Ziggy Chen is the designer of homonymous emerging Shangai based brand “ZIGGY CHEN”. Considering the continuously growing interest his work raises in the public, we took the occasion to talk with him about the brand’s history and developements, focusing on his personal view on design and society.
Ziggy, you are or used to be (?) the founder and designer of successful contemporary women’s brand DECOSTER, which reasons pushed you to start “DECOSTERCONCEPT” and how did it developed in “ZIGGY CHEN”?
The first thing you need to know is that I’m not the designer of DECOSTER; I’m in charge of management and finances, while my wife, Helena, is in charge of the designs. I studied fashion design when I was in university, but that was a long time ago. In 2011, we developed a project called DECOSTERCONCEPT, under highly incidental circumstances.The organizers of Shanghai Fashion Week asked DECOSTER to participate, but Helena was not interested in doing a fashion show. At the time, we were planning to launch a menswear line and we had already experimented it with two capsule collections in 2010, so I thought it might have been a good opportunity for a new brand to do a runway show. Then we told the organizers that we would have attended, but not as DECOSTER. DECOSTERCONCEPT SS12 was completed in less than 3 months, with main inspirations coming from one of my favorite collection of historic photographs.This was my first runway show, and it also marked my return as a designer. We need to thank both Marc of STEALTHPROJEKT and Giovanni of VERTICE for the transformation of DECOSTERCONCEPT to ZIGGY CHEN. After the runway show, we received emails from both of them separately, asking if we will be showing in Paris, when we had not yet thought about taking the overseas market. Marc suggested the name change, and Giovanni was the first person who bought our collection.
In which ways does ZIGGY CHEN represents a more mature and conscious choice compared to the DECOSTERCONCEPT experience?
What does ZIGGY CHEN represents? I often think about this question. When I took the decision to show in Paris, I realized that I was starting a whole new career as a designer, which meant that I had to restudy the skills of cloth making, rethink what design is, and rediscover the relationship between the garment and the wearer. But after each collection, I tend to lose interest in it very quickly, discovering many problems along the way. Then I start to rethink and restudy… it’s become a cycle… perhaps for me this is a method to mature step by step.
Can you describe what defines your brand identity at best and how it makes it innovative and different from the other contemporary brands which follow a similar crafting path?
This is a difficult question for me. In my opinion ZIGGY CHEN must possess its own identity. Maybe it would be more objective to let other people be the judges of our innovativeness. Some says that our pride in showing our Shanghai / Chinese origins and our experimentation with fabrics might set us apart.
Some of the references that clearly stand out from your garments are closely related to Chinese tradition, is there any historical period you find particularly inspiring?
The Song Dynasty; the Qing Dynasty; the Republic of China
In which way the Chinese sartorial art and traditional costumes work up to build your perspective on clothing?
I believe that antique and handmade clothes have a soul, it touches me deeply every time I study these plain yet delicate stitches. Antique costumes give me a lot of inspiration and also teach me the attitude of making clothing.
In your opinion, how the cultural heritage that comes from your eastern roots is combined with western influences in the final look of your designs?
My Chinese roots have without any doubt a strong and direct influence on my philosophy and aesthetics. But the world today is different from the past, it is so much more closer and easily accessible through internet; at any time, you can see what is happening everywhere, even lifestyles are becoming more and more similar. What I’m trying to say is that the most important thing for a designer is to have his own individual design philosophy, while I will continuously seek different inspirations for each season, imbuing fresh and unique stories into each collection.
The creative process is made by a delicate balance of many different elements, which are the main things you focus on while you start working on a collection?
As you mentioned in the question, the creative process is a delicate balance of many different elements, but all these elements are equally important to me. I used to work from one point to the next, starting from fabric, then onto pattern, etc.. But now I have changed my way of working, from the beginning I think about all the important aspects – fabric/pattern/silhouette/sewing method – simultaneously.
Fabrics and textures seem to play a great role in your garments, how much research do you do on them and how do you select them?
It’s difficult to find a favorite fabric. In addition to selecting from the regular range of design fabrics, we have begun developing exclusive fabrics for our brand since SS13, although we try not to spend too much time on fabric research for each season.
I like to collect old pictures, vintage clothing and ancient fabrics, they inspire me a lot. I love ancient historical fabrics, as they all tell different stories.
Do you have any materials you specifically like to work with?
Traditional wool, cotton and linen.
What are the things you consider first in conceiving the shape of a garment?
The comfort of wearing
Your pieces are characterised by an incredible attention to construction and detailing, can you explain us how do you work on silhouettes, cuts and proportions?
We spend a lot of time on pattern-making for each season, it’s a process that requires continuous trial and error, research and learning. For me, silhouette and proportion are very important, so I try to explore new silhouettes and proportions every season. But the completion of every collection often leaves me unsatisfied, seeing so much more room for improvement.
How would you say your product and aesthetic developed since the first ZIGGY CHEN collection in Winter 2012?
They have changed a lot, the biggest change is in how I understand and see clothing. Compared with my current ideas, it is totally different from when I was working on AW12, which was a simple process of using fabric to make garments. Now I learned how to follow my own heart, from choosing fabric, making pattern and improving sewing techniques etc.. As I acquire deeper understanding of clothing, I have gradually developed an affinity to things that are quiet yet powerful.
Tell something about your last works, the Spring/Summer 2014.
The SS14 is a quite basic collection for ZIGGY CHEN. When I was making plans for the fabrics, I decided to get rid of the dramatic fabrics as I wanted to emphasize the soft and quiet side of the collection. That enabled us to concentrate on the research of the reasonableness of cutting and sewing techniques. This season is a ‘reset’ of sorts, setting the tone for the future development of ZIGGY CHEN.
DECOSTERCONCEPT used to include some female pieces, will the ZIGGY CHEN’s women ever shows up?
For the moment there will be no womenswear for ZIGGY CHEN. There is an enormous difference between designing menswear and womenswear. Perhaps after stabilizing our menswear, I will consider introducing the womenswear.
China had an economic explosion in the last few years, becoming one of the leadership countries in the current global market. This obviously affects positively both the commerce and the production, causing a huge evolvement in values, tastes, ambitions and quality of various creatives, mostly in all fields. Speaking about your personal experience, how did you felt and lived this change? Would you mind sharing with us some thoughts on your brand’s future?
The Chinese economy has experienced a rapid growth for years, but it’s now entering into a period of slowdown. Maybe this timing is a good opportunity to raise the quality of the entire creative industry in China. In the past ten years, everything in China was changing too fast, while everyone wanted to do as many things in the shortest time possible. We wish to take a slower pace, so that we can have more time to consider, think and research. For ZIGGY CHEN, we are not to setting any ambitious goals at this point, but rather letting things grow healthily season by season.