Haute RE Magazine

Don’t Make War. Make Dresses.

Utopia you can wear — the life and work of Susan Fang.

Susan Fang is a young female fashion phenom who is redefining what femininity can mean. You can see her wistful, airy creations as fairytale escapes from reality, as an escape into childhood. But look again at their strong geometry and architectural silhouettes to see something more subversive that grows from the challenges of Fang’s own early years.

“With all the moving around, I think I experienced a little racism and it was painful but I think it was good that it happened early on, because then I would really know how it feels for other people to experience that.  

“I would know the reason behind it, that it was not on purpose, it was that I was the only Chinese there and they didn’t understand the culture. In another location I would be super-accepted. 

“So I was really glad that, though it was painful, I could understand it.  It was really important for me.  With a collection I would never think, I am a Chinese designer so I will only use Chinese elements. That’s really stepping back in time for me. More likely it would be universal and then it can be for any culture and people will always relate to it.”  

Susan Fang and her mother, one of her greatest inspirations
Abstract pattern prints are handsewn into ‘Air Flowers’. Photo Credit: Silvia Draz

Back then, the natural world was little Susan’s happy place. And for fashion designer Susan Fang it still is: both refuge and inspiration, an enduring memory of simple pleasures from a complicated childhood.

“My hometown was in the countryside, a place called Ningbo where there are a lot of mountains, and bamboo. All the furniture is bamboo and we ate from bamboo leaves  — we ate a lot of shoots, used the beans, everything was made with simple materials.

It’s a feeling that has helped Fang navigate a rapidly changing home life over the years, as her mum and dad moved across continents.

“When I was in Vancouver my mum would always let me skip school on a Friday because she’s going to the mountains or she wants to take me fishing to the rivers.

“We moved to the UK and then to Tacoma .. and then to the UK for many years but I feel like I always found healing in nature.  When I kept having nightmares at university and being really stressed, hiking the Appalachian Trail in the States really healed me.  I didn’t have any worrisome nightmares.  I think that partially it has to do with that.  

“At my core I am very inspired by nature’s rhythm, its fractals, and how we are all connected.  I feel that during childhood, if that’s the thing that makes you feel most free, or if that’s the thing that you’re used to, it becomes something that you go back to maybe.” 

The handmade Air-Ribbon dress, with repeated layers of coloured tulle, allows for natural movement.
Susan Fang SS23 Collection Group Shot at London Fashion Week. Photo Credit: Hayden Perrior

Fang’s startling collections, like the recent Air.Light, are gauzy doorways back into childhood, where danger can be neutralized with an open heart.

Air.Light was about our fear of war but also hope that love can maybe bring peace. The previous season was about metamorphosis where we really wanted to have a lot of freedom, to escape this COVID period, and we hoped that people might have more empathy for each other.”

When you have Fang in your wardrobe, you are inhabiting an alternative universe where you always have friendship woven into the fabrics, often by Fang’s own mum.

“We make our own prints, with my mum, we make our own fabric. Flowers and nature is a big part of that but we try to do it in an abstract way, a hidden way, that’s not so obvious but which is very fun for the wearer.

Susan Fang’s SS23 Air.Light 3D printed phone bag Photo Credit: Haydon Perrior
Susan Fang’s SS23 Air.Light explores ‘The Variables of Peace and Love’ Photo Credit: Haydon Perrior

Far from being fast fashion that might blow away on the breeze, Fang is challenging the stereotypes of fashion, escaping from the media’s gaze. 

“When I was graduating, the main trend was minimalism, or how the female was dressing a bit masculine. I appear soft to most people, but I feel like we are at a time when it’s OK and isn’t weak to appear vulnerable. My mum is very strong but she has a super soft heart, and I think that is a very charming thing about being a woman.  

“How I understand femininity is  influenced by my mum as well.  I feel really safe and really lucky to be a female. I have never felt that being a female is less powerful than a male because she’s a very strong woman.

“When we are doing a campaign, when we are doing team hire — I am really drawn to motherly figures to be our models.  I get attracted to them and ask if they can be our photoshoot model.  I feel like the most beautiful part of my mum is her energy.  She’s not too focused on physical appearance. I think that is part of our brand.”

Susan Fang Air.Light SS23 Photo credit: Haydon Perrior
Susan Fang at the London Fashion Week Photo Credit: Haydon Perrior

Fang fashion is multi-layered — literally and metaphorically — and consequently meaningful:

“We do focus on the surface appealing parts, but at the same time we really focus a lot on the invisible parts, the energy of things, what’s the meaning of this collection, or what are we trying to bring.

“Then we try to show this in an installation, or it might be a print that becomes something so abstract that it becomes a strip, and then the strip folds again to become a geometric fabric, something that’s very layered but we believe that through this process the energy is collected in between.  

“Mothers have to endure so much pain, sacrifice so much time for children —  it is a lot.  At the same time, they are super-caring so I feel that this is the soft and strong combination that’s charming but also a very strong and beautiful part of being a female.  

“That’s why with our clothing we don’t feel embarrassed to allow it to appear very delicate or have an appearance that maybe for some people is a bit naive. 

“You don’t have to be masculine to be a strong woman any more.  Our clothes might look delicate but actually they are quite strong, in a way.  They are actually repeated and folded many times and they are quite comfy.”

Fang’s new collection in the Fall of 2023 is still flitting around her imagination like the migrating butterflies she saw on her most recent trip to Mexico. But she revealed some tantalizing details.

“I think we just decided on a theme, we started experimenting but nothing totally settled.  Hopefully, we can launch a children’s wear line, just a very small one, a capsule. 

“Another angle would be the opposite of dystopia.  I feel there are a lot of collections on the theme of dystopia, which is a little bit sad, right?  If everyone focuses on dystopia, I feel like we’ll just go into more war.  It’s very negative. We want to try to bring something positive.”

If we ever get to a utopia where we can live in peace and harmony, our guess is that it’ll feel a bit like a Susan Fang dress.