Change is an indispensable force in every facet of life; the act of transformation and the pursuit of personal goals or directions are not just desirable but imperative for shaping the future. Few understand this as profoundly as Xander Zhou.
After six years and thirteen collections, our second encounter led us into a captivating conversation with Xander Zhou, delving into his latest SS24 collection. This venture marks what might be his most audacious creative direction yet, reflecting not only the evolution of his own artistic vision but also the dynamic shifts that have resonated globally.
In his recent showcase, Pro A.I Volution, presented at Shanghai Fashion Week, Xander Zhou captivated the audience with his progressive and experimental integration of technology. The collection seamlessly wove together innovation and tradition, featuring aerodynamic outerwear, innovative fabrics, and meticulously crafted tailored silhouettes. This synthesis not only garnered attention but also opened a transformative door into the future of fashion—a future scrupulously staged in Xander's visionary world.
It’s been six years since we last interviewed you (back in 2017), where do you feel you stand now, both personally and professionally?
These past years, I have enriched the Supernatural, Extraterrestrial & Co. storylines throughout my collections, with more and more abundant characters. Now the Xander Zhou future world is becoming more and more diverse and complete. I have also succeeded in freeing myself from a high-intensity work rhythm and have carved out more time to study the directions I like, both in my designs and my personal interests. I gave myself more private time to experience the world, live and create the way I like, and try not to be disturbed by the outside world.
Six years are a long time in fashion, and more especially, many collections. We last featured the Autumn / Winter 2017 collection, I’m Carrying a Secret Weapon. You’ve recently presented the Spring / Summer 2024 show, Pro AI Volution. What would you consider your biggest development over the course of the years?
I’m Carrying a Secret Weapon was very much a prequel and foreshadowing of the subsequent collections. At the time, the Supernatural, Extraterrestrial & Co. story had just begun to take shape. In the past six years, I have added an angle every season, continuing to write the story with horizontal and vertical references between seasons, traveling through different times and spaces, making the world I created full of more possibilities. If I look back at the biggest development these past years, it is perhaps that through this way of expressing myself I have more clearly observed the world I live in, as well as myself. Although the characters and stories I create are imaginary and surreal, they enable me to constantly switch between surreality and reality, and to see myself and the world from various angles. They enable me to more clearly observe things other than myself and things other than this world. Anything can happen in my storylines, which brings me a lot of positive imagination and an optimistic outlook in life. Perhaps I truly am a future optimist, freely expressing my curiosity about the universe.
Staying independent and successful is a hard feat you accomplish every day. What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a fashion designer and independent label?
In fact, the biggest challenge for me is always quote unquote choice. However, at this stage, the choice is not difficult for me. I know very well what I want, and I also firmly believe that what I like will not be affected by influences around me. I feel that in the current environment, it is important to remain true to myself. Very important. I try not to think in terms of success. The concept of success sometimes affects our subjective judgment and makes us lose direction when making choices. I now simply regard myself in this life as a character in a game. In this life, I come to experience how various tasks are done and I accumulate experience points. Looking at things this way makes it easier for me to make choices. Choices that work for me, but letting my preferences determine my choice. My label is actually a platform for me through which I observe the world. If one day I no longer have so much curiosity about the world anymore, I will quietly end this label, because at that time this platform will no longer be meaningful to me.
With the improvement of AI and the constant debate from society, how are you able to maintain a balance between the physical and technological design in your collections?
As for digital technology, I don’t want to blow it out of proportions, because to me it is just a technology. AI currently only plays an auxiliary role in my designs, much like a digital assistant. It basically speeds up our usual manual research process, or allows us to visualise the final result in advance more efficiently. It has not, however, played an important role in the artistic creation process itself. Because my designs are very futuristic, people may assume that I use 3D printing to make things, but on the contrary, I use a lot of manual work to create that technological effect. The end result looks futuristic and high-tech, but in fact everything is pieced together manually in the workplace. I think that whether technology is manual or high-tech, it just needs to be used in the right way. There is no need to overstate either. The best way is to allow them to play their role where and when reasonable. If you focus too much on any one of them, your work might end up showing off its technical side, while deviating from what the work itself wants to express.
Actually, you’ve explored the relationship between technology and fashion since you started. But as technology keeps evolving, we see it more and more present in other brands and collections. How do you see this interconnectedness between fashion and technology now?
Fashion will always be affected by various things that gain popularity. Trends will come and go quickly. When some things fall out of fashion, new things fall into fashion. So I never develop my collections from the perspective of fashion. I design each season in a character-building way. You can think of it as a movie. It is the story that will drag you into the collection, and determine the clothes needed in it. So the outcome will never be the same as what other labels are doing the same season.
You have created a unique concept of humanoids mainly seen at the shows, does it have a personal meaning or is it a specific message to your audience?
This concept includes all humanoid creatures: humans, robots, bionic people, humanoid aliens, etc. All creatures that resemble human beings are within my scope, thus pushing the boundaries of diversity.
Back in our interview in 2017, you said that your starting point was the visual inspiration of things and people that you encountered in the period between collections. Now, the world has been facing pandemics, wars, and climate crisis, how has your inspiration been affected by it all?
Sometimes my collections are the opposite of the real world. The more bad things happen like those you mentioned, my world will express even more optimism. I hope to use my storylines to create optimism about the future. I hope that everyone who sees my collections will face the future in a more positive way. Sometimes, hope does not only require happy things. We do need beautiful things for comparison. So that when we look at the real world, we will reflect on what we are doing to it. And be encouraged to make it a better place. In order to achieve that, we should also allow feelings of sadness to a certain degree.
Hate towards the Asian community grew to worrying numbers during the pandemic, with many ignorant people using any Asian person as a scapegoat for their hatred and anger. It’s not as heavy now, but I’d still like to ask how was your personal experience going through it, and if today you still feel the consequences?
I have never experienced anything like that myself, but I have heard of many such situations and I have seen the news reports. Ignorant people will always vent their hatred to different groups. I hope that in the future we will invent a medicine that can completely eliminate hatred and leave the world with only peace and love.
Building a community and connecting with your audience is something meaningful to you, do you find it easier to do that in 2023?
I don’t know if it will be easier this year, but I find that more and more people are interested in following and participating. In the future, communities will be more personalised, and people will join communities based on their common interests, in order to get to know and communicate with people similar to themselves.
Can you explain the meaning behind the “I love you” words on the phone screens from your S/S 2024 show and why did you feel it was important to add it?
I think of it as sci-fi romance. Each character in the show appears to be very mechanical and cold, but I have given them human emotions and feelings. When they find out about these, they will transcend their innate properties.
As of today, who and what do you love?
We should start by learning to love ourselves, and then the people closest to us. Then the circle of love can be slowly expanded. Sometimes we humans pretty much resemble robots, not quite understanding what love is. Just like them, we need to learn about it.
While working on your S/S 2024 collection, have you managed to connect with a specific piece?
The mechanical tail. I made the paper model of the tail myself and sent it to the factory to be replicated in the final product. The sensation I had while working on it was that of evolution. The complexity and connection felt during the transition between two organisms.
To finish, what’s next for you? How’s the A/W 2024 collection looking so far?
I am now in the production phase of the AW24 collection. All designs have been basically confirmed, and many technical problems have been solved. The new season will see some explorations in new directions, so stay tuned.