Delicate yet strong, soft and powerful. These are the words that come to mind when you’re picturing Shushu/Tong's designs,  feminine clothing items that work as shields as they bring a sense of security and even empowerment to those who wear their wonderfully elegant and girly outfits. The Shanghai based-brand, founded by Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang, which we first interviewed in 2018, has slowly and organically built a cult-like following on Instagram and TikTok is here to talk about their inspirations, their subversion of feminine aesthetics, their viral collaborations with Asics and Yvmin and so much more.
We talked to you both back in 2018, and a lot has changed since then. You’ve gone viral a few times – you’ve dressed Lalisa from Blackpink, Rina Sawayama and supermodel Ju Xiaowen –, you’ve collaborated with international and fellow Chinese brands like Asics and Yvmin respectively, and you guys seem much more established or dare I say mature. Do you feel that you have changed much since then? I’m talking about the brand but also about yourselves as individuals.
The brand is obviously more established now. We opened our first physical store in Shanghai last year. Our product line has been more completed, with more styles for sure. As individuals, we are pretty much the same. Our life has stayed pretty much the same as before. We do have more employees now, the management is a new challenge.
You started the brand back in 2015 but I feel like only quite recently you have gained a cult-like following on the Internet, I’ve especially seen many people wearing your garments on TikTok. Why do you think that is? And how do you feel about it?
To be honest, I do not know the exact reason why our Instagram engagement is behaving much better than 2 years ago. I have kept our IG account running for more than 5 years. It was very hard, or you can say lonely at the beginning. Though we have met some of our most important clients over there, the big store sometimes just DM us. Our growth on social platforms is organic.
Of course, it brings us such a satisfaction to see people like what we are doing.
Most magazines say that you are a “Gen Z classic” and you’re beloved by this generation. Why would you say that is?
We both were born in the beginning of the 90s. To be loved by Gen Z is natural since we are part of them. We never try to analyse the reason why this style is popular. Except for the reason such as comfort, easy to wear etc. I think it is very crucial we have our own perspective instead [of] following the audience.
You work from Shanghai but you both studied at London College of Fashion. Would you ever go back to London? I’m just curious as to why you decided to study there and why you went back to China, although to a different city to where you both grew up, to start the brand. Would you ever go back and do a show there?
Shanghai is the city where we grew up and our friends live. Going back to Shanghai is our first option, I think. We have both worked in the fashion industry as assistants when we were in Shanghai, so let’s say we have some connections over there as well.
For now, doing a show abroad is not really our plan. We are working with the talents overseas instead. Such as Marili, she is a London photographer, has shot our campaign for the past two seasons.
Talk to us about the inspiration and the creative process leading up to the creation of the latest collection, characterised by the use of only three or four colours while also showcasing a more mature and classic aesthetic.
We got the inspiration from Helmut Newton's iconic photographic work, Big Nude. This collection explores how garments and the female body can harmoniously work together to express female power.
Following this thought, it’s easy to notice that this season's garments are different from the past, by using a lot of lightweight and soft fabrics, constructing sharp-edged lines, sensitive but powerful in the meantime, just like our understanding of female power.
I have been developing for a while this theory that East Asian cultures (through pop culture, for example) masterfully subvert femininity in a completely different way than the West. And we can definitely see that in your creations and the work of designers of Asian descent like Sandy Liang and Simone Rocha, to name a few, in which you all three use similar elements like bows, ruffles and tulle in a way that can’t just solely be described as hyper femme, necessarily, there’s always some kind of twist. Why do you think that is?
For us, I think this has something to do with what we watched at a young age, mostly animations from Japan. Girls wearing bows and ruffles are always associated to some kind of magical fighter or soldier. Such as Sailor Moon, Magic Cardcaptor Sakura. For me, a “girl's style” is not a weak style at first.
The fact that you, Yutong, Sandy Liang and Simone Rocha are East Asian women who live or have lived in Europe and the States doesn’t escape me. I feel there’s a shared experience between you, the fact that in the West femininity is inherently undervalued and basically seen as a sign of weakness and submission, – which sadly is also something that carries into the way people view East Asian women here – unlike in Asia, as you've just told us, clearly informs your work. In your 2018 interview you say that “The messages we try to deliver is that cuteness is not just about tenderness and softness, but it can be powerful also,” why can’t the West see cuteness or kawaii culture as an asset?
I think they do not have the history about kawaii and animation, I’m not very sure about this. Though they do have stories like Jeanne D’Arc like we have Mulan. In China, women characters are always associated with toughness, tolerance and commitment.
On a lighter note, I fell in love with your collaboration with Asics! Who would’ve thought to put ribbons on sneakers? Genius! How did that come about? And how did you come up with the beautiful imagery from the campaign?
Sneakers with bows are such spontaneous designs for us, since we have this bow fetish.
We also talked to Yvmin about your work together, and the beauty of collaboration, as they got to create designs that they couldn’t put out on their own due to their established style and positioning. Would you agree with them? What else do you get from collaborating with other designers and artists?
Yes, I can feel Xiaoyu, the owner and one the designer for Yvmin, has expressed a lot of her fantasy for girlhood within our collaboration. Working with Yvmin was really a pleasant experience, they understand technique so deeply that I trust them 100%. Sometimes I have ideas which I do not think are realistic, but they always find a perfect solution.
What would you say to a fellow designer who has just started out and is in their make it or break it moment? What advice would you give them?
Be patient, believe in what you do but also work professionally.
Do you have a dream collaboration? Think big: dead or alive, artists, musicians – who or what comes to mind?
If Tina Chow were able to shoot campaign for us. She is such a muse with incredible taste, and a brave woman who kept taking adventures till her death. I remember there is a phrase I read somewhere, “Matureness is when people think that's all they are, then that's all and only [what] they can be.” Tina’s life story is just the opposite to this.
What can you tell us about your upcoming collection?
I’m still in a coma after last fashion week.
Where do you see yourselves in the following years?
We prefer to focus on the present and let the future come naturally and spontaneously.