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China Designers: Shuting Qiu’s Bright, Bold Designs Will Not Be Dimmed

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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.

It’s safe to say that optimism is becoming a rare commodity in 2020. For that reason, we’ll have whatever designer Shuting Qiu is having — the Chinese designer’s bright, bold body of work practically glows down the runway, and we have yet to see it dim.

A graduate of Antwerp’s renowned Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Qiu has said that she wants to make people “happy” with her designs. This helps explain the sunny, uninhibited colors she uses for her eponymous label, which she founded in 2017.

Collections by the 2018 VFiles winner are essentially a handbook on pattern mixing, with some of the boldest color combinations that we’ve ever seen.

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Model wearing Shuting Qiu AW20

Mustard plaid printed on an asymmetrical chiffon skirt clashes and converses with violet brocade and chunky neon embroidery. Romantic silhouettes inject dreaminess into boxy blazers and skintight bodysuits, punched up with delicate beaded details.

Although influenced by her hometown of Hangzhou — silk is one of her favorite materials to work with — Qiu caught the travel bug along the way. The designer weaves together the vivid landscapes of Morocco’s Sahara Desert, Wong Kar Wai films, and passages from Virginia Woolf into her collections. An oft-cited inspiration of hers is kathakali, the South Indian dance whose costumes center around billowing trousers, dazzling headpieces, and thickly painted stage makeup.

It was kathakali that influenced the giant metallic lips and headdresses that became her calling card. (These same lip-cessories were also worn by pop star Jolin Tsai for her Ugly Beauty album cover, which brought Qiu’s work to a more mainstream audience.)

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Jolin Tsai on her Ugly Beauty album cover, wearing Shuting Qiu

Made from 3D-printed plastic painted to look metallic, these lightweight but larger-than-life headpieces weave around models’ heads like strands of giant beads.

Like many of her peers, Qiu was influenced heavily by the Antwerp Six — graduates of the renowned Royal Academy of Fine Arts that she herself was enrolled in. (One of the Six, Walter Van Beirendonck, would eventually become her professor in the program.) But unlike her Royal Academy classmate Sensen Lii — founder of Windowsen, who stretches couture silhouettes out to another star system — Qiu’s work dresses a very different kind of woman: earthly yet romantic, and boldly unwilling to compromise her femininity.

Related:

China Designers: Sensen Lii’s Brain Births Alien Couture

Since her VFiles debut, which put her on the main roster for New York Fashion Week, Shuting Qiu has become a mainstay on the catwalks of London and Milan. In fact, when she was selected as a finalist for the 2019 Business of Fashion China Prize, Qiu told the publication that the experience was “amazing” because she had “never shown [her] pieces in China before.”

She also told Jing Daily recently that sustainability is becoming a high priority for her, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic; her capsule collection with Chinese design incubator Labelhood reused some of the label’s old stock. She added that the ongoing pandemic “slowed [her] down mentally” and forced her to prioritize what she felt really mattered.

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Model wearing Shuting Qiu AW20

Fashion tastemakers such as Vogue Italia’s Sara Maino have taken notice of Qiu for having such a fresh, recognizable voice this early in her career. Wearing one of this label’s hand-embroidered jackets or statement-making bodysuits can really feel like an injection of sunniness — because when you’re not feeling your best, sometimes the right outfit can change everything.

Follow Shuting Qiu on Instagram.

Header image: Model wearing Shuting Qiu AW19
All images: courtesy Shuting Qiu

Mayura Jain
    Mayura Jain is a Shanghai-based writer, editor, illustrator and designer originally from Los Angeles. Before joining RADII, she worked for lifestyle magazine City Weekend and Sixth Tone as editor and graphic designer. In her spare time she frequents art exhibitions, fosters cats, and chows on unhealthy vegetarian food.