Accidental Icon Loves Utilitarian Chic: The Subtle Beauty of WENQI WU
I am a fan of a slouchy, easy chic that allows me to walk on the edges of difference. I look for designers that show this sensibility. As you know what connects me to a designer is not only the clothing they make but the story of how they think, attend to process and what story I can tell about myself wearing their clothes. So today I am very excited to introduce you to the designer Wenqui Wu and share some of his thoughts as well as some of his effortless and timeless designs.
What do you think the relationship is between culture and fashion and how does that play out in your work?
I was born in Shanghai; my childhood was guided by traditional Confucian values and the practice of Chinese calligraphy. Today, these elements are visible the way I focus on lines and shapes in my designs. After I moved to New York as a teenager, my visual sensibility was further shaped by the contradictions between Eastern and Western culture.
In Confucian perspective, they value balance, and the idea of subdued beauty. Maybe I was raised by that idea, I prefer more subtle fashion, and sex appeal. When I moved to New York, the fashion here is more exaggerated, and bold. That’s why I really like the idea of Tomboy, it sort of eliminates the boundaries of gender, and it’s about the attitude, and the personality. To me, I love to see women dress in this effortless chic style with a sense of garçon manqué but still feminine. I really love the idea of gender neutrality. It balances my point of view on subtle beauty and femininity.
I have often written about the creative potential of holding and containing contradictions. Your biography mentions that a kind of “cultural contradiction” has informed your work. Can you tell us more about what this contradiction is and how you have worked with it in your designs?
When I was practicing traditional Chinese calligraphy, I need to mimic the past masters style, and then after years of practicing I can develop something into my own. In the same way it’s very similar to fashion design, When I was at Parsons, the first thing we learn is fashion history, to understand what has been done in order to create something new and interesting.
The contradiction will be shown at the idea of balance. In western Culture, especially in popular culture, many people value something that can catch attention, and the idea of on trend (fast fashion). But I really value subtle beauty. That’s why there’s a sense of utilitarian, sartorial elements in my design. I want to create things that can be held on to by the people who bought it for a long period of time.
For this collection you drew on the work of Russian Constructivist advertising posters by Alexander Rodchenko and Vladimir Mayakovsky. What are your thoughts on the relationship between fashion and art?
I feel like fashion and art are inseparable. They both represent popular culture through the lenses of artists and designers.
Sometimes art works inspire designers to see things in a different way. My understanding is that art works on the edge of interesting ideas, as a designer, I need to translate those ideas into a more practical design that can be understood by the masses.
You also won first place for the first ever Gianfranco Ferré Foundation x Parsons ‘I am architect’ competition, how has this identity influenced your design and construction process?
That competition is about fashion illustration, and how to make fashion illustration modern, and current. I like to sketch in a very precise, and minimal way. I will put down the shape and proportion I want to create, and be very specific about the construction seams etc. In a way, I sketch out exactly what I want. That really helps my pattern maker to understand what I am trying to design.
What is the relationship between your designs and the technologies you use to execute them, for example digital printing?
I used digital printing, digital embroidery, machine knitting. These things are very technical, but very modern. Fashion is about evolving. I really appreciate and value handwork, but to me I feel like we are at the age of digitalizing everything, so as fashion techniques. Not to mention that social media has changed the business of fashion. To me I feel like social media has changed the fashion market into popularity contest, but I just want to create great products, and I think people who would buy and wear my designs can see through my intentions.
Do you have a particular woman in mind when you are designing?
My muse is Caroline de Maigret, I love to see women dress in this effortless chic style with a sense of garçon manqué but still feminine. I really love the idea of gender neutrality; the woman I am dressing appreciates the idea of menswear inspired pieces with sartorial elements and a modern twist of effortless chic. She has this spontaneous charm, and she’s not afraid to show her androgynies sensibility.
What is your future vision for yourself as a designer and for your brand?
WENQI WU as a brand is creating youthful, effortless clothing with a twist of utilitarian chic. The influence of paintings and photographs by modern and post modern art on the collections can be seen in the innovative patterns, the artful placement of lines and shapes, and the detailed fabrics.
Which of the designer's looks would tell your story of subtle beauty?