Named after the Windows operating system welded with his name, Windowsen is Sensen Lii’s brand that has taken the fashion industry by storm. Merging couture with a playful and vibrant spirit, Windowsen has traversed the VFiles catwalk and collaborated with Nike. This futuristic fashion is theatrical, colourful and gender-bending. Windowsen’s latest collection Barbie and the Chinese Zodiac is couture with a sporty-tech appeal. Below, Sensen Lii talks with us about the inspiration behind Barbie with the Chinese Zodiac, his past and his dreams for the future.
Having grown up in China, can you tell us a little about your childhood and upbringing? Were you interested in fashion from a young age?
I have always loved dancing, singing, and fashion, of course, since I was a kid. It is probably partly because of that that I often got bullied at school, but luckily my family was supportive, and this experience didn’t hurt me too much.
Your designs are incredibly performative, dramatic and theatrical. Do you think your background in musical performance impacts your choices as a designer?
Definitely! Actually, the idea of becoming a fashion designer appeared to me when I was studying music performance. I saw so many stunning stage costumes backstage and every time I was amazed and inspired. This influence reveals itself subtly in my designs.
I love that your name is a fusion of the Windows operating system and your name Sensen. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you came to this choice?
I never wanted to create an eponymous brand. It’s like your parents give a name to their child, and you name your brand the same way. I like the Windows 95/96/97/98 operating system and its classic colours. To me, the system in that era represented the future, which corresponds to the core value of my brand. At the same time, 'Window' from Windowsen also has a literal meaning. The window speaks to the bridge Windowsen makes between my universe and the outer world, to present my worldview, to gain understanding and community. And the word ‘Windows’ ends up with a ‘s’ which is my name’s initial letter, so you still see ‘me’ in the name.
You are a graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. What were the most valuable lessons learnt during your time at this prestigious institution?
Antwerp has made me stronger, it trained me to create and work in a hyper stressed environment. I had a system established during studying there and I learnt to express and communicate my designs in a more radical way.
What is your creative process like when designing a new collection? Do you start with a particular concept in mind?
No, not really. There’s no specific concept to start with, but it is always futuristic-related, and I try to depict a full story through my collection, like TV dramas as in Black Mirror. Before starting a new collection, I immerse myself in scientific films, TV dramas, or YouTube channels that inspire me with new discoveries and anecdotes. I rewatch them and sometimes just let them play and simply hear the sound.
In the past year you travelled back to China due to the pandemic, how do you think returning to your home country and the influence of your Chinese heritage has impacted your most recent collection Barbie with the Chinese Zodiac?
I returned to China because I had finished studying and Covid just happened at the time. To me, China is a better place for work and production. Also, my friends here have been sending lots of support to me. For the latest couture collection, the idea came naturally to me because I like hybridity and the fusion of different cultures - as in Barbie with the Chinese Zodiac. Barbie is one of the typical characters of the West, and the 12 Zodiac signs come from Chinese traditional culture. Each individual can find their signs in Chinese Zodiac, similar to Western astrology. I wanted to create my own with all the symbols and creatures I like, including the Chinese lion, panda, and Western dragon, and I hope my audiences can relate and fit into one of these roles born in my dreamland.
I have read that your personal style is miscellaneous and that your “wardrobe is like a grocery store,” do you think that your boundaryless way of personal dressing translates to the Windowsen designs?
Of course! I feel like I’ve passed the age where I show my personality with what I wear [laughs]. So instead, I chose to express what I relate to through my designs.
Your work transcends traditional gender binaries, bringing to the fore personality in a way that transcends the paradigm of masculine and feminine. Do you think the future of fashion is veering towards gender-free clothing?
First, I am really happy that you can read and understand my designs! I think our future should be more tolerant than society now, and gender-free clothing will become one of the normal options and welcomed by more people. It’s also what I am striving for.
You have achieved many feats in your career so far, from the winner of VFiles collective catwalk in 2018 to a collaboration with Nike, what has been your personal highlight? Are there any aspirational goalposts you are aiming to reach in the near future?
I believe that I haven't peaked yet, and my highlight is still on its way. In the short term, my goal is to keep the brand running the way I want, and to create a dreamland of Windowsen for my community.
Your 2021 Sporty-Tech Couture collection is an amazing visual feast, can you tell us about the inspiration behind this latest collection?
As well as the idea of Barbie with the 12 Chinese Zodiac signs as mentioned previously, the inspiration behind the sculptural zodiac looks came from a spontaneous moment when I rolled up some organza fabric for a friend and the fabric turned into a bear-like shape, though it was quite abstract. After that, I had the thought to experiment with the technique and apply it to my making process, layering miles of organza and then trimming to the silhouette of each character. We spent over 300 hours on each look.
Have you got a vision for the future of fashion; how do you hope the industry will look in 2030 and how do you think Windowsen will fit into this image?
I can’t foresee the future of fashion, but I hope the industry will be more inclusive. Each brand has its own voice just as flowers do as they bloom in a garden, and Windowsen will be one of them, a fierce Venus fly trap [laughs].