Defining abstraction, New Waves: Zhujing Jiang
Already in her native Chengdu, a city in the South West of China, Zhujing had been familiar with the mythological Royal College of Art, mainly through her art tutor in her BA programme, who had cooperated with the institution previously. “The college sounded like a big family to me,” she says, “I always imagined to come here and become part of it.” Her dream came true as she was accepted to the prestigious MA course, but along with it came a huge culture shock when she relocated to London; her first time out of China, she was met by an overwhelming and individualist city that left her on her own. For Zhujing, it was not just a transition from one education form to another, but a push to wholly reconsider her practice and cultural identity. “I rarely knew anyone, and had big problems to communicate with people,” she recalls. “I was forced to reconsider what design is. It was not simply because of the transition of education, but rather because of a mix of everything I saw and felt in this city.”
“SUCH RULES OF UNCONSCIOUS LINKS ARE REALLY INTERESTING TO ME. I WANT TO KNOW WHY I LIKE A PICTURE, AND WHY I DESIGN.”
It shows that Zhujing Jiang is highly reflective of the process of movement and transition. She critically investigates her own experiences and memories, which spill over into her design practice. Her two years at The Royal College of Art taught her to truly understand herself and her practice. Concepts, reactions and memories reappear in her design process, providing her a further reflection on her practice. “This kind of self-analysis is like a map, showing how my taste is linked to my earlier experiences,” she reflects. “For example, I chose a light grey wool fabric for my graduate collection, and after I bought it, I realized that it had the same texture as a piece of cloth I drew in a life drawing class about 10 years ago. Such rules of unconscious links are really interesting to me. I want to know why I like a picture, and why I design.”
After her first year on the MA course, Zhujing worked in the studio of another Chinese RCA MA Womenswear graduate, Xiao Li. Since graduating in 2013, Li has created an aspiring business for herself, with stockists in Opening Ceremony NYC as well as Milan’s famous Corso Como, and was furthermore nominated for the LVMH prize in 2015. They share a sense of purity in their designs, and both actively use knitwear in their garments. “She is never afraid to use some materials that people don’t usually touch in fashion, like silicones,” Zhujing says of Xiao Li, “which was very new and interesting to me. I was helping with patterns and toiling, which really helped me to build confidence in my pattern cutting skills. After the internship, I tried to apply some new cutting methods on my later projects,” she says.
“GARMENTS ARE TOOLS TO HELP ME DEFINE ABSTRACTION.”
Zhujing has a distinctively architectural approach to her designs. As her sketchbook shows, she draws on the graphic simplicity of contemporary interiors and modernist building structures. “Experiencing architecture is more than just looking at it; space, lights, smells, sounds and even dusts, all elements mix with each other and work together to present the feeling of a building,” she says. Here, the body is central in the architectural experience as well, as it shares a feeling, as with the architecture. “My way of designing is just trying to catch these senses and apply them to fabric. I like to think widely as there are more possibilities to work with than just colors, structures and textures,” she says.
She describes her garments as “pure collages of graphic shapes and textures,” yet they function for her as a medium for exploring very personal, abstract concepts. Using gray, black and soft shades of pink, her color palette evokes abstract moods and emotions. “I treat clothes as original objects, and making is more like a response to the subject, a process of recording my emotions and subtle thinking through layering and twisting of materials. Garments are tools to help me define abstraction,” she says.
She has already been awarded several times for her conceptual practice, first with the Cup China Young Fashion Designers Contest during her BA, and most recently, as a finalist in the IFF International Flavors and Fragrances Competition in the final year of her MA. For IFF, she developed a concept of a new perfume and its advertisements, forcing her to once again approach her vision from a different angle. ”Before, I was more focusing on visual inspirations. But by applying smell and other afflatus, the images can suddenly become so real that I can take a wandering inside the picture rather than reading it on a piece of paper,” she says.
Zhujing looks back positively at her MA program, and describes Zowie Broach, the head of Fashion Womenswear, as an amazing person, who would continuously feed her students with energetic e-mails and little pep-talking as they prepared for the final show in May. “I feel proud that we took the risk and challenged ourselves,” she says. She feels certain that she wants to maintain that element of exploration in her future practice, hopefully combined with performance, animation and architecture. “There are talented people from all the fields everywhere, and I really look forward to collaborating with them and creating something new.”