Harry Xu is hard on himself, and he has always been. Born in Shanghai, he moved to England at a very young age to study fine arts. “I love challenges,” the young designer admits shyly, “it is stressful, but it keeps you moving. I enjoy the process of doing everything.”

Xu has always been into arts, painting from a young age. But it was the challenge of getting into Central Saint Martins that pushed him into fashion design. For the first two years, the tutors provided guidance to create a unique aesthetic, but it was the placement year in Paris that helped Xu the most. Kris Van Assche had always been an inspiration – with his clean and somber designs – so when an opportunity presented itself, Xu moved to Paris to work for the brand. “I got the opportunity to explore myself and to experience a higher standard of everything,” he recalls. “It is crucial to be creative, of course, but it is more crucial to be aware of the business and market side of the industry as well.”

“For every man there is a past: below the rough shell there is still vulnerability in their hearts.”

 

Xu’s graduate collection was inspired by Michal Chelbin’s portraits of youth in Russian prisons. Fascinated by children that were born and raised behind a high brick wall, the designer played around the juxtaposition of emotions in these photographs. “I really wanted to capture the idea of the fantasy they have for the outside world. They looked vulnerable, but almost defensive at the same time. They are looking for protection, but hide the softness within themselves.” The concept of sheltered vulnerability was portrayed through the choice of fabric, chosen to be transparent and soft, and the silhouette – chunky and protective. The balance between softness and ruggedness is a constant source of inspiration for Xu, who coyly admits that it may be the signature of his collection. “For every man there is a past: below the rough shell there is still vulnerability in their hearts. It fascinates me, and it is something I will always continue to refer to.”

After graduating from Central Saint Martins, the designer has gone on to establish his own label. Coming from a family of businessmen, Xu always looked beyond the fashion design and pushed himself to learn more about the operational side of fashion. “Some people at Central Saint Martins are more determined to satisfy their own integrity. Fashion business isn’t just about that; in order to be successful you must understand the industry.” It was the most perplexing part of starting his company – but Xu lives for the challenge.

Xu is old-school when it comes to designing: he creates the silhouette first, does the cut and eventually the fitting. “In the end what matters is how you look in the suit.” To add a bit of himself into the garments, he constantly innovates his decoration: from embroidery to prints, the designer enjoys producing different ways of ornamenting each season. Merging classic with new is what excites him the most.

“We need to stick to heritage – it represents certain parts of history.”

 

In the era of fast-fashion, crafts and old traditions are shoved away – people want new clothes at a cheaper price, and they want them as soon as possible. The young designer prefers to step away from that mentality: “I have always loved embroidery and craftsmanship,” he admits, “and we did a lot of embroidery for my new collection. It drove me mad, but the result was amazing. We need to stick to heritage – it represents certain parts of history.”

It is hard to break through as a young designer – you are facing criticism and hardship at every turn of your journey. How does Xu deal with it? He is open-minded. “It is the experience you have to go through – but you need to believe in what you stand for, and not change yourself completely in order to create something outstanding.” Confidence and the ability to present yourself despite the potential criticism is what any young designer needs. Xu laughs when he talks about the harshness of tutors at Central Saint Martins: “It is good to be criticized, you learn from it. But I am so used to it after my years at CSM, so it is not a big deal.”

If there was one question he could ask anyone, Xu would ask God if this path was what he was destined for. The designer smiles: “To be fair, I think I already know the answer. But it is good to have that confirmed.”

Words Kristina Ezhova Images Courtesy of Harry Xu