obedience and resistance.
How does it differ from your previous collections?
We introduced softer fabric than usual; using silk and lace made it more erotic and mature.
How do your collections reflect the spirit of Shanghai?
The story of the film that inspired this collection is based in Shanghai. We don't focus on expressing our national identity on purpose, however I believe it will always be reflected subconsciously through our design.
What about your hometown of Chengdu?
Just like Shanghai, it will probably always be a part of who we are as designers. The most apparent connection between Chengdu and our designs is our use of red, as it is the city of the chilli.
Describe the fashion scene in Shanghai.
It's very exciting nowadays - most of the designers choose to work there. There is already a gathered group of designers and we help each other a lot. The market has grown substantially in the past few years; more boutiques are buying from domestic designers and more clients are willing to pay for high-end brands.
What are the biggest changes you've seen recently?
A lot of students who studied abroad have graduated and moved back to Shanghai to establish their brands there. As far as I can remember, it's the first time so many designer brands started at around the same time. One of the most well-known department stores, Lane Crawford, held the competition "Call Out" to support and stock young Chinese designer brands. Shanghai Fashion Week has also evolved; multi-brand showrooms appeared and linked designers to local buyers.
Why did you decide to launch your brand there?
We did our BA in Shanghai and both Tongtong and I worked for many magazines and stylists there. Most of our friends live in Shanghai and it is good to be near them.
How do other art forms influence your designs?
I really like film and video. It's a very mixed form of art which is so powerful. You can read the story, see the pictures and listen to the music - that's why we always try to make a small fashion video each season if the budget allows.
How should we spend 24 hours in Chengdu?
Hot pot, mahjong (a traditional Chinese boardgame), repeat.
Describe your brand in three words.
Girl, girl, girl.
How do your designs depict femininity?
We are focusing on girlhood, however we try to bring more characteristics to this subject, including power and courage. We want to build up a female image that is sweet and soft but also strong.
Do you have a favourite piece from the SS18 collection?
The buckle Qi Pao is my favourite piece.