The Luxury Channel meets Rui Xu, one of China’s foremost couture fashion designers, whose exhibition Beauty On Fire – For Zaha was recently held in London to showcase her unique and remarkable designs. The exhibition was set against the backdrop of the late, great Dame Zaha Hadid’s innovative and inspiring furniture installations….
How would you describe your new fashion collections, and what inspired them?
My new collection is a mix of avant-garde and classical design, combining the opulent aesthetics of the ancient Chinese courts with a playful modernity that allows women to really have fun with their fashion. I like to play with the dichotomy of culture from East and West, breaking the strict conventions of Western garment structure and incorporating the richness of Eastern art to create something beautiful, fantastical, but ultimately wearable.
What are your thoughts on Western fashion, and is there a crossover in your designs between East and West?
Classical western fashion styles tend to be very strictly structured, with precise patterns and stable shapes that have been followed for a long time. Contrast this with Eastern fashion which has a free flowing expression and design, with shapes that are cut much more spontaneously. In this approach, the look of the clothes appears different every time, and the structure of the garments always changes when people move. I want to blur the boundaries between the function and structure of clothing to convey the aesthetics of classic Chinese fashion but in a modern way, translating this for a Western market to test the limit of what is really possible in fashion design. In a lot of ways, you wear your clothes to be noticed, just like a piece of art, so I take that idea one step further to develop clothes that are literally wearable art works.
What is the difference between your ready-to-wear collection and your haute couture fashion art pieces?
My haute couture high-end fashion brand is called XIANGWANGYI, which is a bespoke line of fashion art pieces, exploring the richness of multi-cultural aesthetics and philosophies. My ready-to-wear label, ruixu, is a limited edition run of pieces that transform the complex ideas behind XIANGWANGYI but in a more relaxed way. Both lines are available to order and buy direct from my studio.
Why did you decide to launch your collections now in the UK, and not China?
The UK has become much more receptive to the idea of fashion experimentation, certainly more so in the last few years than ever before. There is a greater willingness to play with the constraints of what fashion entails and how you can wear clothes and use materials, and so it just made sense to launch my lines in the UK rather than China.
What does the fashion and design landscape in China look like today?
Most Chinese people are actually closely following the fashion trends of the West, but there are a few people who choose native designer brands, as they feel a greater affinity with them.
How did your friendship with Dame Zaha Hadid begin and what did you admire about her? What was it about your approach to design and fashion that she liked, do you think?
Zaha was an incredible human being, with such a warm spirit. I think she recognised a synergy with my approach to design that resonated with her own philosophies. She seemed to like the non-structural shapes of my designs and the fact that I wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries of conventional design – much like her own work. She became a client and from there, a friend, a muse and a massive source of inspiration. In some small way, I hope her legacy lives on in my work, as she remains such an inspiration to me. This is why I wanted to name my exhibition in tribute to her, to thank her for everything she has done for me. Zaha was like a rainbow in my life and although that rainbow eventually disappeared, her energy field and her colour still reverberate within my work. She encouraged me to strengthen my own intuition and to challenge the balance of rules.
Aside from Zaha, who else has been your mentor and inspiration behind your journey into fashion and art?
There are a few outstanding people who lightened up my life, such as Ms. Wu Qihui in China. She is 87 years old, and was a superior editor at the News Agency. She experienced incredible hardships in her life but like a fresh lotus, never changed. She shared her very personal understanding of fashion and art with me, which I really appreciated. She’s a mentor who guided me when I faced difficulties alone. There are some people, even though they may not be around you often, where you can feel their breath; there’s a sense of safety, which enables you to calm down, slow down, and follow your own heart. Those people may not be direct guides, but they are always there.
Which designers do you admire, and whose clothes do you wear, aside from your own designs?
Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto are some of my favourite designers. They design with a reality based on their own life’s journey. I believe that sincerity is necessary nutrition for a designer. Sometimes, I choose a few surprise design works from somewhere, like flowers on holiday. I also wear relaxed, comfortable clothes on a busy or (conversely) lazy day. But in most cases, I hide myself in my own designs, so that people can better understand me.
How do you achieve the magnificent colours on your fabrics?
I have spent the last eight years collaborating with Dr. Kinor Jiang, a textile specialist at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He developed a technique of applying metal plating on to delicate natural and mixed textiles. This in turn creates the iridescent visual effect of a burning flame. We worked together to make the burning effects more dramatic and poetic in a classic, aesthetic way – like Chinese paintings. These effects echo the complexity of the natural landscape of my home town.
If you could see anyone wearing your designs, who would it be and why?
I hope the people who wear my clothes are independent; they have own opinions, and don’t necessarily follow the crowd – a bit like me!