When we look at life fondly, it’s said that we’re looking through “rose-colored glasses,” basking the world around us in a pink-tinted hue. Although he clearly loves the color, for Chinese designer Gong Li, nostalgia comes in a wider variety of shades.
Season after season, Gong’s label 8on8 whisks watchers and wearers on a nostalgic trip down memory lane, from childhood through his university days until now. But that shouldn’t imply 8on8’s nostalgia ever loses its edge. Combining crisp tailoring with jersey fabrics, British clean-cut silhouettes clashing with casual ease, the label “tailorports” — a term from Gong’s own mouth — his retro inspirations into a thoroughly modern vision of menswear.
The Ningbo native has good reason to look back fondly on his years living in London, where he and his label are currently based. In his final year at London’s esteemed Central Saint Martins, Gong was awarded both the Grand Prix LVMH Scholarship, as well as the 2017 Lane Crawford Young Talent Award. These accolades enabled him to realize his label, and that same year, 8on8 was born. The brand would then go on to show at Shanghai Fashion Week for the first time, and be stocked across Lane Crawford stores in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Chengdu later that year.
Designer Gong Li (center) with SS20 models
And in case you’re wondering, “8on8” stems from “Gong,” the designer’s last name — inspired by a happy accident when his name was accidentally squashed while being printed. The name has since become synonymous with soft, easy elegance, but with edgier details — plaid trousers with biker-esque spandex panels on the inner thighs, or jackets with structured shoulders and a multitude of zippers.
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Returning to the London Fashion Week stage in January with support from GQ China, 8on8’s “Wait Rose!” AW20 collection seemed ripped from the playbook of Wes Anderson. Set at an imagined exclusive party populated by aging celebrities, the collection featured flaming roses, flowing silk, and even a baby blue bellboy-inspired suit. Donned by a diverse group that included plus-size and transgender models, 8on8’s mash-up of goofy glam rock and stretchy seventies tailoring proved a winning recipe of loving absurdity. The label hammed things up even more with a collaboration with Italian sportswear brand Kappa, topping out in a hand-washed gold tracksuit.
The title of the collection, too, was a reference that reminded him of his younger, cheekier days — this time it was to British upscale supermarket Waitrose where Gong, back in his Central Saint Martins days, used to buy his groceries. Through the collection, Gong embarked on a melancholic trip back to the future of what, according to WWD, he “imagined what he would treasure at the age of 70.”
Models in 8on8 SS20
In a collection back in time for SS20, 8on8 delivered effervescent pastels and silky fabrics inspired by that one rare uplifting episode of Black Mirror, “San Junipero.” True to form, the collection was replete in optimistic pink, crushed velvet, and washed-out prints reminiscent of TV and ’80s graffiti.
In the world of 8on8, a thing of the past is a trend of the future.
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Header image: Model in 8on8 SS20 All images: courtesy 8on8
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