Now that fashion month has come to an end, we can reflect on what we saw, and J E Cai’s collection of carefully structured, minimalistic, buildable womenswear has stayed on our minds since its debut several weeks ago. Designer, Jiaen Cai, generously walks us through the philosophy and unique algorithmic system that push his brand forward.
Through a multi-step design and creative process, Cai imagines their woman as multifaceted, dominant, and adaptable; an individual whose creativity and intellect is only embraced by J E Cai, as he characterises the clothes as having ‘infinite possibilities’. Despite his established system, Cai still nurtures creativity, understanding it as a vital component of the creation of his clothes and of how they are worn. For his September show, Cai worked across multiple disciplines, alongside musical artist Thomas Lamb to construct an original score that aurally illustrates the gradational, buildable nature of J E Cai womenswear.
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What went into preparing for the show? What have you been up to since?
A lot of hard work, but it was so worth it to bring everything to life and really establish what J E Cai is about to a wider audience. Since the show I am focusing on preparing for our showroom in Shanghai.
Your brand is closely linked with mathematics and the algorithm – how would you describe the relationship between the clothes you make and the algorithmic modular system? What came first: the algorithm or the clothes?
The AMS (Algorithmic Modular System) is intuitive and methodical. Throughout the design process I’m referring to different systemic rules at every stage. When I design one component, I need to know which rule to follow first and then, once I know the new component fits within the boundaries of the foundation component, I consider how well it will interchange with other pieces and how it fits within the J E Cai image.
I think the algorithm came first because it is the ideology that directs the whole brand. Once I had this, I imagined who the J E CAI woman was and came up with this rebellious yet intellectual figure.
The S/S 2024 show opened with an impactful, nonrhythmic techno tune. The models’ entrance to the soundtrack was reminiscent of the eerie, robotic ambience of Ex Machina, as they strutted collectively to the beat of the music. What was the vision behind the soundtrack and who is the artist?
The musician I worked with is Thomas Lamb. I like to think the system I use to create my garments draws parallels with the way techno music is created, adding layer upon layer of musical elements for a multifaceted, dynamic sound that continually builds on itself. I see the system I use as very similar to this. That’s why I wanted the music to start with a simple, robotic beat and build up to more chaotic elements.
Walk us through the design and creation processes – are the clothes first made and later cut into separate segments, or are they crafted as separate parts from the onset?
Every season I will have the big picture in my mind of what I want to achieve. I wanted to create a wardrobe for the J E Cai woman where they could select components and build their look from morning until night, so that means morning is more casual components in the daytime and also more uniformity and for the evening more draping components. I’m constantly balancing the need to follow the system, while also allowing myself to experiment and explore creatively.
The set of the S/S 2024 London show played into this by making visible the deconstructive processes. What does this tell us about the versatile potential of J E Cai?
I worked with set designer Julia Dias to create the set with all the deconstructed components laid out. I really thought it was important to show the audience at my show exactly what my brand and my system was about. It was a very literal demonstration, but I think it illustrated the concept well and felt in-keeping with the uniform image of the brand. I was imagining the instruction manuals you get for toys or furniture with very elementary line drawings of the different elements laid out next to each other.
My ambition is to show that these are not just some detachable utility garments, but a high fashion interchangeable garment system which could lead to many possibilities and even potentially revolutionise the way some women dress.
Your way of making and marketing clothes establishes your wearers as active, rather than passive, consumers; rather than making an absolute, unchangeable product, you sell clothes that are detachable and attachable, that will look different depending on who is wearing them and how they do so. Could you tell us what inspires this philosophy?
When I came up with the idea for the system I’d been reading around Taoism, an ancient Chinese spiritual practise.  The founder, Laozi had this line that really stuck with me, "Tao breeds one, one breeds two, two breeds three, and three breeds everything", the idea being that everything in the world is formed from nothing to one or from one to many. This really resonated with me, I liked the idea of everything having infinite possibilities.
I also can see that my own personality had a big part to play in coming to this design philosophy. I have a tendency to control my emotions, I guess I see them like water within my own rational box. Having rules in place helps me deal with certain situations more easily and under my design system there is an infinite amount of space for growth and freedom but it’s all held in place by the stability of the foundations.
An S/S 2024 favourite were the high-heeled, square-toe leather boots that are cleverly designed to emulate a long trouser cascading over the boot shaft. Despite these being a consistent feature of the show, they aren’t yet available in your shop. When can we expect them?
They’re coming soon! Keep an eye on my online store.
On the topic of footwear, how would J E Cai envision a boot that could be deconstructed and individually styled?
The idea is that the pieces can be interchanged to create a short leg or a long one, or you can opt for the leg to be removed completely so you have a high heeled shoe instead.
What are your plans for the future?
Continue building on the system and spreading the word!
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