From his minimalistic black uniform and round rimmed glasses to the illustrations drawn in the bald patch on the back of his head, Li Gong is fascinating to observe. The mystery only increases when he begins to speak. Referring to himself as an “easy-going person but a control freak of a designer,” Gong is meticulous in the way he works. Unlike most creatives, he never works at night. Wearing the same old black roll neck from Uniqlo everyday, it seems that precision and routine are a part of all aspects of Gong’s life. He admittedly likes to have control over every single aspect of the design process: “I control every single detail. I try to achieve my best, down to the millimeter.”
At school in a small city near Shanghai, Gong realised it was his dream to come to CSM. Deeply interested in all art forms including sketching and drawing, something always drew him towards fashion. Following his dream, he did his undergraduate degree in womenswear at the London College of Fashion. Realizing that “everything in womenswear has been done already,” Gong switched to menswear for his MA. He wanted to represent himself more accurately through his designs, and felt menswear was the way to achieve this.
Gong was one of the 16 MA Fashion students who were part of the AW17 fashion show, and this had a lot to do with his dynamic take on men’s clothes. The inspiration for his final offering at CSM began during his pre-collection. Gong looked at the London Tweed Run, in which people cycle across London in their vintage tweed suits. “I found the Run very uncomfortable for classic tailoring – people wearing their suits, their bodies were very restricted. That’s how I started my work. It’s not just about cycling, it’s a starting point.” His graduate collection was a brilliant selection of well-proportioned suiting with interesting design details, such as contrast colour panels down the inside legs of trousers. Details such as these have long been a part of womenswear design, and it is interesting to see this being brought to menswear.
Moving from his pre-collection to his final collection, Gong began to look further than the London Tweed Run and included ideas from 1970’s outdoor lifestyle. This inspiration can be seen in his final collection, especially through the colours. Successfully teaching himself in the evenings alongside his MA, Gong aims to bring his own flavor to traditional men’s tailoring. “It needs to be renewed. I like comfort and I like suits – that’s how my collection came together.”
Gong believes menswear needs to be shaken up. He feels that it should be more directed by the consumers’ needs – form should follow function. “I see what people need and I don’t really do conceptual stuff. Menswear needs to be more practical and functional. Then I introduce other elements.” This need for practicality has led Gong to combine traditional tailoring with the most unexpected of materials: an elasticated jersey. He wants to put this suit into production, but first he must try and find a different source for the fabric, as it is prohibitively expensive.
The womenswear influences seen in Gong’s menswear come at an interesting time. Women are borrowing from men, and high-end designers are borrowing from the street. Despite this, there have been few examples of menswear taking inspiration from womenswear (in the mainstream at least). Gong’s designs seem to pick up on a gap in the market that has not yet been filled. Perhaps this is why he is already in contact with several buyers about selling some of the pieces from his graduate collection.
Where will this take him? His goal is to have his own label, but first he wants to work for a brand with a similar aesthetic and cites Berluti, Prada and Dior Homme. Despite these high aims, Gong knows that the future is uncertain and says that he would always be open to anything, from furniture design to accessories.
Words April Kosky Images courtesy of Li Gong