China Designers is a biweekly series that showcases the wide spectrum of creativity in Chinese fashion design. From small designers to big brands, these names are changing the connotations of “Made in China,” one collection at a time. Write to us if you have a suggestion or submission.
Sofia Coppola got one thing right about Marie Antoinette in her 2006 film — her modern equivalent would more likely than not be fed on a steady diet of post-punk and pastries, shameless trendsetter that she was. And if we were to give the ill-fated queen a contemporary wardrobe, she’d probably want a few pieces by Shushu/Tong.
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Forged from the love of all things frilly and feminine, this Chinese label pushes its wearers a step past the brink of innocence — call it girlhood, interrupted. Shushu/Tong earned its stripes for its ultra-femme silhouettes — think bell skirts, bralettes, schoolgirl uniforms, and voluminous sleeves — taken to imaginative lengths (and widths). Asymmetry and dramatically exaggerated proportions add a dash of the unexpected, resulting in opulent garments that are sweetly girlish, but with bite.
The Shanghai-based design duo — Liushu “Shushu” Lei and Yutong “Tongtong” Jiang — first met when attending high school in Chengdu, the capital of western China’s Sichuan province. Fast forward a decade, and having graduated from the Womenswear MA program at London College of Fashion, both paid their dues at Simone Rocha and Gareth Pugh respectively before launching their own label in 2015.
Models wearing Shushu/Tong SS20
The influence of both designers on their work is clear. Their rigorous technical detailing and exaggeration takes a leaf out of Pugh’s sketchbook, swirled in with some of Rocha’s decadent romanticism.
Lei and Jiang also repeatedly revisit an eclectic arsenal of pop culture motifs. Take their SS19 collection, debuted at Milan Fashion Week, which offered an homage in part to the “women in peril” of retro horror flicks Carrie and Suspiria. Anime is also a frequent inspiration for the duo — both are “diehard” fans, and Lei originally intended to become a cartoonist before realizing her interest in fashion design. Other collections contained references to ’80s cult classic Heathers, J-pop oddball Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, and East LA girl gangs as portrayed in 1993’s Mi Vida Loca. This mining of vintage references has won them fans among China’s modern-day pop culture icons, including singer Lexie Liu.
Yet throughout each season, Shushu/Tong conjures a visual feast featuring hundreds of folds and a rush of ruffles. Though the studio may incessantly experiment with new colors and materials, it always cuts cloth tailor-made for the wittier sartorial misses. “Our clothes are sweet, but with a twist,” Lei told Vogue in 2018. “We’re really just designing for girls, and whoever truly loves the idea of girlhood itself.”
A model in Shushu/Tong’s SS20 campaign
For their SS20 collection, the duo embrace an Impressionist-worthy color palette — pastel pinks and deep purples and rich blues that saturate their signature doll-like dresses and poplin blouses. Oversized bows, jumpsuits, and lightweight ruffled tulle get the London grunge treatment with offbeat tailoring, denim, and zipper hardware.
And instead of parading their AW20 collection out before a live audience, the brand took their wares online for the first-ever all-virtual fashion week in Shanghai, a direct response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shanghai’s All-Online Fashion Week in Response to Coronavirus is a “Worldwide First”
Rather than livestreaming a traditional runway show, the label created an eight-minute short film featuring the full collection, inspired by a Soviet-era film called Office Romance. Lei told UK publication Love Magazine that while the experience involved far less backstage drama and reached far more people, the feeling of seeing fashion in real life “is a rare experience which cannot be replaced.”
When the world recovers, get ready for Shushu/Tong to resume its rousing, ruffled residency on international catwalks once again.
Follow Shushu/Tong on Instagram.
All images: courtesy Shushu/Tong
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