This week the spotlight is on Qiongxin Kou as we look at her super creative and beautifully soft knitwear pieces. We talk Chinese philosophies, handcraft, and romanticism ahead of Qiongxin’s upcoming runway show at Vancouver Fashion Week.

VFW: How does your heritage affect your design work? Can you see a Chinese influence?

Qiongxin: Mentally, Chinese culture and thoughts are more about being gentle and being humble. There is one philosophy in China called ‘Overcoming hardness with softness’, which means you don’t have to use a hard attitude to conquer a hard thing, but a soft method could work out with a better result. I love and believe in this philosophy so much, and growing under this gentle heritage, I do everything with a peaceful and calm heart, and I feel comfortable, powerful, and more efficient to achieve the best outcome by working in this way, as well as designing. My design work is always in a fresh style, especially the colour palette which is not aggressive but bright enough to give an eye-catching visual effect. The construction, cut, and materials, of my design pieces are not angled and hard, but simple and soft which gives wearers a more comfortable and cozy experience, and this ‘cozy wearing experience’ means everything to me in producing designs.

VFW: The photos show your graduate collection from Parsons. Can you explain the inspiration points and how you went about creating these pieces?

Qiongxin: I named my inspiration for the thesis collection as Bamboo Culture. Bamboo Culture is inspired by the physiques of bamboo which embody the values appreciated by the underlying philosophies of Chinese culture – Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Of the three, Confucianism teaches humanism, virtue, and self-behaviour; Taoism conveys harmony in nature and its ability to restore balance; Buddhism preaches karma and self-control. The three different schools share many common values, one of which is the fundamental belief of Bamboo Culture: self-actualization through adequate reflection upon oneself and one’s relation to society and nature. 

Inspired by Bamboo Culture, I wanted to create a slow design system that balances the industry and the environment around it. I began with using a zero-waste design process and sustainable materials to increase the longevity of a garment while decreasing its eco-footprint. Every piece in this collection is finished by hand; I work closely with craftsmen to develop innovative methods of construction, fabrication, and treatment. 

You have studied in 3 very different countries. How can you compare your experiences?

In the french school, Esmod, the first one that I attended to learn Fashion Design, I developed my very solid and professional pattern making skills, so this learning experience built a strong technical base for my future studies.

Parsons was my second school where I had a very creative environment to brainstorm my inspirations and learn multiple courses outside of fashion and design, which also widened my horizons in the art field and my knowledge of society.

Learning in Central Saint Martins was an exchange program whilst studying at Parsons. I would say this experience was very artful and inspiring. On top of fashion I studied art as well as the technical development of design methods to better present my mind. It was really fun.

So, the french school had equipped me with a strong base of the professionalism, Parsons had widened my creative and social mind, and Central Saint Martins had brought my horizon into an artful and skillful level.

VFW: What was the biggest learning curve in your studies?

Qiongxin: Each country and education has its own unique culture, and the different levels of pressure, structure, responsibility and market have widened my scope in the industry, making me much more flexible and adaptable to future challenges. My professional strength tends to focus more on the crafty side of fashion design, as I am passionate in the exploration of materiality and neat structure in design. However, I am solid in the proficiency of other required skills, capable of communication and collaboration between different programs, techniques, and tools.

VFW: How do you incorporate sustainability into your creative work?

Qiongxin: Through researches of philosophy, psychology and sociology, I dissect and analyze the behaviour of humans, in order to construct concepts that discuss these three subjects: Time, Evolution, and Metabolism, a chain of factors that leads to happiness and health. These are the elements that drive an individual’s improvement and happiness, and my designs seek to be a part of this beautiful force. Through careful selection of methods in how I approach the production of my designs, I exclude many factors that have been harmful, superficial and wasteful, so the wearer can be free from these negativities, resulting in real responsible designs that will last.

VFW: How did you get into handcrafting techniques?

Qiongxin: I love haute couture and am very much into touching and combining different materials. I love to see how I can use several very different materials to combine them into a new look. Besides, I am a calm and patient person, and I feel very peaceful whilst doing the handcrafting techniques, like embroidery, screen printing, weaving, hand knitting, and so on. I know not everyone has the interest and patience to work with these techniques, most people like to be fast, but I like working in a calm and quiet mood, so I learn and develop these techniques and work closely with craftsmen.

VFW: Have you always had a Unisex approach to design, creating for both male and female wearers?

Qiongxin: Not really. I actually do better in womenswear than menswear. Designing unisex is more like a practice to improve and challenge myself to get to know menswear more through the design process at every stage.

VFW: What can you tell us about the collection you will be showcasing at VFW?

Qiongxin: I am a very romantic person. I always have a lot of romantic or dramatic scenes wandering through my mind, and those stories all have inspired me with a new idea or concept for my new collection. I always imagine how to dress a romantic and eye-catching figure who exists in those scenes. So at this time, I made a womenswear collection because I would like to fully express my romantic mind and build a romantic female. The colours and materials are fresh and soft as always, but even more soft and comfortable than before. If you see a woman standing there and wearing a look from this collection, you will want to snuggle her into a hug.

VFW: Who would you most like to see wearing your collection?

Qiongxin: Whoever likes my style and appreciates handcraft. I could figure out who would be my target customers, but I couldn’t define who I would most like to see wearing my collection, because I would like to see whoever feels confident and comfortable to put my clothing on.

VFW: What are your plans for the future?

Qiongxin: I would definitely like to found my own studio, but more importantly, I want to set it up in a very ‘me’ and ‘cozy’ style.

Such interesting inspiration points! We could definitely get on board with the Chinese philosophy on softness, and we love the way these principles are mirrored in Qiongxin Kou’s designs. We can’t wait to see your upcoming collection in our March runway show, Qiongxin!

Words by Faye Cottrill

Images courtesy of Qiongxin Kou