Size doesn’t matter, at least in the weird and wonderful world of Chen Peng. Indeed, it becomes entirely irrelevant when taken in the context of his fashion designs, which more often than not resemble a more stylish version of the Michelin Man. Viewed from another again, they shift in proportion to take after the porcelain wares of Chen’s native town of Jingdezhen in China, once the historical centre of the global porcelain trade.
A graduate of the London College of Fashion, where he received a master degree in Menswear Fashion Design Technology, Peng then went on to work for international brands and retailers such as Christian Dior, Harrods and Gareth Pugh before launching his own brand, CHENPENG, which debuted at London Fashion Week in 2019. That same year, he was also shortlisted as a finalist at the H&M Awards. His label is built on the concept of ‘one-sized fashion’, which he deftly manipulates as a commentary on minorities with special body sizes. As he puts it, “By wearing the same dress, people of different body shapes will show different types of beauty.”
Ahead of his showcase at the 10 Asian Designers To Watch exhibition taking place this month in Shanghai, read on to find out more about Chen’s thoughts on how he designed for autism, the lasting impact of Alexander McQueen, and how sound and music can connect wearers with the designer’s true intent.
Q. Why fashion? What made you want to be a designer?
I come from Jingdezhen, China, which is also known as "China Town", an ancient town rich in blue and white porcelain. I joined the drama club in university. At first, I was exposed to make-up, and then I became interested in the design of drama costume. I found that fashion design and make-up have something in common, which requires designers to think creatively about the use of colour and the modification of dark and light using contours, so I chose to apply for menswear design at the London College of Fashion after my graduation in China.
Q. If your teenage self could see you now as a fashion designer, what would he/she think?
He might think, “Cool, I made the right choice and all the effort paid off”.
Q. In fashion, a muse not only serves as an inspiration for designers, but also urges them to continue creating. Who is your muse, and how does he/she continue to drive your ambition?
Alexander McQueen. His work makes me feel full of energy and drama. When you see his clothes, you don't think it's just a piece of clothing, but a work of art. Every piece of work expresses full emotion. When I was studying in London, I went to the V&A to see his exhibition three times, and every time I was moved to tears.
Q. Sometimes, inspiration strikes in the most unlikely place/time. Please share your experience of finding inspiration for your designs.
Usually I will travel before each collection and I will visit the museums of each city. I spend half of the day in the museums and listening to my playlist, reading the stories of the past.
Q. Your designs often have an important message to tell. Why is “one-sized fashion” important to you?
We call it fashion equalitarianism. Nowadays, everyone is pursuing more personalized forms of expression. Everyone is their own decision maker. The younger generation has become more and more inclusive. People will gradually blur together previously distinct measurements like size, gender, skin color, etc., which is a sign of progress.
Q. Please elaborate on the connection of your work with awareness towards autism.
The Fall/Winter 2020 collection is called "Metaphysics", and tries to express the change of emotion by winding, copying, deforming and twisting. Through expressing the change of inner emotion in a personal way, by showing human desire and alienation, death and fear, and using abstract ways to convey the morbid depression and dispel a depressed sense of humor. The prints that appear throughout the collection have evolved from the motif of the human palm. We call on everyone to open their arms at all times, to embrace their relatives, friends and lovers, to cure autism with love, and to embrace reconciliation with the world. The eye-catching shapes and weaving technology used imply the respect, understanding, care, acceptance and tolerance of the whole society for autistic patients.
Q. Music is a large part of the runway experience. How does sound/music influence the way you view fashion?
Fashion is part of art and the spiritual civilisation of human beings. Sound and music increase the public perception of fashion and engenders feelings on multiple levels. They can help the audience to imagine more vividly what the designer wants to express.
Q. From the punk-inspired revolution of Vivienne Westwood to the Indie-rock androgyny of Hedi Slimane, the world of fashion is filled with music references. Why do you think that is?
It is because music and sound convey emotions. Musical references are the best aid for designers to express the image, the senses, the emotions, the stories that he or she wants to present to the world — no matter the language, race, gender, etc.
Q. What is your all-time favourite track that inspires you?
‘Moon’ by HVOB. The psychedelic rhythm creates a semi-real and semi-dreamlike atmosphere which suits my creativity.
Q. Total silence when you design, yes or no? Why?
No. I will communicate to all my senses while designing. Art is always a complex of all dimensions. Real time communication makes my art and design more vital.
Q. If your designs could sing, speak, call out to you or make any sort of sound, what would you be hearing and why?
I am not sure how to describe my imagination, but I can tell that the sound will be expressed as warm, colorful, confident, joyful and free.
Held in collaboration between KEF and Lane Crawford, the 10 Asian Designers To Watch exhibition will be held in Shanghai from March 31 to April 11 in an effort to spotlight the most promising young talents in fashion across Asia. Highlighting the role of sound and music both to inspire and bolster the power of fashion, the KEF Experience Zone will allow attendees to engage with the latest cutting-edge audio technology to transport the mind within the headspace of the designers. Find out more online here.
Cover Image: Chen Peng / CHENPENG