In the past year alone, several top-tier fashion houses lost consumer confidence following episodes of cultural misrepresentation – culprits include Gucci, Prada, Moncler and Dolce & Gabbana. Needless to say, the industry still has a long way to go in the fight for diversity and inclusivity. But young designers like Claudia Li are determined to mitigate fashion’s bad reputation.
Since debuting in AW’16, Li has used her label as a platform to ignite change. Last September, the New York-based designer made global headlines with her Asian-only casting for SS’19 in a bid to highlight the breadth and beauty of different ethnicities from the region. It worked and rightly triggered conversation around the simplistic representation of Asian women in Western society – or the lack thereof, for that matter.
For the Chinese-born, New Zealand-raised designer, the decision wasn’t buzz-fueled; it was a genuine call to action prompted by her own trauma as a nomadic Asian woman. “The casting choice was very personal. I’ve faced stereotypical personality-assumptions as a result of being Asian… Like being submissive, timid or quiet,” Li reveals, adding, “representation is not equal in any industry but certainly not fashion - where Asian models are still too frequently used as a token to box check some politically correct diversity quota.”
“Asian models are still too frequently used as a token to check some politically correct diversity quota.”
Thus, Li took the opportunity to make her mark on New York’s international stage. Her voice certainly didn’t go unnoticed: she’s gained unwavering support from tier-1 stockists like Moda Operandi and Isetan in Tokyo, alongside specialist boutiques like Blake Chicago and Riyadh’ Blank Boutique. “Showing on the runway at fashion week is a global microphone. The momentum was there [last season], and I think a lot of people were ready for it,” she believes.
But socio-political messages aside, what truly resonates with global retailers and her fans – Bella Hadid and Chrissy Teigan no less – are her collections. Feminine, elegant, and craft-oriented, the designer is clearly unafraid to explore new territory, carefully balancing the line between practical wearability and risk-taking.
Yet SS’20 marks a new chapter for Li as she reflects on the brand’s evolution over the past four years. It revisits signature silhouettes – like tailored jackets with unique shoulder shapes developed in-house and voluminous pleated skirts – while at the same time breaks new ground through an exploration of denim treatments, silk screen prints, and new braiding techniques of paracord elements. “We played with what is very true to the brand’s DNA: the playful element of surprise,” she explains.
“We also love tech-y materials!” she exclaims. She’s referring, of course, to her UV-activated jacquard knitwear styles and windbreaker fabrics. These conversation-starters reveal the designer’s name in a recurring pattern under UV light, and will surely reach cult-status with cult fans.
The highlight of SS’20, though, is its hero print, created from a photo of her parents in their ‘20s – her mother standing barefoot on a rock wearing a floral batik dress and her father smiling. A tribute to the past with a forward-looking spin, it brings a fresh yet sentimental edge to tailored coats and flowing summer dresses.
“I love the printed pieces because they’re very personal to me. But I also love the pigment-treated denims, and our pleated skirts; we used translucent PU and also coated mesh fabrics so that the printed linings can be mixed and matched,” Li says.
“Claudia Li embodies a sense of boldness and the strength and power of being yourself.”
Uninterested in chasing trends, she is more concerned with pursuing a patient and considered approach to developing her brand. “The challenge and opportunity for us is to constantly refine what we’re saying as a brand. There’s a lot of noise out there, and you have to be crystal clear in your messaging to connect with customers; we want to create and support a tribe of loyal women who share our taste and point of view.”
This perspective shines a light on the changing dynamics of being a woman today – by empowering confidence and individuality, and rejecting antiquated perceptions, she has cultivated a strong following. “There’s a different level of power that comes with being a woman in society right now,” she reflects shrewdly. “Authentic self-expression and being bold has never looked or felt more right. Claudia Li embodies that sense of boldness, that freedom of expression, and the strength and power of being yourself.” And long live that.
Discover the full SS’20 collection at the ORDRE LIVE physical showroom during Paris Fashion Week – 80, Rue de Turenne, open from the 27th September to 3rd October.
Contact [email protected] for more info and to book appointments.