Even from the very name of Terrence Zhou’s brand - Bad Binch Tongtong - the designer has proven his ability to project his creativity into a showcasing of norm-defying genius. This was demonstrated, for instance, in his Spring 2023 debut during New York Fashion Week, in which elaborate interpretations of mythical creatures - amongst which included mermaids and spiders - featured in a larger-than-life depiction of Zhou’s storytelling.
Through explorations in shape, proportion and silhouette, Terrace Zhou’s designs serve to question what he defines as the “ever-changing construct of wearability” - of which he challenges through pieces representative of the poeticism and emotion that punctuates his creative process. Below, we discuss the process that led Zhou to the world of fashion, the digitisation of his designs, and grounding emotional resonance into his work.
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Let’s begin with the roots of your design journey - how did you end up in fashion? What was your childhood like, and how did it lead you to where you are today?
My journey into the world of design is a testament to the fact that passion always finds a way. I initiated my brand in the pivotal year of 2021, during the unexpected advent of Covid-19. Ever since my childhood, art and design served as my refuge, my escape into a realm where my imagination could take flight. However, my academic strength in Mathematics nudged me in a different direction. I was faced with several rejections when I aspired to enter art schools. Despite the roadblocks, my resilience remained undeterred.
Subsequently, I pursued a degree in Mathematics and Engineering at a liberal arts college in the midwest with a full scholarship. My professional path took a turn into the dynamic world of technology and consulting, leading me to work with pioneering companies such as Profusa Inc., a front-runner in the biotech industry. I further expanded my portfolio with Helloava Inc., a revolutionary platform that synergistically intertwines Artificial Intelligence with Beauty, and Cle de Peau Beaute, known for its high-end beauty products.
However, during my sophomore year, I realised that the mathematical equations and tech algorithms were not entirely satiating my creative hunger. The fervour for art and design, which I had inadvertently sidelined, was gnawing at me, beckoning for my attention. That's when I decided to reconcile my love for math with my passion for design.
With an amalgamation of courage and anticipation, I reapplied to various art schools. I was accepted into the prestigious Parsons School of Design for Fashion in 2015. And that marked the beginning of a remarkable chapter in my life.
The artistry I had cherished since my youth found its rightful place. The lessons I learnt and the experiences I had while working in the tech sector had shaped me, but it was my passion for creating new things that truly ignited my creative spirit. Here, my latent talent for design flourished and I began to see the world through a different lens, a lens tinted with patterns, colours, and textures.
My brand, born amidst a global crisis, is an embodiment of that enduring spirit. And as I look forward, I am filled with a sense of wonder and excitement about the limitless possibilities the future holds.
Who do you design for? What kind of person do you envisage in a Bad Binch Tongtong piece?
There is no one I design for. In the grand tapestry of existence, I perceive myself as a conduit, a vital artery between dimensions. I sense an enigmatic message from a higher realm, intended specifically for me to manifest into reality. My role, as I see it, is to transfigure these spectral thoughts into tangible visuals. There isn't much contemplation involved—rather, it's an intuitive process, akin to a river flowing effortlessly towards its destination.
I understand your education background initially began with studying engineering and mathematics; to what extent does the logistical approach granted by these disciplines affect your attitude towards design today, particularly in terms of construction and the gravity-defying experiments with structure that often feature in your work?
While my education serves as a compass, guiding me through life's labyrinth, it does not influence my creations. When I immerse myself in the act of creation, I transcend mere intellectual paradigms, engaging instead with the deep, silent whispers of the soul. It's a profound dialogue that remains untouched by the constructs of formal learning, intimate communion with the essence of my being.
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The references in your designs are seemingly boundless, with various interpretations of sea creatures and insects featuring in your collections. Where do you source inspiration from?
To the casual observer, my sea creatures may appear as literal interpretations. Yet, the true genesis of my inspiration remains elusive, even to me. It strikes unexpectedly; perhaps while I'm lost in the steam of a hot shower, an image will flicker into existence, compelling me to bring it to life. I do not procrastinate, not for a second, a minute, or an hour. It is the urgency of the present, the power of the now, that propels me into creative action.
These marine entities, the quote unquote octopuses or sea creatures, serve as conduits, sparking a conversation between me and my audience. They act as familiar touchpoints, kindling their intrigue and curiosity. They're not merely forms, but symbols, enabling me to share my unique experiences and inviting viewers to delve deeper into the ocean of interpretation.
Given your boundary-defying perspective on experimentalism, it’s no surprise that your pieces have captured viral attention online. How does digital recognition impact you as a designer? Does the increased visibility bolster your journey, or does it occur more as a by-product of your own creativity?
I remain impervious to the allure of external influence, consciously choosing not to let it shape me. The notion of quote unquote increased visibility is but a human construct and such vanity metrics hold no sway over me. What truly matters, the only metric of value in my eyes, is the possibility that my work might ignite a spark within the lives of millions, perhaps even billions. Their inspiration, their enlightenment—these are the sentiments I cherish. Their feelings, their emotional resonance with my creations—that is what truly matters to me.
Along with your impressive social media presence, you’ve also demonstrated a fluency with the digital realm by branching out into the world of NFTs. What was this experience like?
I am wholeheartedly open to the digitisation of my designs, seeing it as a gateway to a plethora of fresh opportunities. It fascinates me to acknowledge our dual identities in today's world—one firmly grounded in reality and the other, a vibrant existence in the digital sphere. The digital realm allows us to portray ourselves in ways far more diverse and multi-dimensional than our physical counterparts. I believe my avant-garde shapes and designs will find a receptive audience in this virtual expanse.
The very concept of wearability is an ever-evolving construct, shaped and reshaped by the fluctuating norms and perceptions of space. Our identities now have a profound imprint in the virtual world, reimagined and structured in ways that were once beyond our grasp. This newfound territory, this digital canvas, offers boundless opportunities for my garments to be worn and embraced.
Interestingly, the digital generation is far more audacious, unafraid to express their individuality and pursue distinctiveness. The fear of societal backlash and the often restrictive need for functionality, which might curb creativity and individualism in our real-world choices, find no such boundaries online. My designs, thus, would find an eager audience ready to embrace their uniqueness, without the constraints of societal pressure.
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You’ve stated that your work serves to reject functionality in favour of emotion; how does that impact the starting point of a design? Do you begin working from an abstract concept, or something more tangible?
It’s all based on introspection.
I want to discuss in a little more depth this element of emotion when designing, particularly through your innovative approach to silhouettes. How are you able to project such poeticism when creating a piece?
If you are a poet, everything you say is a poem.
An impressive array of notable names have already been spotted in Bad Binch Tongtong pieces, from Lizzo to Olivia Rodrigo and Christina Aguilera. Who would you like to see next in your designs?
People who are authentic, pure, and real.
And finally, where do you see yourself in five years?
I usually stay present, and do not think about the future that much.
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