Guangzhou-based designer Yueqi Qi established her titular, independent womenswear brand in 2019, engineering collections’ influenced by Chinese romanticism. By utilising long-established, sustainable in addition to handicraft techniques, Qi’s work is reflective of personal and traditional philosophies, the individual narratives communicated by intricate beadworks, irrepressible prints and dynamic silhouettes.
Let's talk about your background. As we know you graduated from the Central Saint Martins knitwear pathway in 2018 and worked at Chanel in the embroidery atelier. Have you wanted to pursue a career in the industry your whole life?
Yes, since I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I was in a boarding school and my mother bought me several craft activity kits. I did all of them in the set and then I saw some fashion programs on the television. This inspired me to cut my grandmother’s pajamas and I sewed them into a new garment. This was the first piece I ever made.
Your collections are frame-worked by your Chinese heritage, the country’s culture, your husband’s band, an adage and Murder on the Orient Express. What persuaded you to utilise your nationality as a guiding influence and how do you believe it has shaped your approach to design?
I don’t think my nationality is a guiding influence as much as it is inseparable. China is a very isolated country, and it is very different than other countries that I’ve been to. I’m also from the south, which is very different from central or northern China. It’s impossible to remove myself from the world I was steeped in. This being said, it gives me a unique perspective which allows me to see things clearly as an outsider.
Could you tell us a bit more about this?
I never consciously linked my nationality to my design but there are some ancient stories that I explored for my final collection at school and for the first collection of my brand. I have also been interested in Chinese handicraft revitalisation. When China opened up for international trade, focus was placed on fast and cheap. Our country turned its back on slow and intricate work, which seemed necessary at the time, but I want to go back to the time where China was known for intricate and delicate design.
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You describe your approach to as “humanistic with great compassion and curiosity for the world.” Do you believe the usage of your culture as a starting point of artistic ingenuity has influenced your understanding of and relationship to it?
I don’t consciously use my culture as a starting point, but I start from something personal hoping it can be extrapolated to the universal.
What inspires your imagination?
Seeing something in my daily life that evokes the feeling of familiarity and curiosity. These little details attract me like a magnet, and they feel as if they were being pulled out of my subconscious.
To date you have worked with Gucci for their introductory Guccifest and the brand’s Vault project. To what extent do you believe these experiences have introduced you to contemporary approaches to design and reinforced enduring ones?
One thing I loved about Guccifest was seeing everyone’s short films. We were given lots of freedom to do as we wanted, and every artist interpreted the project in a very different way. We see the work from many designers, but we seldom get such an intimate view into their world. If it wasn’t for Guccifest, I wouldn’t have been challenged to make a film. They also gave me some feedback that was really great for the growth of my brand. It should also be known that when I got the call, my brand was less than a year old, it was the beginning of the pandemic, and I had a few family members and interns stringing beads around my mother’s coffee table.
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Which artists and designers do you credit as having influenced your approach to your work?
When I first started, I was very inspired by Jun Takahashi’s Undercover. He was never pigeonholed to one concept or idea. He was free to reinvent himself every season. I find his work to be in service of story instead of self.
How do you believe your individual personality as a designer is introduced and featured in your work and which piece to date do you believe to be best reflective of this?
There is something imperfect and honest about my graduate collection from CSM, especially the purple beaded cage dress. It has a sense of naivety and freedom which is a fair reflection of who I was. I had no business responsibilities, no staff to pay, no worries about anything other than making art. I mostly try to get out of the way with my recent collections. If I can accomplish that, then that’s my personality. I don’t want to hold clothes hostage at gunpoint. I want them to be free.
The techniques you employ are multi-disciplinary, from upcycling and handicrafts, to beading and the development of innovative fabrics. How do you hope to take these forward and is there a yet to be explored technique you look to experiment with for future collections?
I have a few techniques that I have been developing. You will see them sometime soon. I also have plans to do more gallery-oriented work in the future.
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Your futuristic Spring/Summer 2023 show was inspired by the universe. What influenced you to look at space as a starting point and how did you begin to bring these ideas back down to Earth when developing the collection?
I was interested in space exploration and the Apollo 11 mission from 1969. The backdrop of the event was the height of the cold war, but we were still able to celebrate the human achievement of landing on the moon. I found some similarities between this and the state of the world right now. I also thought about the astronauts and what they would have been wearing in the American southwest after they finished training for the day, blue jeans. Then I dug deeper and thought about the history of blue jeans from the Gold Rush to Marlon Brando to everyone and their mother. I thought about the uniformity and the rebelliousness that can exist within the confines.
Look thirty-four of your latest collection is a definitive stand-out piece. What was the process behind it and how did you utilise the knowledge and techniques collected from foregone collections to approach the designing of the garment?
For this look, I built upon the love symbol which I have been using in my work. Last season I laser cut hearts, folded them, and chained them together to make a garland. This season, I took a similar approach but fawned the lines outward and back and reworked the suspension system. Last season I came up with this technique, this season I was able to focus more on the silhouette.
Your goal as a designer is to tell “narrative-driven stories.” Which story do you hope to tell next?
I can’t disclose what story I will be telling next, but I will say that if the last collection was an outward exploration, the next collection will be inward.
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