The cock-heavy collection of RCA MA Fashion graduate Nan Li may fire up a handful of feminists when they’re confronted with his penis-dresses and dick-tops, but slowly, one discovers that his concepts are a bit more complex than they seem at first sight. Taking cues from social media superstars like Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna, Nan puts entertainment at centre stage of his brand and received VFiles’ support straight after graduating. He showed his collection on their runway during NYFW, and subsequently took the garments on a small USA tour and presented them on a runway in LA. Nan and his creative partner Emilia Pfo have now returned back home, though not in London. Avoiding the high costs of living and working in the UK, the duo has based their brand in Berlin, where the government fully supports creative businesses. Nan talks with us about inflatable fashion, exploding on social media, and why it’s important not to start a brand all by yourself. 

1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li26
1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li16

“Social media enables people to control and stage their presence just like clothing. It’s a tool to create a perfect image of a person and the virtual identity is definitely affecting reality.”

Namilia‘s SS16 “Think Outside the Cocks” is a debut collection that aroused its crowd especially through the use of a particular icon… On whether there was an intention of parody, Nan replies: “We used the phallus symbol in a very punk way, by taking the ultimate symbol of masculinity and power and turning it into something cute like a lace, a trim on a dress or a print. We wanted to reflect our modern and provocative girl power spirit.” The pieces were also spectacular in size, which was consciously planned. “We were inspired by how power is displayed through clothing historically, for example the 2D silhouettes of the Rococo era where women’s court robes had a purely representational function, or oversized gold jewellery in the hiphop movement. It is all about a larger than life dimension and the proportion of garment vs the wearer.” Some garments were even inflatable and considering that the collection was inspired by a few celebrities’ social media accounts, the comparison between inflatable clothes and how one’s image can grow on social media is appreciated. Nan Li sees this phenomenon as a tool: “We think that this is just the start of virtual personalities. Social media enables people to control and stage their presence just like clothing. It’s a tool to create a perfect image of a person and the virtual identity is definitely affecting reality. Just look at Kim Kardashian, who has used media to build a global empire.”

On whether social media has been used to create a new feminist movement and inquiring about the role of celebrities within this, Nan answers: “We think that it’s not just a new feminist movement but a general youth movement happening. For a long time it was really uncool to be part of something or to stand up for something. It was all about individuality and finding your own way to express yourself. With the rise of social media we think that a lot of young people are grouping themselves together again, to identify with a larger tribe in order to change the future. Since celebrities are the big players in social media they have the power to lead young kids, and there are some of them that are doing it in a great way.”

1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li17 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li18 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li19 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li20 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li21 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li22 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li23 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li24 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li25

“I couldn’t imagine to start a brand alone. With a partner you always have a sense of security and you motivate each other to achieve more. You bounce of ideas quicker and don’t get stuck in the development process.”

Moving back to representations in the clothes, we wonder about the phallic looking snakes and whether they kiss or bite. “A snake has always been the symbol of temptation. The Namilia snakes are definitely dangerous and are ready to bite.” Then the question arises of whether sex is still shocking. “It depends on the viewer and the degree of sexual expression. Even with our collection we’ve had an extremely broad spectrum of responses. Some people were completely offended by it and some couldn’t even understand how someone could be offended by our aesthetic.”

Now outside the cocks and more about his choices: what led him to a collaboration instead of having his own brand? ”Emilia and I studied together in Berlin on our BA. We have done collaborations in the past and came together after my MA graduation from the RCA. I couldn’t imagine to start a brand alone. With a partner you always have a sense of security and you motivate each other to achieve more. You bounce of ideas quicker and don’t get stuck in the development process.”

The collection was first shown during Nan’s graduation show at the Royal College of Art in London in June, which led them to become part of VFiles and show in New York. How does it feel to be part of such a transcendental platform for new designers, in that particular city? “We really wanted to focus on the American market as the responses have been amazing from the United States. Being chosen by VFiles and showing during NYFW has pushed our brand to the next level. We are also part of their showroom and they help us to establish our really young brand on the international market.” They have just shown the collection in Los Angeles and apparently it is becoming a touring catwalk. What is the idea behind the My Pussy My Choice Tour? “For us, a fashion show is a consumer experience. With the quick information flow through the internet, a fashion show isn’t just a platform to showcase your work anymore, but rather a live experience that draws people directly into your world — almost like a music concert. We also treat our collection almost like a rock band with individual characters, so it seemed fun and logical to plan a fashion show tour across the US to broaden our customer base.”

1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li5 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li6 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li7 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li9 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li11 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li12 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li13 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li14 1granary_rca_royal_college_of_art_nan_li15

“The Namilia girl is anyone who is confident enough and has the balls to use fashion as a platform to proclaim what she believes in.”

Nevertheless, they are basing their brand in Berlin. “After graduation we immediately moved back to Berlin. The living expenses in London are ridiculously high and for young creatives with no money it is impossible to just create and explore your possibilities. In Germany we are supported by the government so we can use 100% of our time and energy on our personal work. Nowadays we feel it doesn’t really matter anymore where you physically create. For example, we have PR companies representing us in London and New York with the collections, so the we have the freedom to be here in Berlin.”

After showing their Think Outside the Cocks debut they came up with a t-shirt collection. “The runway collection for us is really to get our statement out there as artists. It is not really aimed for wearable pieces but rather extreme showpieces for stage or celebrity culture. That’s why we also develop a more commercial and approachable sales collection for a wider audience.” As well as creating various collections, Namilia use different platforms to convey their statement. They even make zines. “As creatives it is always important to reflect on the now and the future. Social media platforms and internet are basic parts of our lives now and the new generation of teens were already born with it. For us it’s really important to keep up with new media in order to always redefine ways we do and see things.“

Finally — back to the cocks – it is palpable that the ideal Namilia customer could be a-sexual or a girl with an insatiable sexual thirst. She could be anything, any extreme. “As I said before, the cocks are not about sex. They are about revolution, rebellion and freedom. The Namilia girl is anyone who is confident enough and has the balls to use fashion as a platform to proclaim what she believes in.”

Words by Itzel Sanclemente

All images courtesy of Namilia

Follow Namilia on Instagram: @_namilia

Leave a Reply