After graduating from the Academy of Art and Design at Tsinghua University in Beijing, womenswear designer Peiran Gong received her MA at the Royal College of Art in London before setting up her own label. With strong silhouettes, vibrant colours and a futuristic edge the constants in Peiran’s work, we find out why her inspirations lie in sci-fi and why skipping school eventually paid off.
WHAT IS YOUR FIRST MEMEORY OF FASHION?
I remember always having Japanese fashion magazines in our house. I’d pore over them for hours and they had the patterns from the outfits featured in photo shoots at the back of the magazine that fascinated me. We had two old sewing machines at home, my mother and granny made their clothes while I made tiny clothes for Barbies, before making my first item for myself when I was about ten. It was a red and white top with a matching skirt covered in bows. I didn’t know how to put the zips in properly though!
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE FASHION DESIGN AS A CAREER?
I knew since I was little that this is what I wanted to do. I think it was my grandpa who told me that I should be a fashion designer when I was looking at some pattern cutting guides from a Japanese fashion book. That was actually the first time I had heard the term ‘fashion designer’, I didn’t know there was such a thing before that. Also I wasn’t a very good student at high school; I was the only student in my art class and I dropped other classes a lot and sneaked into drawing studios alone and spent whole mornings or afternoons there without anyone knowing where I was. I don’t remember my teachers being very supportive of what I wanted to do, but I didn’t really care, I had enough determination to see me through.
WERE YOUR FAMILY SUPPORTIVE?
Not at first, they always wanted me to be an architect and most of my family have studied either engineering or chemistry. I think I am quite stubborn though and they know it! They’re much more accepting of my choices now, except for my grandma that doesn’t class fashion as a real subject.
A HUGE AMOUNT OF YOUNG BRITONS GO INTO THE CREATIVE INDUSTRIES, ESPECIALLY IN LONDON. IS THERE AS MUCH PUSH TOWARDS THESE CAREERS IN BEIJING?
Yes, but it’s only really happened in the last ten years, there’s been a dramatic increase. I think it’s all related to the economy; people’s wealth increased and their standard of living became less basic. Desire helps creativity happen. There’s an old saying in China: ‘learn maths, physics and chemistry, and you’ll have the whole world’. But to me that’s such a conservative view from the generation gone by. People live in a totally different time now, we do what we’re good at, what we want to do. It’s so much more liberating. Beijing is a very cultural city and has very good art colleges. I did my BA in Beijing, because I can’t think of any other city in China that would suit an art student.
WHAT’S FASHIONABLE IN BEIJING NOW, ARE THERE ANY TRENDS THAT YOU WOULD NEVER SEE ON THE STREETS OF LONDON?
I haven’t been to Beijing recently, so I have no idea. But China is different in general, right now young people are addicted to Korean pop, and they follow the styles of their teenage crush. Sometimes I enjoy seeing Chinese kitsch fashion on the street, it’s hilarious that those knock-off designers try to imitate big brands because they come up with a whole different aesthetic that sometimes has moments of genius.
LONDON’S FASHION COURSES ARE EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO BE ACCEPTED ONTO, HOW COMPETITIVE WAS YOUR UNDERGRADUATE COURSE IN BEIJING?
It is a completely different system. In China, in order to get into art college, you have to take a drawing test. It’s not like London where you apply with a portfolio. It’s more about skills. I had my first drawing lesson at seven and then started Chinese painting, and then realist painting. Because China has such a huge population it’s extremely competitive.
Read the rest of Peiran’s interview in Leica’s S-Mag: The Youth Issue, out now and check out S-League here