New York-based Chinese fashion designer Terrence Zhou is fully aware that he won't spot customers donning his "clothes" — bulbous, silhouette-altering body sculptures — on the street anytime soon. "Due to societal pressure, we have to consider the functionality of what we wear, compromising individuality and creativity to some extent," he says.
But that is not necessarily the purpose of his creations. Even though you can purchase a pearly white shark tail, green lace double hoop dress or, slightly more wearable Tea Hat from his Bad Binch e-store. The goal, Zhou says, is to re-contextualise mundane objects and open up an emotional dialogue between the garment and the viewer.

Zhou's ginormous garments — perfect for our era of social distancing —transform bodies into the giant orange phallus, lopsided tubas, lampshades and giant spheres a la Violet Beauregarde. And the precision in the execution of these deceitfully simple designs points towards the designer's stint as a Mathematics and Engineering student before pursuing his passion for arts.

Although elaborate in shape, Zhou's creations are predominantly monochromatic. “The tendency to over-design comes from fear of doing 'not enough'," the designer says. "When I designed my first collection, I started to question the intention of my work — was it coming from fearful insecurity or genuine passion?" Now, Zhou's design ethos is all about "stripping away unnecessary decorations and focusing on shapes.”

Below, the Wuhanese designer tells METAL how the tragedy in his hometown has affected his work, discusses if editorials in glossy magazines translate to sales and talks about his garments' potential both IRL and URL.
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You studied fashion design at New York's Parsons School of Design with a year exchange study at Central Saint Martins in London – highly prestigious places often set side by side when it comes to the most highly ranked fashion schools in the world. How would you compare your experiences at these institutions?
They were very different experiences. Both places have their approach. I'm lucky that I got the best of both institutions. Sometimes I see institutions act as a themed amusement park, where you have to get a ticket to enter, but it is entirely up to you to choose how and what you invest in and absorb in that particular space.
You have made quite a U-turn in terms of your career. Before fashion design, you were pursuing a B.S. degree in Mathematics and Engineering. What made you change your mind about your profession?
Art and design has always had a place in my mind, although I excelled at Mathematics. While I was super busy with the core classes as a Maths major, I audited studio art classes just as a hobby. After my first internship at a Bioengineering startup in San Francisco focusing on product development, I realised my heart indeed belonged to arts. So I decided to transfer to Parsons and pursue my passion.
You have worked for tech companies like Profusa Inc, a Bioengineering company pioneering in developing tissue-integrating biosensors for continuous monitoring of body chemistries. How were you involved at the company, and how have the skills and insights you have gathered from this experience affected your work as a fashion designer?
The experience at Profusa was very interesting. I've learned a lot about working at a tech startup. My job was not related to fashion and art at all. However, the skills of overcoming challenges with composure and always looking for efficient problem-solving strategies are something I have leveraged in my fashion career.
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As I understand, unfortunately, the global pandemic had a tragic effect on your immediate family in Wuhan. You have mentioned that due to this harrowing experience, "the physical aspects of my work in relation to connection and isolation began to reflect our enforced modes of living and the separation I was facing from my loved ones." Would you be willing to elaborate a bit on this?
Covid has had an immediate and immense impact on me. As someone from Wuhan which has been home for three years, I suffered mentally as I could not fly back home at that time, while one of my family members passed away when the first wave of covid hit my city. These sentiments are translated into my design language, exploring what separation and isolation really mean to me.
As you have pointed out in the recent interview, "the pandemic has expedited our journey to the virtual world." Over the last two years, 3D fashion design softwares such as Clo have gained unforeseen popularity. As you deal with exaggerated volumes, which can be a hindrance if the studio space is limited, what are your opinions about digitising the design process?
I'm very open to digitising my design. I believe it will open up more opportunities. Also, I feel we have dual identities now — one is online while the other is in the physical world. It is interesting to see that our online presence can be more diverse and multifaceted than our real life. In a way, I believe the shapes would be more accepted online.
The childlike playfulness of your geometrical silhouettes could very easily dictate the kaleidoscopic colour scheme. However, your work is almost always monochromatic and is often rendered in blacks, blues and reds. Why do you gravitate towards these colours?
First of all, I was fascinated by the concept of modernism, of stripping away unnecessary decorations and focusing on shapes. Also, when I was in school, one of the most common feedback was that I tended to over-design. While looking inward, I consider the tendency to over-design comes from fear of doing not enough. When I designed my first collection, I started to question the intention of my work — was it coming from fearful insecurity or genuine passion? When I truly let go of my fear and act out of passion, the shapes become a strong statement that I'm doing just about right.
Some of your designs hide the face. How do you think obstructing the face enhances the effects of your work?
I think for some work, a model's face can elevate the design's final presentation, whereas, on some level, it could be distracting. My goal is to make both the wearer and the audience feel my personality and emotions for the time being. But then, it was the idea of isolation and separation.
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Your designs, hats, hoop skirts and pleated dresses, are available for purchase on your e-store. How does the attention you have been getting from fashion publications such as Dazed, Elle Taiwan, Marie Claire China, Perfect Magazine etc. translate to sales?
My work featured in fashion publications shows my artistic vision and the possibilities of what my garments can be — it exhibits my brand identity through a lens of art and creativity. However, the products listed on my website are a commercial facet, putting more emphasis on the product. Regarding their connections, these artistic pictures curate my brand story when I post them on my social media like Instagram. The traffic then is channelled into my store, thus converting into sales.
You have mentioned that your aim as a designer is to build connections with people who look at your work, encouraging them "to think about everyday objects in ways they never thought about". If the prime purpose of your designs is to provoke thought, would that make your work art? Is wearability of any consideration for you?
The concept of wearability changes over time, corresponding to contingent norms and expectations of space. We all now have an identity through the virtual world, which is morphed and organised in an unprecedented, metaphysical manner. My garments would have more possibilities to be worn in that space, where new generations are not shying away from showing their personalities and pursuing uniqueness. Surprisingly in real-life scenarios, due to societal pressure, we have to consider the functionality of what we wear, compromising individuality and creativity to some extent.
You have recently commented on the sustainability of your work, pointing out that each of your designs is one of a kind and made by yourself. Do you think fashion can ever be fully sustainable when the very notion of it entails creating something new?
There is definitely progress that needs to be made in fashion. Progress happens when there is awareness, which comes from both brand practices and consumer behaviour. However, the challenge is in making the system more sustainable without cancelling our consumers' habits and our impulses to grasp for more.
I'm still exploring. My designs are unique and would not be placed in a factory to be mass-produced. Also, I see the possibility of virtual fashion where people could buy virtual clothes without actually having to produce them alongside inevitable waste and pollution. I see more opportunities there.
Can you tell us a bit about what we should expect from you next?
It's important to stay focused on the present; I usually go with my intuition instead of planning ahead too much.
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