Award-winning designer Ximon Lee digs into the paramount debate on cultural appropriation this season, exploring the subject through his S/S18 offering. Catching up with the designer, Glamcult found out how his collections are turned into studies that question controversial concepts—dating back as far as colonial times. So, what does that look like? Well, standout clothes that innovatively merge the old and the new, designed by a bright and multicultural mind.
Hi Ximon! A lot has happened since your graduation in 2014. Where are you now—on a mental and creative level?
There have been a lot of changes since 2014, you are right! On a design level, I’ve been learning how to run a business—I am constantly challenged by the industry. In general, among all the challenges, I have found that balancing the artistic and the business aspects is the most challenging part, and it is something we are going to explore/confront over the next few seasons.
The awards you’ve won are often mentioned when your work is introduced. But how would you introduce yourself?
I feel more comfortable to introduce my work rather than to introduce myself. However, my experiences are reflected on my work and in that way, I aim at showing them through the narrative of my studies.
You describe your collections as “studies”. Why?
I perceive every season as a study, as the realization of a sustainable concept that can be revisited during the next study. Whenever we present our work, it is not necessarily a finished idea but rather a freeze-frame of where we are. This means that ideas can always be picked up again in the future.
You were born in Manchuria but have lived all over the world. How has this shaped you as a designer?
Manchuria is a very isolated area in the far north of China, but this place has a wide cultural legacy due to the influence from Mongolian, Russian and Korean immigrants. A lot of traditions and languages are not local, and are rather a hybrid result of different ethnicities. Each city/country offers a new perspective, new inspiration, which contributes with different design elements. Travelling has allowed my work to absorb a variety of observations; each collection draws on these observations to curate a new body of work.
In your S/S18 collection, you focus on exploring “xenophilia”. What does this term allude to? And how, specifically, do you explore it through your pieces?
Due to globalization and the influence of social media, people tend to use ideas from cultures they are not fully acquainted with, and it often turns out to be disguised as xenophilia. Xenophilia, alongside its negative opposite, xenophobia, are modern terms that should be studied closely by every mind nowadays. They are both the binding and unbinding attitudes that bring together, or separate, groups of people that do not fully understand how strongly their cultural elements are interwoven into social and political discourses.
To visualize the study of these themes, we have deconstructed the aesthetic hallmarks of both old oriental rugs and modern Chinese character tattoos to show the distinct connection between the two. What is usually seen as two different movements can be simply distilled down to the same connecting thread: cultural appropriation in modern language, and colonialism and imperialism in older terms.
S/S18 creates a shift: from conventional silhouettes to a more relaxed, resort-like fit. The collection features a series of waterfall-embroidered tattoos that contain hidden messages alongside abstract stripe combos that draw upon oriental carpets. The collaged carpets featured in the lookbook were hand stitched, and were produced for a gallery showcase at Joyce Gallery in Paris back in July 2017.
Cultural appropriation is—finally—a hot topic in the fashion world, but Orientalism not so much. In that sense, is the S/S18 collection a statement (next to a study)?
Cultural appropriation has always been an issue no matter the field of art. But again, due to the variety of social media platforms, it’s easier to spot this issue nowadays. Thankfully, the media is more aware about this and is, likewise, more willing to call out whenever they notice it. We haven’t used S/S18 to make a statement on this issue, instead, we wanted to study the actual concept of cultural appropriation.
Would you say your work is political?
Everything around fashion is political, from labor to material origin. However, I prefer not to use political statements to gain attention. As fashion designers, we should be responsible for what we are expressing and for our practices too.
I would prefer to fully understand the politics of a situation before using it as a motif or slogan to support a collection.
On a day-to-day basis, where do you find inspiration?
It can come from anywhere; it doesn’t have to be visual. Often I find inspiration from sounds, textures, or smells.