Fashion's New Optimism: Xander Zhou

Based in Beijing, this designer reckons it's much easier to establish oneself as an independent designer in China than in Europe.

Text by Robbie Spencer and Katie Shillingford

Xander Zhou, 26, Dutch, Menswear (Womenswear on demand)

Where did you study and why did you decide to study there?
I studied fashion in the Netherlands. In The Hague, to be precise. Before that I studied graphic design in China for some time, but I wanted to switch to fashion. And I thought that Europe would be a better place for that than China.

Which city do work in and for what reason?
I work in Beijing. In many respects, China is now a country of opportunities. I found that in Europe it is quite hard to get started as an independent fashion designer. There is more of an ‘establishment’ that makes it hard for young starters to get things going. In China, I chose Beijing because I know the city and some of its people in the fashion scene (better than e.g. Shanghai), but also because I think Beijing is the ‘cultural capital’ of China. It is a very exciting place to do a lot of things, but being a designer in Beijing is particularly nice!

What films/books/tv-programs/moments and stories inspire your design now?
Hard to say… I can be inspired by anything I encounter in daily life. Also a certain song I hear, or something I see from a taxi cab. Usually there is not one ‘thing’ (film/book etc.) that inspires me throughout the whole process of designing a new collection. It’s all bits and pieces, and in the best case every day brings new inspiring elements to keep me going.

In your own words describe your last collection.
I used an historical concept to express my interpretation of the future. I paid a lot of attention to the fabrics. Many of the coats that look like wool are actually woven silk. Gloves are made of the same material as the suits. There are frames (like those of paintings) that appear in different ways in the outfits. Those are the most striking elements of my collection. "Tableau Vivant" is what I hope one remembers after seeing it.

Describe the moment you realised you wanted to be a fashion designer?
I always had ‘a passion for fashion’, but not just as a fashion victim. I have always been very particular about what I like to wear, or what I like other people to wear. Just buying clothes and combining them was not enough, so I started making adjustments to clothes. When I got a sewing machine for my birthday, and I started making my own clothes – without the help of any patterns – that I would actually wear with great pleasure, it occurred to me that I should take it a step further. That’s how it happened.

Who is your all time fashion idol?
Yves Saint Laurent.

In a sentence how would you describe your work/style?
Restyling silhouettes with seemingly conflicting elements, which reflect my sense of balance in fashion.

From the recent S/S 09 shows, which shows were your favourite collections, and why?
For women, I would say Balenciaga. Throughout the years they manage to maintain their own distinct style, but every show adds something new to the fashion trend of that moment. For men I’d say Lanvin. I like the baggy look that is not really baggy. Humorous combinations of stylish and basic elements, without too much emphasis on ‘couture’ in an annoying way. I’d like to dress like this in S/S 2009!

Which new designers do you respect and why?
Marios Schwab and Christopher Kane. Both have their own distinct style that stays in ones mind after seeing their collection.

If you could go back in time and experience any fashion moment, what would it be?
The 19th century, especially the Victorian age.

If you could get any model/ anyone to wear your clothes, who would it be - who is your muse and why?
Usually I have an image in my head of how the person wearing my clothes should look. When I have to find models for a show or a photo shoot, I will try for look for people who fit this image. I don’t think that famous models or fashion icons would especially fit this description, so I find it hard to come up with names.

If you were to shoot your campaign and you could get your dream team of photographer, stylist, and model and do anything you wanted, who and what would it be?
I would love to work with Jean-François Campos as photographer. As for stylists, I usually don’t stick to one – and I tend to be very present at the set myself ;-) As for models, I can’t really think of someone. I’m always on the lookout for new faces that fit my collection.

Where do you see yourself/your label for A/W 09?
I guess I’ll have another collection that will hopefully please me even more than the previous one. It is important for me to see progress in my work. As to ‘where’ I would see myself geographically… London Fashion Week would be nice! ;-)

Where do you see yourself/ your label for A/W 29?
That’s a whole lot of collections away… I can only hope that by then I’ll have boutiques in cities around the world that I like.

Tell us any anecdotes about the making of your last collection.
Although you try to work with a certain amount of discipline and order, and with a certain plan in mind, a lot of unexpected things will happen all the time. Usually at the time these things occur, you will find them annoying. Some people might appear in your life who make you reconsider what you were doing. But in the end these uncertainties usually work out in a very positive way, and bring you further than the original plan. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly in retrospect when these encounters occurred, but I’m sure they are there. Next time I’ll pay more attention!

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