Words by Carlotta Buosi
Influenced by the creative world around him and by the strong women in his life, Xu Zhi’s main focus is the longevity of his work and how to create pieces that shall be enjoyed through time, but also added to one another in order to create a diverse, playful wardrobe. Originally Chinese and graduated from the prestigious fashion school of Central Saint Martin in London, Xu Zhi’s brand lives in between these two extremely different - yet surprisingly similar - realities, which doesn’t prevent him from being appreciated internationally. Giorgio Armani, for example, made him his pupil this past season and hosted him in Milan for an exclusive catwalk, where he showcased his AW17 collection. We spoke with Xu Zhi while he was at Shanghai Fashion Week to find out more about his inspiration and the incredible technique he has created, which is both his brand’s distinctive featureand a great portrayal of him as a designer. Mindful, chic and inarguably timeless.
Xu Zhi, you’ve graduated from Central Saint Martin in London. Tell us something about your experience there and how much it has helped you shaping your identity as a designer.
It taught me the importance of owning my craft. The whole experience was fundamental to determine how I think as a designer, today. My fellow classmates, the teachers and the CSM family have been valuable to me far beyond my days there, once I came out into the real world.
How do you manage to combine the influences coming from your background with the ones of the European metropolis you work and live in?
We live in such a global world and I believe that - regardless of one’s background - we’re all the same on so many levels. The customer I focus on when designing is definitely a global one.
What’s the most important element for you, when you design?
The narrative is always important, but also how my pieces can fit into my woman’s existing wardrobe, season after season. How they will age but still be relevant and how easy they are to look good into are both crucial aspects for me.
You’ve created a very particular textile - which is now your signature - focused on yarn and embroidery. Tell us more about it and about the process that brought you to discover it.
The first idea was to try and imitate brush strokes with fabric, and how to achieve that in different ways. The technique has developed a lot since my graduate collection, but the idea is still fundamentally the same one. Another reason why I decided to keep experimenting with this technique is that - although it might look like knitwear - you’d never be able to achieve the same directional pattern by knitting alone, which makes it very special.
As a designer, do you think it’s more important to establish a strong signature style or keep on changing and evolving?
Everyone is different. I am focused on longevity and creating a signature brand for a loyal customer. That’s why it’s been crucial for me to be able to establish a signature style that can also be modified and manipulated in many ways.
When designing, who do you think of as your ideal woman?
Strong, assertive, decisive - yet approachable - humble and refined. That’s the Xu Zhi woman.
One of the things I like the most about your collections are the colours. How do you choose a particular colour pallet?
It depends on the theme I choose for the season, of course, but I always try to find colours that I can think of as easy to be featured in our customers’ every-day lives.
In the past, you’ve been nominated for the H&M Design Awards (2015), the LVMH Prize (2016) and the Woolmark Prize in the same year. How does it feel to see your work appreciated?
Humbling and encouraging. It makes all the hard work worth it.
What are the goals you set for yourself, both as a designer and as a person?
To keep refining myself. I think that applies to both.