Representing the creative future

Windowsen: The Chinese brand that chooses simulations over reality

Designer Sensen Lii talks about a world with no genders where everybody wears space-like shoes

“I spend more time with computers than with my parents,” says Sense Lii, the designer at the head of Windowsen. Over a Zoom conversation, the Chinese-born creative gave us the keys to his imagination. Whether it is aliens or virtual simulations, Lii aims to create a futuristic universe that escapes current codes. In a Windowsen world, there would be no genders, no dynamics, or oppression and we would all wear massive, space-like shoes. Futurism and science-fiction acquire new and unexpected significations in the brand that wants to revolutionise Chinese fashion. “I change every day,” Lii tells us, “and I like to think that I can embody all the future possibilities that my products create.”

So you started the production of the new collection and it’s a mess.

We’re also doing the production of the last collection at the same time so yes, it’s pretty messy.  And, as if that wasn’t enough, we are doing some other small projects on the side.

How many are you on the team?

Only three people, for now. We have some occasional helpers but in the core team just three. We started one and a half years ago, while I was still in school. I had to do a few looks for V files, which I could not do on my own, so I contacted some people back in China to help me.

“I came back to China because I had some visa problems. But besides that, China just offered me more. I know a lot more people who can help me there, and I’ve got better access to fabrics.” – Sense Lii

Which one was more important for you when it comes to learning, school, or having the brand? 

Before VFiles there was no question about that, I just did what I had to do in school. I just wanted to experiment. But then I worked for Ground Zero, and that helped me a lot to learn about the industry. After VFiles commissioned me I saw that I could do something else, on my own.

Was it a choice to go back to China? 

I had some visa problems. But besides that, China just offered me more. I know a lot more people who can help me there, and I’ve got better access to fabrics. Also, Europe is very expensive! But I want to go abroad at some point. Maybe London in 5 years. After coronavirus is dead and once my brand is a bit more established.

What do you mean by free-thinking? 

Free from gender norms, for example. We are very inspired by the drag queen world. A lot of the looks are inspired by that and Leigh Bowery.

How come this is your main inspiration?

This was the first topic I got into when I started in the fashion world. My first research project, my first sketchbook was about this artist.

Is there a connection between Leigh Bowery and the monster heart in the video? 

Leigh Bowery is one of the monsters in my world. Our world is a lot of worlds put together. Some parts are artists, images, and some are movies, especially if they are weird.

“I want my show to be a celebration of brave people, in all their forms.” – Sense Lii

How do you reconcile being a genderless brand and having Barbie, a super gendered character, as such a central reference? 

I think you can mix many different elements, as long as we have in mind that gender is irrelevant for the outcome. And then you can make all sorts of accompanying statements, like using non-binary models. That’s also why I have tried to use less conventional models in my collection, to confuse and mix traditional categories. I want my show to be a celebration of brave people, in all their forms. Because I am all these people in a way. I change every day and I like to think that I can embody all the future possibilities that my products create.

I would like to understand the creative process of your brand. How do you work? Do you start with a concept and then develop it into visual research to go into 3D?

I work with the future world. I try to imagine: what could something be in the future? What would the clothes of the future, the people of the future, the aliens of the future be? Then I get help, of course. Especially from movies, and other artists that contribute to creating the future. Sometimes it is just something I see in the street. I take a picture of an object and maybe someday I will use it.

What are you interested in at the moment? 

I’m really into colourful things. I can’t stand black and white garments or suits. That’s why I try our collection to be sporty. I guess that’s also why our collections combine 20 colours sometimes. But then again, maybe in the future I will only like one colour.

Can we talk about those massive rubber boots that we’re looking at? 

I love footwear, it is very important for me. I love sports as a general topic and also as a source of inspiration. These shoes come from thinking of different sports shoes. But the process was quite difficult. They took two years to design and produce.

Two years! What are the stages to develop something like this? 

It is not always evident. Because both the factory and the market say: “This is not the normal shape”. Then we have to find ways around it. So we tried using wood to make the first test, but sometimes we just choose to go digital, and then we can print it and see the shape.

“I prefer the feeling of the alteration, of the computer than that of the real thing. ” – Sense Lii

The name Windowsen comes from Windows, the software provider, and your name Sensen. Is there a reason for this? 

Technology is very important for us. I like the metaphor of the Matrix, which suggests that all things can be viewed as part of a computer simulation. I like how computers challenge certain ideas about reality. For example, a screen gives us the colours we see but slightly altered. I prefer the feeling of the alteration, of the computer to that of the real thing. Maybe because it allows me to go beyond that which already exists, which sometimes tires me.

Would you say that technology is an aesthetic more than a technique?

I think that technology is changing everything. I love computers. I spend more time with computers than with my parents. The computer is the central element of the brand. And then you will notice the second meaning of the name. First, the reference to technology. And then, the literal meaning, “window”, since I think of computers (and tech in general) as being a window to my brand.

“In the beginning, my parents supported me a lot. As you know, my brand is not immediately very commercial. People don’t usually pay for dreams, but parents do sometimes. ” – Sense Lii

That’s very interesting. What about cryptocurrencies or NFT’s? Would you consider selling your products as NFT’s?

Recently my friends have been talking to me about NFT’s. I love this sort of thing, but I also can feel there is a danger in going only towards one side. I want to keep the physical part close to the brand. The feelings are different, and I want to preserve both.

What is your biggest challenge? 

Financial, I would say. In the beginning, my parents supported me a lot. As you know, my brand is not immediately very commercial. People don’t usually pay for dreams, but parents do sometimes. But being able to transform these new and different things I’m creating into something economically feasible would be a big achievement.

Are you planning to get some extra support? 

At the moment we got a sponsorship from a cosmetics brand. I would like to get more, so I have time and money to dedicate to creating something different and keeping my head open to new things.

Maybe this is a bit late in the interview, but what is your background? 

Before I went abroad to study fashion, I studied musicals in China.

Music, or musicals? 

Musicals, like Cats!

More and more things make sense. 

Yes. That’s why I love the performative side of fashion. My mom and family, are normal people. Of course, with that, I mean that they are not artists. In the beginning, they did not understand what I wanted to do, but they could see my passion for it. So even if they don’t understand what I do, they support me. My brand is not particularly simple. You must imagine it is difficult to explain the things I do to my parents. But they still believed in me.