Born into a family that owns a clothing factory, it was quite natural for Xiang Gao to choose fashion as a creative endeavour. Having grown up surrounded by knitting machines, yarns and fabrics, it can be argued that the manufacturing of garments is part of her DNA. Ever since she can remember, small Xiang was by her grandmother’s side, carefully peeking over her shoulder to observe her making clothes. Now at the age of 80, her grandmother still continues to make garments for herself, and the legacy of fashion production continues with the family’s youngest generation.

Parsons MFA Fashion Design and Society graduate collection (2016)

While studying a language course at the UAL in London, Xiang received an offer from Parsons in New York to study the MFA in Fashion Design and Society under the tutelage of Shelley Fox. The freedom of the course initially attracted Xiang, who had a keen interest in the drawing and filmmaking aspects of the curriculum, which are taught to the students alongside the main principle fashion design. Xiang’s decision to accept the offer was made slightly on a whim, and not quite knowing what was lying in the wait for her, she delved into New York City life with an open mind. With so many cultures converging in one place – anything can happen.

The city’s many galleries were source point of inspiration for Xiang’s thesis collection, for which she looked at various artists such as David Hockney, Matisse and Edward Hopper, alongside her own life experiences. A long time ago she learned how to draw, and with this education, she naturally adopted a preference for approaching design in a 2D manner. Thus translating her ideas into a 3D practise within fashion design was one of Xiang’s challenges on the master’s degree. Xiang reminisces how her drawing teacher used to advise her to draw shadows in order to make things look more 3D on paper, and took this as a starting point for her collection. Thinking about garment volumes, she brought together various basic white clothes to assemble “very common daily looks” and investigate how shadow is created on these surfaces. Through the process, she discovered that “the collar makes shadow, layers make shadow, the body makes shadow…” The main conclusion drawn, was that the shadow’s shape can act as an instant recognition point of a garment.

Alongside this practical approach, Xiang also considered different artistic techniques such as wood block printing and sketching, to investigate how certain artists have drawn people in the past, and to examine how to build a 3D vision on something flat. This made Xiang think about how she could personally use knitting techniques in order to “present the feeling of drawing in knit,” as well as the volume of the garments themselves. As a knitwear student, yarn was essential to her creations, but for this body of work, Xiang has put a special emphasis on colour. She started to draw clothes with her own drawing style and printed these life-size drawings of dresses on paper and put them on models. The end result of her collection came from this experimentation, and manifested in seven dresses that present different kinds of clothing and drawing.

Having graduated quite recently, Xiang looks brightly to the future, and desires to not get tied up by the industry’s speed of producing collections. “I would like to release product by product, not by season,” she says, while reflecting on her personal history. “I would like to make something more timeless and precious, like what my grandmother would make for me.”

Words Grace Ahn Images Courtesy of Xiang Gao