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Kangqi Zou: hope this collection inspires individuals to consider



Can you share more about your journey from the industrial environments to the high-fashion scene in New York and how this transition has influenced your design philosophy?

Absolutely. My journey from the industrial landscapes of China to the high-fashion world of New York has profoundly shaped my design philosophy. Growing up in an environment dominated by steel mills and machinery, I was constantly surrounded by rugged textures, geometric forms, and a stark, utilitarian aesthetic. This early exposure to such a distinctive environment ingrained in me an appreciation for the beauty found in raw, functional elements.


When I transitioned to New York and began my studies at Parsons School of Design, I was introduced to a completely different world—one filled with diverse cultural influences, vibrant creativity, and the sophistication of high fashion. This contrast between my industrial roots and the cosmopolitan flair of New York became a central theme in my work. I found myself naturally blending these seemingly disparate elements, creating designs that harmonize the ruggedness of industrial materials with the elegance of haute couture.


The industrial environment taught me to value strength and functionality, while my experiences in New York have refined my aesthetic sensibilities and introduced me to the subtleties of luxury and elegance.The transition has also influenced my creative process, which starts with texture—a nod to the tactile, material-focused nature of industrial design. I then develop these textures into silhouettes, drawing inspiration from both the structural forms of machinery and the fluid lines of high fashion. Finally, I select colors that enhance the overall narrative, bringing the design to life.


In essence, this journey has allowed me to create a unique design language that celebrates the intersection of practicality and artistry, challenging traditional fashion norms and encouraging a deeper exploration of identity and culture through my work.


How do your designs reflect your commitment to feminist principles, and in what ways do you believe your work contributes to the discourse on femininity in fashion?

My designs are a bold statement of feminist principles, committed to challenging and redefining femininity in fashion. Growing up among male workers in an industrial setting, I was immersed in the rugged, utilitarian aesthetics of their attire. Upon moving to New York, I encountered a fashion scene steeped in traditional notions of feminine beauty, which led me to question and explore my own identity and concept of beauty.

In the "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection, this exploration is powerfully expressed. The collection boldly fuses elements of traditional women’s wear with the robustness of industrial workwear, creating garments that blend elegance with strength and resilience. While inspired by classic evening attire, many pieces resemble armor more than conventional dresses, challenging the typical portrayal of unisex fashion that often merely oversizes male garments.


I believe that true advancement in women’s fashion lies in embracing traditional feminine beauty while fearlessly integrating elements that defy conventional norms. My designs are crafted to provoke a dialogue about the essence of femininity, merging historical elegance with disruptive, non-traditional elements. This fusion not only expands the narrative around femininity but also champions a more inclusive and dynamic exploration of female identity in fashion. Through this approach, my work aims to revolutionize the discourse on femininity, advocating for a fashion industry where women’s beauty and strength are celebrated without constraint or compromise.


What sparked the idea for the "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection, and how does it explore the theme of cultural mimicry?

The "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection was inspired by my personal experiences with cultural mimicry, particularly transitioning from an industrial environment in China to New York’s vibrant fashion scene. This dramatic change sparked a deep reflection on identity and how fashion reflects societal norms and personal adaptation.

The collection explores cultural mimicry by illustrating how individuals often subconsciously adopt prevailing cultural styles, sometimes at the expense of their original identities. Using fashion as a metaphor, it highlights the imitation of dominant cultural trends, merging traditional silhouettes with avant-garde twists to challenge conventional norms. This blend symbolizes the tension between preserving cultural heritage and embracing new influences.

Each piece in "Monkey See, Monkey Do" is designed to provoke thought about the impact of cultural assimilation on personal identity. Through this collection, I aim to inspire wearers and viewers to reflect on their experiences with cultural influences and consider how these interactions shape their own self-expression and identity. The collection serves as a conversation starter on the complexities of identity formed in the crossfire of cultural exchange.


How do you balance the visual and thematic elements of strength and elegance in your collection, and what message do you hope to convey through this juxtaposition?

In balancing the visual and thematic elements of strength and elegance in my collection, I focus on merging robust, industrial-inspired structures with refined, sophisticated designs. This harmony is achieved by integrating sturdy materials and bold silhouettes with delicate details and fluid lines. For instance, I often use fabrics with a strong texture or solid structure, shaped into silhouettes that convey both power and grace. The juxtaposition of these elements creates a dynamic visual narrative that embodies resilience and beauty.

Through this juxtaposition, I aim to convey a message of empowerment and the multifaceted nature of femininity. By combining strength with elegance, my designs challenge traditional perceptions of femininity as being solely delicate or fragile. Instead, they celebrate the complexity and diversity of women's identities, showcasing how strength and elegance can coexist and enhance one another.

The message I hope to convey is that true femininity encompasses both power and grace, and that women should feel empowered to embrace all aspects of their identity. My collection encourages wearers to feel confident and resilient, highlighting that elegance does not have to be compromised for strength, and vice versa. This balance aims to inspire a broader understanding and appreciation of the diverse expressions of femininity.


Could you elaborate on the choice and integration of utilitarian elements like safety helmets into high fashion millinery within your collection?

In my collection, the integration of utilitarian elements like safety helmets into high fashion millinery is a deliberate choice aimed at challenging traditional fashion norms and redefining what is considered elegant. This choice stems from my desire to blend the rugged, functional aesthetics of industrial gear with the refined, artistic expressions of high fashion.

The safety helmets, typically seen as purely functional items used in industrial settings, are transformed through design elements that imbue them with a new life as fashionable, avant-garde accessories. This transformation involves using high-quality materials, intricate detailing, and innovative design techniques that elevate the utilitarian object to a luxurious fashion statement.

By incorporating such elements, I seek to create a visual and conceptual dialogue between the everyday and the exceptional. The safety helmets, when reimagined as millinery, question the boundaries between practicality and luxury. They serve as a metaphor for the dualities that individuals navigate—combining the strength and protection of a helmet with the elegance and allure of fashion millinery.

Ultimately, this fusion of utility and fashion not only broadens the aesthetic possibilities within my collections but also conveys a deeper message about resilience and adaptability. It reflects a belief that beauty and function can coexist harmoniously, encouraging a reconsideration of how fashion can express complex identities and narratives.


In what ways do you think your collection challenges traditional societal roles and norms through its portrayal of identity and culture?

My collection challenges traditional societal roles and norms by innovatively blending utilitarian elements with high-fashion aesthetics, thereby redefining how identity and culture are expressed through fashion. Specifically, by incorporating items like safety helmets, typically seen in industrial settings, into elegant millinery, the collection blurs the lines between practicality and beauty. This integration suggests that attributes like strength and resilience are compatible with elegance, encouraging a reevaluation of traditional gender roles within fashion.

Furthermore, the collection uses a mix of bold silhouettes and diverse textures to challenge the norms of fashion design that often emphasize either functionality or aesthetic beauty, but seldom both. By merging these aspects, my designs promote a broader, more inclusive vision of fashion that celebrates both toughness and grace.

Drawing from my background in an industrial environment and the cosmopolitan influences of New York, the collection also fosters a dialogue between varying cultural identities. This fusion not only underscores the fluidity of cultural boundaries but also challenges the notion of a singular, static identity, encouraging individuals to embrace the multifaceted nature of their own identities.

Overall, through its innovative design approach, the collection not only provokes thought but also inspires conversations about how fashion can serve as a powerful medium for expressing complex identities and cultural narratives, ultimately advocating for a more inclusive and dynamic understanding of societal roles and norms.


How do you intend for your audience to interact with or respond to the "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection?

The "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection is designed to engage the audience on multiple levels, encouraging them to reflect on themes of cultural mimicry and identity formation. I intend for viewers to delve into the deeper meanings embedded within this. The collection uses familiar silhouettes juxtaposed with unconventional materials to spark curiosity and prompt viewers to question the norms of fashion and societal expectations.

I hope this collection inspires individuals to consider how often we unconsciously emulate others in our choices and behaviors, and how this imitation impacts our sense of self and cultural identity. By presenting a blend of traditional and innovative designs, the collection aims to provoke thought about the balance between embracing global influences and preserving personal and cultural uniqueness.

Ultimately, my goal is for the audience to engage with the collection in a way that fosters a broader dialogue about identity, authenticity, and the power of fashion as a form of personal expression and cultural commentary. I want wearers and observers alike to find a connection with the pieces that resonates on a personal level, encouraging self-reflection and a reevaluation of what fashion means in the context of their own lives.


Can you describe your design process for this collection? How do you go from concept to final product?

The design process for the "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection starts with a deep dive into the themes of cultural mimicry and identity exploration. I begin by collecting a variety of inspirations from historical fashion, industrial elements, and contemporary art, synthesizing these into a cohesive conceptual framework. This stage involves extensive sketching to visually translate these ideas into potential fashion pieces that embody the collection's core themes.

Material selection follows, where I choose fabrics that contrast yet complement—combining robust, industrial textures with luxurious, refined materials. This highlights the thematic juxtaposition of cultural influence and identity expression within the collection.

During the prototyping phase, my team and I develop patterns and create initial samples. This hands-on phase is crucial for refining silhouettes and ensuring each piece communicates the intended message while remaining aesthetically compelling and wearable.

Subsequent rounds of refinement involve adjusting fit, enhancing details, and perfecting the drape of each garment, ensuring every piece aligns perfectly with the collection's vision. Multiple iterations are common, as each design is meticulously tuned to meet our exacting standards.

The final production phase brings the vision to life, where every detail is crafted with precision, from the stitching to the final embellishments. This process from concept to completion is iterative and dynamic, ensuring the collection not only reflects the original inspiration but also resonates deeply with the audience, both visually and conceptually.


As a designer with a strong feminist approach, how do you ensure that your collections empower wearers and make statements of empowerment?

As a designer committed to feminist principles, my approach focuses on empowering wearers through thoughtful design elements that convey strength and individuality. The collections feature structured silhouettes and durable materials, which are intended to symbolize protection and confidence, while the inclusion of delicate details adds a touch of femininity.

The designs strive to accommodate diverse body types and identities, aiming to promote inclusivity and body positivity. Themes of identity, cultural heritage, and societal roles are woven into the narratives of the collections, encouraging wearers to reflect on these important issues.

By integrating unconventional materials with traditional high-fashion elements, the collections challenge standard fashion norms and encourage a reevaluation of traditional gender roles and beauty standards. These garments are designed as statement pieces for occasions that call for bold expression, providing wearers with an artistic medium to assert their identity and values. This approach is not about daily wearability but about creating impactful pieces that resonate on a deeper level during significant moments.

10 In what ways does the "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection prompt wearers and viewers to reflect on their own identities and societal roles?

The "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection prompts wearers and viewers to reflect on their own identities and societal roles by presenting a vivid and personal exploration of cultural mimicry and identity conflict. While the collection is inspired by my personal experiences, it uses concrete, tangible elements to express abstract concepts, encouraging a broader contemplation of identity issues.

By combining stereotypical elements like safety helmets with luxurious materials such as velvet, typically found in haute couture, the collection creates a visual representation of conflict and juxtaposition. This tangible depiction of contrasts serves as a direct and immediate point of reflection for viewers, prompting them to consider the inherent tensions between different aspects of identity and societal expectations.

The collection does not prescribe a specific positive or negative viewpoint on the issues it explores. Instead, it presents my genuine feelings of conflict and ambiguity, allowing viewers to engage with the theme in an unbiased manner. This approach encourages a more nuanced and personal reflection on how cultural influences shape individual identity and societal roles, inviting wearers and viewers to explore these complex dynamics from their own perspectives.


Looking ahead, how do you see your work evolving? Are there particular themes or issues you are eager to explore through your designs?

Looking ahead, I see my work continuing to evolve by delving deeper into the exploration of the contrasts and harmonies found within my unique cultural and personal experiences. My upbringing in an industrial environment has significantly influenced my design ethos, leading me to constantly seek a balance between chaos and order in my creations.

I am particularly eager to explore themes such as the intersection of traditional craftsmanship and modern technology, the impact of urbanization on cultural heritage, and the evolving notions of gender and identity in contemporary society. I aim to incorporate more sustainable practices and innovative materials into my designs, reflecting a commitment to environmental responsibility alongside aesthetic and conceptual depth.

Additionally, I am interested in further investigating the dialogues between different cultural narratives, especially how global influences can be harmonized with local traditions to create designs that are both universally resonant and deeply personal. By continuing to challenge conventional norms and push the boundaries of fashion, I hope to create works that not only captivate aesthetically but also provoke thought and inspire meaningful conversations about identity, culture, and societal roles.


What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating the "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection, and what have you learned about yourself as a designer through this project?

The most rewarding aspect of creating the "Monkey See, Monkey Do" collection has been the opportunity to translate my personal experiences and reflections on cultural mimicry and identity into a tangible and thought-provoking body of work. Seeing the collection come to life and resonate with viewers has been incredibly fulfilling, as it has sparked meaningful discussions and reflections on the themes I aimed to explore.

Through this project, I have learned a great deal about myself as a designer. I have discovered a deeper appreciation for the complexity and richness that comes from blending diverse influences and materials. This collection has reinforced my belief in the power of fashion as a medium to convey complex narratives and challenge societal norms.

Additionally, I have gained confidence in my ability to navigate and express the tensions between different cultural and aesthetic elements, creating harmony from apparent contradictions. This project has also highlighted the importance of authenticity and personal expression in my work, encouraging me to continue exploring and embracing my unique perspective and experiences in future designs.


Photographer: Ouyang Ni @rotten_avocado

Wardrobe Stylist: Julie Gu @julie_guuu

Assistant: XIAOYU ZHANG @xyzhang2017

Assistant: Senrui Hu

Makeup Artist: Yunqi Ying @limbafterlimb

Assistant: Camille Wang @saltcamille

Model: Anna Kanehara @annakanehara

Fashion Designer: Kangqi Zou @kangqiyaaaaa

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