Calling Wanbing Huang a fashion designer feels insufficient. The 27-year-old Chinese creative aims to merge fashion and art, creating stories that explore intimate human emotions. Dressed in all black, Wanbing sits in her studio in London’s East End, immersed in creating her latest collection. Small midnight blue flowery fabric sculptures lie strewn on the desk in front of her, constructed with a stiff net fabric frayed on the edges. These embellishments form the backbone of Wanbing’s kinetic textile, swaying like delicate dandelions when connected to battery-charged memory wires. Alexander Kendall White ‒ a multimedia installation artist that Wanbing is collaborating with for her textiles ‒ says,“The idea was to create wearable tech that was mechanically simple and looked elegant at the same time.”
Test shots of her toiles show strong fishbone structures, enveloping the body of the wearer in a cocoon, with stylised references to personal religious beliefs. The collection is heavily influenced by Wanbing’s struggle with depression, moving performance art and poems in her diaries. It’s hard to miss multiple layers of heavily fringed net, stitched on to a base fabric, emoting movement with hundreds of floating filaments. “My garments always look futuristic. But I like researching 60s textile techniques and combining them together. I always want to see how to make fabrics more special,” says Wanbing.
Her interest in creating innovative textiles isn’t new. Formerly a student of BUNKA, the acclaimed Japanese design school, Wanbing holds a BA in Fashion Creation Techniques. After an internship with Issey Miyake where she was “cutting patterns and calculating pleats,” Wanbing decided to move to London. “What I learnt from my Asian teachers was all very technical and I hardly knew anything about design,” confesses Wanbing. “When I graduated I didn’t know who Alexander Mcqueen was! That’s why I came to London and CSM felt like the perfect place to explore new ideas.”
While pursuing her BA in Fashion Design (Womenswear), Wanbing continued to grow her eponymous label, founded in October 2016. Her first showcase was as part of the Shanghai Fashion Week emerging designers platform Labelhood. “Shanghai is full of energy, very young and the whole atmosphere is really good. Most designers are graduates from CSM or LCF, so it’s quite like London,” explains Wanbing. Her AW18 collection, called “Soil Rebelle”, was represented with a “see now buy now” model in Shanghai this year, with most of the 100 odd pieces selling out. This week, she will be presenting in Paris under a new brand name ‒ At-One-Ment (named after her graduate collection at CSM).
“Every season we spend about two months developing the textile, because all my fabrics are very intricate and take a lot of time to make,” says Wanbing. “Patterns are developed simultaneously. We don’t use fabrics that can be bought.” Wanbing Huang knows her market well, aiming her niche collections at elegant women in their mid-twenties who portray power through their inimitable style. Thus there are strong, minimal silhouettes constructed in rich muddy tones stylised with high side slits, elongated cuffs and low necklines.
Wanbing’s idea of fashion is an exploration of the human mind and body represented through meticulous garment construction, expressive textiles and dramatic silhouettes. Her most cherished collection remains the first one ‒ “Chaotic Order” ‒ for SS17. Inspired by Belgian film director Oliver Smolders’ short film “Seuls”, the collection studied the emotional upheavals and intimate sufferings of an autistic child. Using fine horsetail hair, detailed 3D embroidery, ancient weaving techniques and innovative ring lacing Wanbing communicated existing issues regarding autism. “People started to know me through this collection,” reveals Wanbing. “There are no proper schools for autistic children in Shanghai. I did a workshop, met these kids and used their drawings to develop the fabrics. It’s special for me because I feel this collection had a lot more meaning to it than just being about fashion.”
Being emotionally invested in her work is what keeps Wanbing motivated. That’s why, in addition to designing two commercial collections each year, she also dedicates time to personal projects, sharing her deepest sentiments through fashion. “For my personal collections I can do anything,” says Wanbing. “They are very arty because I always follow my feelings. But, for my commercial projects I need to realise whether my garments look good and feel comfortable, and also think about my market.” Thanks to her creations performing well commercially, Wanbing has the luxury of funding her work on her own. She also received the China Xintiandi Scholarship for her graduate collection, thus helping her break even bigger boundaries in design.
Currently, Wanbing is concentrating on presenting her work in Paris and Shanghai and building up stronger industry connections through the London Fashion Week showrooms. “London Fashion Week is attended by more people from the press than by actual buyers. That’s how people know me,” says Wanbing. “As for now, I want to keep the business small and not work for anyone else. My goal is not to make money but to create an experience. Commercial businesses these days are so boring!” Well, who wouldn’t agree with that?
Words Meghna Sarkar
Creative director | Wanbing Huang
Director/photograher | Constantin Schlachter
Model | Luca Adamik
Stylist | Audrey Hu
MUAH | Tomoaki Usui
Digital Assistant | Alex Lectez
Light Assistant | Louis Hanquet
Camera operator | Erwan Dean
Editor | Luc Seugé
Sound Design | Léon Septavaux