China Through My Grandma's Eyes, Chenghui Zhang
Chenghui Zhang is a designer who is currently based in New York. Born in Italy, Zhang moved to China where she grew up before moving to New York to study fashion design at Parsons University, where she was awarded the esteemed CDFA sponsorship prior to her fourth year of study at Parsons. For Zhang, fashion is a tool and a twist between mainstream culture and subculture. With narration as her main focus in her design philosophy, her design aesthetic focuses on using this tool of storytelling to make the audience understand the story and meaning behind it even more. Using her grandma’s fabric she brought in the 1980s, her thesis collection recreated a memoir of her grandmother by tracing back the development and globalisation of China in the past thirty years through her grandma's eyes. The various characters her grandma went through during this time are the focus of her thesis.
How did you first get into fashion?
I always wanted to do an art related job when I was younger. When I grew up, I realized that fashion is the best mix of business and art. Therefore, I started fashion while at Parsons four years ago, I learned the academic aspects of fashion and realized it is a platform that projects the profound thoughts of everyday life.
For you, what does it mean for ‘fashion [to be a] a tool and a twist between mainstream culture and subculture’
I believe fashion is a bridge between mainstream and subculture. Nowadays, fashion is about creating a comfort zone for subculture. As this niche market gets bigger and bigger it becomes part of mainstream culture. Fashion is that bridge. Therefore, it is crucial for fashion designers to have a specific target customer or your niche market clear at the beginning of building a brand.
Tell us about the inspiration behind and theme of your ‘Remember the Forgotten’ collection
In that collection, I want to create a narrative system by using the timeline of my grandma’s life. I always believe a personal story can convey the most beautiful story. My grandma passed away during my thesis year, and she was suffering from Alzheimer's for the past 10 years. Therefore, I wanted my thesis collection to become a memoir of her life, and to also commemorate my family. I have divided the timeline into four phases that she went through between the 1950s and the 1980s. Growing up in the south of China, she was a farmer. In the 1950s she went through the cultural revolution as a factory worker and communist. Then she moved to central Mongolia and lived as a villager towards the end of the cultural revolution. With narration as the main focus in my design philosophy, my design aesthetic focuses on using such storytelling tool to make the audience understand the story. Fashion to me is a platform to tell all kinds of stories because you will always connect clothes with a figure inside.
What are you conveying in the film for this collection?
In the film, I have written a poem about my grandma 's life. I want to recreate the characters in her life in a film setting. And film is a great to convey the mood that I have for the collection.
Do you have a favorite piece?
The orange jumpsuit in that collection is my favorite piece.
What do you find to be the strongest influences on you as a designer?
I think I get influence mostly from my own culture especially from the 1960s-1990s China. When I was at school I was obsessed with Russian Constructivism. I'm also influenced by system artists like Hans Haacke and Sol LeWitt.
What else are you working on at the moment?
The brand we are working on is named Social-Work_Studio, It is rooted in contemporary Asian culture with vintage Western-style influences. Here is our website: socialworkny.com. By gathering its inspiration from all dimensions of life, art, and contemporary street styles, Social-Work represents a collective culture across hybrid practices. With its emphasis on production transparency, Social-Work is aiming to bridge the cultural connection between customers and makers. It raises a social dialogue on who, where and what is behind our products. Our collection will fully launch in end of June, we will send you an invitation for you to come.