“I HAD THIS IDEA OF A REALLY GLAMOROUS BUT TOUGH GIRL TRAVELLING ALL OVER THE WORLD, ALONE ON HER BIKE, AND RETURNING WITH ALL THESE AMAZING CARPET TEXTILES DRAPED ALL OVER HER.”
As remnants of this hazy memory, the graduate collection of Tingzhi Liu picks up on these symbols of glamour, roughness and what she calls “the feeling of freedom, spontaneity and energy I felt then.” In her garments, elements of classic multi-layered couture dresses of the ‘50s clash with rough biker jackets in dark leather, creating a hedonistic, super powerful and larger-than-life kind of vibe. They ooze glamour through their humorous bricolage of idiosyncratic jewellery, integrated North African rugs, DIY-accessories (like rope) and nostalgic, romantically embroidered biker boots. “For me it’s always about constructing an image,” she explains. “About trying to find a balance between colour, proportion, the size of the prints and the length of the dress; the use of plain leather vs. fringe and printed fabric etc. It does sound like a lot! But it makes sense to me when I’m designing.”
Behind this vivid source of inspiration, it is clear that Tingzhi is a skilful researcher and re-negotiator of images. As she dusted off any sand leftovers in the studios of CSM, Tingzhi looked at Irving Penn’s images of 1950s Dior dresses while developing the silhouettes of her garments. “That tied in with my idea of using multiple layers and textures of carpet fabrics, prints and materials,” she explains. Similarly, she integrated rough ropes to break up her dresses after finding an image of a rug seller in Morocco. “It’s a really key image in my whole collection and all the draping work developed from it. I had this idea of a really glamorous but tough girl travelling all over the world, alone on her bike, and returning with all these amazing carpet textiles draped all over her.” Such an image speaks to itself, and indeed translated as her voluptuous gowns walked the runway at this year’s graduate show.
As I ask about the future, Tingzhi seems positive and open to ideas. She’s already creating some textiles for her friend’s new brand in Singapore, and overall the idea of starting her own brand doesn’t seem impossible. Still, she is aware of the general tendency of CSM alumni and how important it is to battle racism within the industry. “If you look at the school’s alumni, there are so many great names — but few are from Asia, even though in UAL there are so many talented Asian students. It’s getting better already with designers like Masha Ma and Yifang Wan, but still there’s a lot of room for growth. I’d really like to change that,” she concludes.