Approaching fashion from a hyper-feminine, subversive and futuristic point of view has led Di Du to dress the likes of Rosalía and Rico Nasty. The Chinese-born, Antwerp-based designer is inspired by her heritage, trailblazing women – especially artists –, underground culture and the younger generations inspiring a mentality change. But among all, she loves fashion, which she uses to build “ a dream where people want to live in”.
You graduated a few months ago but you’re already dressing the likes of Rosalía, Sita Abellán and Rico Nasty. But tell us, who is behind Di Du?
I am from China and lived there for twenty-five years before coming to Antwerp. I created this label, Di Du while studying my master’s when I was in school at the Antwerp Fashion Department.
What is fashion to you and why did you decide to make a career in the field – especially fashion design? Did you ever think it was a risky decision?
Fashion, to me, is about telling a story, building a dream where people want to live in. I wanted to use fashion as a language to express myself to the world. I still think it’s a risky decision sometimes, especially when I’m facing a big problem or difficulty. But isn’t it also what makes it fun? If everything is safe, why would we be interested in it?
You graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. What’s the most important thing/valuable lesson you got from that experience?
The most important skill I’ve developed after studying is to be able to deal with multiple works and lots of pressure. Also, never be too satisfied with your work.
Do you feel that you were given enough freedom in making your creations? If not, how was the process of finding such a personal style despite the restrictions?
I didn’t feel I had much freedom in my first two years. However, in the last year, I was much more free. In school, I had teachers doubt my aesthetics; it was hard to persist on what I love when they didn’t like it, but I’m happy that I did what I wanted to, believed in the thing I saw in my head and realized it.
Sip My Ocean is your graduate collection, which uses many cold and pastel hues like turquoise and lilac, and features a combination of sportswear with more fetish-inspired, futuristic looks – from corsets to feathered trousers, to biker shorts and tight dresses. The garments are a perfect balance of soft, sweet, sexy, and strong. Why did you decide to mix such different elements? How was the creative process behind this collection?
I had always been into cold-tone colours but not pastels before. With this collection, I wanted to challenge myself to step out my comfort zone by using colours I used to dislike, like pastels. Before this, I thought they didn’t speak loudly enough or that they were less powerful, but after I dug into my research and mood board, I was telling myself, ‘Actually, the power of pastel colours is more sublime. It gives more quality and space to the garment’s dimension.’ I like to work with the contrast of materials, I love the dramatic conflict that hard and soft materials bring to each other. It creates a new sense.
Hyperfemininity, subversion and a futuristic approach are values that inform your clothes and collections. What other values or concepts would you say also influence your work?
The young generation, cultural influence, political rights and gender freedom.
You’ve said a few times that you’re often inspired by contemporary women artists. In your 2018 collection, I see some of your clothes had the expression ‘Abuse of power comes as no surprise’ printed all over, one of the most famous pieces by Jenny Holzer. So, I assume she’s one of the big inspirations for you. Could you tell us how do you feel your work relates to that of Holzer? And what other female artists have influenced you?
Isa Genzken was one of my main inspirations in my third-year collection. In it, I talked about censorship over sexuality, so it was more like a statement of my political expectations.
In addition to artists and other fashion designers, is there anything else that inspires you when making the designs? Maybe you need a certain type of music to concentrate and create?
I love working during the night. Movies are also definitely a part of my inspiration, and music can help me to get into working mood. I’m fluid with it though, it depends on my mood and what I do.
Lots of leather, cowboy hats, feathers, and bomber jackets with fluff-trimmed, puffy, or shiny details and using a lot of colour. How would you describe the type of clothes you are making?
I can hardly name them as categories of clothing because I look at fashion as an art piece working with the human body. I work with multiple materials and references to create harmony with the contrasts. And it also has to be dreamy and emotional.
You were born and raised in China. Tell us a little bit about where you grew up and to what extent that environment determined your vision of fashion. Has living in a country with an emphasis on male power had anything to do with wanting to empower women through your clothes?
I grew up near Shanghai. Back in the early ‘90s, China was very different, and I do think that I was influenced by this male-dominated society. I was trying to reach equality and freedom of genders.
From the styling of the Aute Cuture music video by Rosalía to Rico Nasty’s outfit for Vogue’s pre-Met Gala, well-known artists are wearing your pieces. Do you feel that, after this, more people have become interested in your work? Do you feel pressure when you see so many people starting to see your creations?
Yes, absolutely! More people started to get interested in my work after that. Of course, it brings good things, but also that pressure; expectations get higher both from myself and from others, but I try to focus on the work and not overthink of my surrounding.
Now that you’ve graduated and worked on very different projects, what are your most immediate plans? Will you continue with your own brand, or have you thought of working for others to get more experience in the field?
I have set up my own brand, and I think that learning from the growth of my brand and my experience could be more efficient than working in a fashion house. There is a lot to learn and adapt to, but step by step, it would lead to a good path. My most immediate plan is the next collection.