Ever since its inception by Wang Wei and Tim Shi in 2017, Marrknull has found a sense of purpose in exploring ways and concepts that allow them to integrate the more traditional elements of their Chinese culture, the ones that we stereotypically associate this country with, into a more contemporary aesthetic that translates into pieces that speak to the new generations in a unique way, where we can find a perfect balance and duality, as they like to call it, between the past and the future.
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Their strength resides not only in their garment construction or the depth and wisdom behind their concepts, but in their whole brand image, where every season a unique show is pulled off with concepts such as models floating in the middle of a forest or a completely organic runway on the top of a mountain. This hard work and attention to every single detail behind their brand has granted them a multitude of acknowledgments, but earlier this year, the one that all designers dream of arrived for them. With their very well-deserved nomination to the LVMH Prize, placing them in the select group of semifinalists, a new chapter of Marrknull has started, one where finally the world is noticing and appreciating their immense talent.

We talked with one half of this powerful duo, Wang Wei, who gives us an insight on how this chaotic but exciting year has been for them, the reason behind their rather philosophically driven concepts, their most recent collection, Jungle, and what we can expect from them in the future.
Thank you so much for speaking to us, it’s a pleasure talking to you! Where are you right now? After the presentation of your latest collection at London Fashion Week, what have you been up to?
When we finished this collection, we just wanted some rest. After we finish every season, we have time to go on holiday and have some rest, but this time, with the nominations for the LVMH Prize, we have been very busy preparing for everything. We received the call from LVMH at the beginning of this year, like in January, and at that moment we were nearly finishing our new collection, so after we finished our shooting and the video for the fashion week, we started the preparation for it. Our schedule was very tight; we only had one week to go to Paris. Now we are back in China, we’re currently in our showroom at Shanghai Fashion Week, and today is the last day.
The press release for Jungle, the Fall/Winter 2023 collection, has been one of my favourites I've ever read. Can you explain the general concept behind the collection for the people who may not know it yet? What are the ideas behind the garments?
If you see our last collection, you can see we did something related to statues; now we are doing something related to the jungle. We don't just want to express the original Chinese culture the way we were doing it before; we want to show some dreamy fairytale side of it, something out of a dream that you can’t see in real life. Just like we are ageing towards the future, Chinese fashion is doing it as well. For this season, we are doing Jungle, the human combined with the beast; we have the wolf suit, the horse suit, and also a deer one. With the yellow colour of the denim and the natural dying effects we used on the garments, where we used plants and did it by hand, we wanted to portray an image of human girls just walking out of the jungle, where they didn't wash their hair or clothes; they are very dirty and raw. We wanted to show the techniques that we’ve been working on that help us do this. We wanted to present something that combines the new with the old.
The previous Spring/Summer 2023 collection, Statue, was about the link that statues represent between God and humans. The concept of the Fall/Winter 2023 collection is also rich in depth and complexity. With such interesting topics behind your work, I'm curious about this first part of the design process, the conceptual one. How do you come up with such intricate concepts?
The inspiration for all the themes in our collections comes from the feelings we experience in our daily lives. In the last collection, our theme was the statues, where the human can be the god; everyone has their own god, so it speaks directly to all of us. The last 4 years of Covid time have been very difficult. In China, we were locked down until recently, we were not allowed to travel, some of our friends went crazy and suddenly the sense of responsibility disappeared, so this is why we did our last collection the way we did it. For this collection, we wanted to express dreamy things because, since Covid has vanished, we could go back to our daily lives, and this was just a way for us to find a light in them.
Is there any reason why you are so interested in these more philosophical topics? Do they allow you to play with symbolism or translate broader ideas with your own vision?
Marrknull always wants to talk about different cultural topics and bring them back to the world, so we get inspired by different cultures and people and our feelings about them. We want to show the real contemporary Chinese fashion and culture because I think many people know the traditional side we always see in the media, the dragon and all of that, and Chinese fashion is most influenced by that as well, but for me, this just shows a sense of duality. This is why we always have a particular structure in our different collections, where we have, for example, that big inflatable swimming ring dress, the angel dress from last season, and the animal ones from the latest. We keep using the traditional elements, but we also try to explore and bring new things every time.
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Through your collections, you've been expressing traditions, elements, and concepts extracted from your Chinese culture. Since you are showcasing your designs outside of your region to a mostly Western audience, how do you feel this type of viewer and costumer will react to these certainly unfamiliar stories you are telling? Has the reception always been what you expected, or have you encountered any barriers along the way?
This is why we have reduced our Chinese visuals for now. If you see our previous collections like Spring/Summer 2019 or Spring/Summer 2018, we are showing a very strong Chinese image. Many Western people think it’s funny, but it’s because they don't have the knowledge or context of it; they just see it as it’s presented. But for Chinese people, it’s different. Since the elements included in the collections have existed in Chinese people's daily lives forever, they acknowledge it as it should. I think with our brand we want to express our culture to the world and not only speak to Chinese people, so this is why we are reducing our Chinese influence on the designs, not only on the products but also on the overall visual aspect. We want to show the real contemporary fashion and its duality.
Now, going back to the big news: congratulations on your LVMH Prize nomination! I’m sure this means a lot for you. How are you feeling about it?
When we got the call from the LVMH team informing us we had entered the semifinalist group, we were very excited. I couldn't even feel my heartbeat (laughs). When the showroom started, I remembered thinking how nice everyone was. The opportunity to talk to many people was really good for us. I talked with Jonathan Anderson, Anna Wintour, Maria Grazia Chiuri, and Julia Fox, who said she likes all of our pieces! I think it’s a big chance for us.
Just by being nominated, your names are already in a place where all designers want to be! Do you feel any pressure as a result of this recognition, or are you not big overthinkers?
I think our pressure is coming from how we can take our brand to the next step. The LVMH prize is a big chance for us and the development of the brand in the European market. Because for the last 4 years we weren't allowed to travel to Paris, we stopped cooperating with our showroom. We have just been doing our Shanghai Fashion Week showroom for the past season, even more so during last year when the situation was not good and the virus was spreading so much in China. I thought that we couldn't just do the Chinese market; we needed to do it internationally to explore the overseas market, so that’s why for the last season we went back to our Paris showroom, and in this season we are entering once again, but through the LVMH price, so it was the perfect opportunity to go to the next level.
You founded the brand back in 2017. The world has changed a lot in 6 years, and I'm sure you’ve both changed as well. What's the most noticeable transformation you see in yourselves as creators and humans that has somehow impacted the brand's evolution ever since its creation?
As we founded Marrknull as students, we didn't have much experience, but I did have many things I wanted to express in our brand. Back then, we didn't think about shows or finding the balance between the commercial aspect and the concepts. After seven years, I think we have the experience and are now able to find the middle point, because at the end of the day, the brand is not just about the products; it's a business, and you need to find your clients and your market. However, we like to include two or three conceptual pieces in our collections because I think they reflect our passion for fashion, and these are the ones that show what the real essence of the brand is. I think if we had to do a brand that was purely commercial, I wouldn't do it.
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Is the brand going on the expected path? Did you have any sort of plan, goals, or expectations when you created Marrknull or did you just go with the flow?
I think with the brand now, I feel good about where it’s going, but I think we need to do less Chinese classical things in our collections, but not just stop using traditional stuff; we need to make the old things feel like new. This is where the brand should head.
You mentioned Julia Fox earlier. Her, Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner... Every day, more big names are noticing and wearing pieces from your brand. What are your thoughts on this celebrity recognition? Are there any dream customers you'd like to see wearing Marrknull?
I’m very happy that so many important influencers and celebrities are wearing our clothes. For wearing Marrknull, I want a girl who has the talent but also the responsibility of wearing the pieces. I would love to see Solange Knowles and Caroline Polachek wearing our brand.
I’m curious if there are any form of media, like music or movies, that serve as inspiration or a starting point for developing the concepts you usually work with.
Our inspirations normally come from social media. With our brand we want to bring the everyday things back to fashion, so our inspiration doesn't come from much from movies or music but from daily life. I don’t know if you’ve seen our hanger bag, but hanging clothes outside in China is very popular; you can see that everywhere, so this was our inspiration.
How do you want Marrknull to be perceived as or known for? What should we think about when we think about the brand?
The new Chinese fashion combining the traditional with the future.
Finally, what can we expect from the brand? What are the next steps for both of you as designers and for Marknull as a brand?
We want to explore fashion and help people find their styles and express with ease to the world. Let the people know the real Chinese fashion. We are not yet working on our next collection, but we know now that it will be presented in Paris, since we want to move our shows from London to Paris.
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