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Experimental cuts, deformation, and a futuristic aesthetic are in juxtaposition to traditional and contemporary components of Chinese culture, intelligently merged by Tim Shi and Wang Wei. London-based brand Marrknull's latest Fall/Winter 2021 collection is influenced by the deep-rooted martial-arts culture of China – specifically, martial-arts movies from the nineties, and in this interview they provide an insightful view into their design process and the many ways in which the pandemic has changed their way of working.

Marrknull was founded when you were both still at university in 2015 in Beijing. You studied different subjects in different universities, how did you guys meet each other? How did you decide to start a fashion brand?
We met when we were studying art together before university. Later, we studied different majors in our university. I studied knitting design at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology and Tim Shi studied architecture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. At first, I made some small collections and sold them online. Later, when I met Tim Shi, he told me he was also very interested in fashion design. So, we've been working together until now.
Are you both equally involved in the design process or do you have different roles within the brand?
The overall direction of the research and design in each season is controlled by both of us. Tim Shi is mainly responsible for the design of the clothes’ structure. His architectural professional background always brings us many different ideas. I'm mainly responsible for the products’ detailing including the fabrics, craftsmanship and brand’s visuals.
With your work, you want to break out of existing gender norms and push the boundaries of fixed stigmas. Why do you think genderfluidity has become such a vital attribute in contemporary fashion? Do you believe gender-focused fashion weeks will become redundant?
I think contemporary fashion is more about how to express each person’s different personalities through clothing. What everyone pursues is the expression of their inner character through clothing, not just a simple gender division.

Can you elaborate on the procedure of developing a collection from finding inspiration to the final garments? What kind of issues do you face during the process?
Each of our series will first find inspiration divergently, and then dig deep into the theme to expand to specific fabrics, structures and details. During the research and development process, we replaced the drawing design with a large number of toiles, and use a specific fabric texture and colour to simulate the final effect. I think the biggest difficulty is to find a balance between the creative output and the products.
The 2021 Fall/Winter collection was presented in a dismal forest in conjunction with a specific technique that allowed the models to fly above the ground. The concept is supposed to emphasise the idea of time travelling. Where did the inspiration for that concept come from? Do you think the desire to time travel is as deeply rooted in human aspiration as the desire to fly?
The form of wire was inspired by the special effects of light fighting in the martial arts films of th nineties. In this collection, we mainly want to explore the current state of the collision between the conservative past and modern technology of China's county towns. The reason why the wire is retained in the video is to show the real side behind the special effects of science and technology, and to create a sense of reality. This is a reflection of the magical reality of China’s counties.
You took inspiration from Chinese martial arts culture – a fuse of self-defence, self-discipline, and art – for your current collection. How did you incorporate these terms in the process of designing?
The inspiration from martial arts culture mainly comes from the modelling of characters in Chinese martial arts movies in the nineties. In the design, we refer to the colour matching and old-fashioned sense of martial arts' character costumes. In terms of structure, we use the deconstruction language that Marrknull is good at to interpret the distorted costume silhouettes in martial arts actions.
In your previous collections, you have already merged traditional Chinese elements and modern attributes. How do you approach integrating both aspects into your work?
Marrknull has been trying to modernise the expression of Chinese culture in clothing, but our Chinese elements are not limited to traditional culture. We deconstruct and reinterpret the contemporary culture that China has accumulated in the process of development. A kind of order is found in the chaotic collision of the county culture, thus forming the unique Marrknull style.

Elements of shape-shifting, distortion, and exceptional cuts play a crucial role since your first collection. Why do you incorporate these components in most of your garments?
We try to use this conceptual tailoring method to express Chinese contemporary culture. The blending of different eras and regional cultures to the final fusion is the iconic feature of contemporary Chinese culture. We want to express this contradiction through more modern tailoring methods and a sense of conflict.
Your most recent piece is the hanger bag – a bag in the shape of a piece of clothing on a hanger. Initially, where did the inspiration for this characteristic shape come from? What makes it so unique?
The inspiration for the hanger bag comes from the clothing drying scenes that can be seen everywhere in Chinese streets and lanes. The clothes and sheets of different colours are full of natural beauty in the random linear arrangement. We want to restore this state through the hanger bag.
Due to the pandemic, the conventional way of showcasing garments on the runway became impossible as a consequence of social distancing measures. What alternatives/alterations did you adapt throughout the past year in terms of displaying your work? How do you think the fashion industry will shift after Covid-19 is off the table?
Since the pandemic last year, our release method has changed to online shows. Although it is a very sad thing, I think online shows are a very good opportunity for independent designers, which means that the creative expression of our releases can be carried out at a lower cost. I think after the pandemic is over, the fashion industry will become more and more essential, focusing more on the design itself.

Lea Zöller

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