Picture this: a strawberry takes a detour off a fork, lands on a shirt, and voilà - a stain forms! Now, zoom in on that seemingly ordinary stain, and there it is – Leeann Huang’s wild, wacky and strangely specific world of food themed textiles and lenticular designs. While most designers try their hardest to stretch the limits of fabric, the young and emerging artist Leeann went one step beyond that introducing edible materials and discarding conventions.
She brings forth collections made of real oranges, prawn crackers, and lenticular garments that come alive in a celebration of motion. In a world where stock photos pose more questions than answers, and “Woman grabbing keys with big toe” becomes a philosophical quandary, Leeann’s latest collection Still Life on Screen emerges as an invitation to navigate life’s whimsies and the internet’s imagery.
This ingenuity hasn’t gone unnoticed either; her fluffy hats, once tried on and tailored for her dad’s head, are now perched atop celebrities like Emma Chamberlain and Camilla Mendes. While some misunderstand the novelty of her work, through this interview you’ll get to see that beneath the whimsy and kitsch, there lies a world of depth in Leeann’s designs, that invite you to savour a richer, more meaningful relationship with artistic expression.
To begin and gain a better understanding of your background, reflecting on your education at the University of the Arts London, where you studied both your Bachelors and Masters, do you believe your experiences in university adequately prepared you for the multifaceted challenges of the fashion industry?
In some ways yes and in some ways no. It was definitely fruitful and a constructive experience in terms of giving me a strong foundation and sense of design direction. A lot of my education was spent interrogating myself in what I wanted and the path I wanted to take. You experience so much inside of that school, it’s hard not to grow into a different person by the time you come out. CSM was for sure still very much its own creative bubble. They definitely lacked in teaching us about the practical side of the industry. Basic business and even basic production was such a culture shock.
Your graduation line featured edible textiles made from real jelly, oranges, even glazed prawn crackers. I realise you might get this a lot but we’re all wondering, what was it about food that inspired this intersection, and what was the response you received?
I love extravagance and indulgence of food and felt the visuals and playfulness of food and eating translates so easily over to fashion. For the most part, people loved the silly, kitsch, and surreal collection. I would constantly get the funniest feedback from stylists who loaned the collection and even remember when I watched Nick Knight and Ugly Worldwide melting my chocolate knitted corset on ShowStudio’s livestream. The worst response was probably a tutor getting very confused why I would make edible textiles.
Since then, we still see salient remnants of your food-focused days, yet your current work is more within the context of lenticular textiles. Can you share more about your use of this motion print material and what inspired you to explore it further?
A lot of it is still inspired by being able to play with your clothes in an unconventional and surreal way. With food and even lenticular pieces, I was very much inspired by the things that brought me pure joy as a child, and even now. My dad collected a lot of lenticular posters and postcards that are around my house and I was always fascinated by how the printing process worked. I developed the material more during my Master’s dissertation.
Your most recent collection features prawn cocktails, a chainmail dress with orange peels, a pleated lip skirt and much more. In writing they sound like worlds apart, but there’s a clear cohesion within the images. What was the thematic inspiration?
The theme  of this new collection is Still Life on a Screen. I was really inspired by this ever growing library of stock photos with the most hilarious people and circumstances. Woman enjoying prawn cocktail, man with baguette, woman grabbing keys with big toe. This imagery feels both idealistic and optimistic and very staged and comical. I began getting more and more into the niche aesthetic of Scholastic design for a pre-9/11 world and how it explores and communicates childhood optimism and humour through stock imagery.  I wanted to recreate this cyber idealism through fun lenticular print and patchwork clothing. Again I brought back many of the same motifs as before of playing with food, colouring and animation in my work.
How do you manage to create eccentric and unusual garments while ensuring they are comfortable and wearable?
I am a very textiles-focused designer and you’d be surprised at how comfortable and wearable the clothes really are. The lenticular fabric for example is printed on this non-PVC rubber I developed that has the texture of a raincoat or latex. It’s soft, flexible, and waterproof, so very easily can be worn and used like an outerwear shell. I’m exploring a lot more patchwork and appliqué in the recent collections so more natural fabrics are used for the base of these clothes, and therefore a lot more every day and wearable.
Your garments evoke a real sense of nostalgia, whether it be through those fruit prints that I feel experienced revivals across every decade of the latter half of the 20th century, or the plastic elastic rainbow bead top that took me back to my bracelet making days. Even the blinking eye garment reminds me of 90s CD covers, or if we’re going way back, 60s postcards. Do you ever struggle with navigating the line between celebrating residuals of the past and ensuring your designs feel fresh and relevant?
Not particularly. We live in a postmodern world where very few ideas, especially imagery, are new. It’s more through personal interpretation and design that makes things feel more original and new for every artist and designer. My work is definitely very referential and often self-referential to childhood. I love tapping into that inner child feeling. I do my best to just make things that make me happy and with that perspective, it will never feel stale.
How do you go about selecting your colour palette? Your designs feature vibrant and saturated colours, and It feels as though they play a significant role in conveying the spirit of your collections and design philosophy rather than just serving as secondary elements.
Yeah! I love a juicy exciting colour. My BA degree was in Fashion Print design so I think I’m naturally attracted to very graphic and colourful elements. Typically when I begin designing or collecting inspiration, a colour palette will naturally develop, and I just go from there. Designing and drawing with colour first rather than designing without and adding it in later makes it feel more natural and intentional.
Your creations possess a truly distinctive personality, really bold and whimsical, almost akin to an acid trip. Have you noticed a difference in how you perceive yourself and how others interpret your art?
At times I do get worried about being pigeon-holed as the food or lenticular girl and misunderstood by the novelty of my work. Some people think it's not serious fashion because it’s more playful and light hearted, or mistake it for being cartoonish. Luckily I’m surrounded by people who all get and support what I’m doing. If there’s any misunderstanding, it means I need to improve my design and how I communicate with it.
Your debut collection gained attention for plenty of reasons, including its innovative construction, the storytelling that preceded it and the unorthodox edible textiles. One part of evolving as an artist is often a balance between staying true to your vision and responding to audience preferences. Given the admiration you’ve received for your artistic approach, have you ever felt the pressure to adjust your style based on what your viewers enjoy? If so, do you view it as a positive or negative element in your artistic progression?
It is an odd balance really because I don’t like being repetitive and have so many ideas I want to manifest, yet I also want to be more consistent and focused and clear. I only see it as a positive thing to grapple with because it has made me a better artist in the way I communicate and the design choices I make. I don’t think taking notes from your community compromises your sensibilities as an artist. Art & Design are tools meant to communicate and connect with people visually, so I see feedback as constant room for growth and improvement.
As a Taiwanese American designer that was also based in London for some years, do you find that your background influences the stories you aim to tell through your collections? And how was it living in London for all those years?
I see a lot of American childhood and Taiwanese childhood elements in my work. The references to anime and television. The materials I choose come from my upbringing. My studio is now based in LA where I grew up, and I’m working with the same community now. It’s really fulfilling being surrounded by so many great Asian American artists. A lot of the feedback I try and incorporate comes from said friends and family.
Living in London was both exciting and disorienting. I’m so grateful for my time and friendships I made there because it truly changed me and opened my eyes to a new world. I moved there when I was 17 and came from a very sheltered life. London felt so radically different. It took a lot of work but I’m glad I made a home there for so long. My approach and understanding of fashion was very much shaped by the school I went to and the places where I worked in London and in Paris. I see the influence of all the techniques I use and questions I ask when I work.
We’ve seen your massive furry hats on celebrities and insiders alike, from SZA to Kali Uchis to Lil Nas X. How does it feel to see your creations embraced by such influential personalities, especially as an independent brand that’s relatively new to the fashion industry?
I mean it feels strange and amazing. A stylist comes to my studio and [the] next day a hat I fit onto my dad is being worn by a celebrity. I’m very grateful that kind of opportunity even exists for an emerging designer like me because 10 years ago, I would have never dreamed of it.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me! Looking ahead, do you have your sights set on your next unconventional material you want to explore in your collections?
I’m constantly trying to tackle the wearability questions and product testing all the time. Currently I’m making a lot more fabric manipulations like pleating that can mimic a lenticular function. Also I’m very excited to venture more into other textile applications like upholstery, home goods, and even making trinkets and toys outside of fashion.