Susan Fang, The Chinese Designer Making A Splash At London Fashion Week

Susan Fang looks pleased. No wonder – we meet the day after she debuted at London Fashion Week. “It feels like a dream,” she enthuses while ordering coffee. “I didn’t even believe it happened until I saw the footage afterwards.”

Her show was by all appearances a standout event on the schedule. Set in a 1930s leisure center in Soho, the set (which she artistically directed) featured giant, custom-made inflatable boats, which she calls her “peace bubbles,” in signature marble prints, floating on the covered pool. Lifeguards patrolled in logo T-shirts, making sure guests were safe while navigating the perimeter to find their seats. It was the perfect setting to see models in gauze dresses so light they billowed and rippled like water.

Susan Fang showcases her mastery of gauze in her Spring/Summer 2023 Air Light collection. Photo: Courtesy

In Fang’s skillful hands, fabrics make new things. By simply basting, weaving or beading, she creates movement and volume on the catwalk. She gives these techniques names like “Air Flowers” and “Nuance Silks”. Alongside such aesthetic concerns lies a committed business strategy. In our conversation, she regularly oscillates between the passion of an artist and the realpolitik of an entrepreneur.

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Her career-defining bubble bag, for example, is placed in the context of changing material conditions. “Everyone in China uses WeChat Pay, which means they carry less in their handbag and can use it more like jewelry.” This astute observation led to the creation of a childlike accessory that has become synonymous with her label, and helped her to secure a list of specialist dealers that once included London’s Browns and Selfridges.

Of course, this isn’t her first rodeo in town. Back then, in her words, “the world was a different place” (i.e. four years ago), she was featured on Fashion Scout’s One to Watch platform. Fang, a Central Saint Martins graduate, was keen to return to London as soon as COVID-19 allowed and has been here since July to prepare for the event. This included Getting up at 3am every day to catch up with the mainland – and most important of all, her mother.

It’s Fang senior who does everything from managing production to creating the marbled prints on water. “I feel like I’m reliving my childhood,” she laughs as I picture her painting on water and hand-sewing accessories. If it sounds weird, well, that’s because it is. But what really sets Susan apart is the wide-eyed authenticity she brings to her craft. Where else would you see, let alone hear about, a giant plastic sphere dubbed a “peace bubble full of good wishes”?

Susan Fang’s LFW set featured giant custom-made inflatable balls. Photo: Courtesy

According to influencer platform left handed, their quirky bouncy castles produced results. Backed by support from influencers and KOLs, the London outing propelled her to a top 10 brand ranking on Weibo with an EMV of US$145,000 (RMB1.2 million). Chinese influencer Youjin Cui, who was at the show, explained that despite Fang’s early days in the industry, anticipation for this season was pretty high. “After a few showcases at Shanghai Fashion Week and the cooperation With Zara, Susan now has a big name in the Chinese fashion industry.”

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Expectations have been fueled by these collaborations, which have been key to her (and many of her contemporaries’) successes and helped commercialize her zero-waste brand (“they pay very well,” she reveals). These are run by locals such as with Chinese fashion labels bird of peace and phone brand Oppo to Fujifilm. Crocs sponsored her runway shoes and she has more in the pipeline including Uggs; More are currently under discussion, including one with a luxury name.

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However, after speaking to Fang, it feels like her whimsical designs are a distraction from her personal fears – from casualties to the post-pandemic environment to a looming world war. In fact, despite her positive attitude, she says she is a pessimist. “Because I’ve moved so much, I’m constantly afraid to say goodbye to people, but it’s been my mother who has been supportive the whole time. For me, that strength is light.” (Her collection is called Air Light.)

Given that Fang has moved so much, she’s keenly aware of being an outsider. But it’s this kaleidoscopic mix of cultures and ideas that allows her, as influencer and creative director of Møy Atelier Betty Bachz says, to be “such a breath of fresh air as a designer”.

So after the show, Fang is decidedly optimistic and confident of re-energizing her stocklist, some of which fell away during the pandemic period due to complications from COVID-19 or the “difficulty placing orders via Zoom.” More importantly, she’s confident she’s doing so on her own terms.

“For me it’s not about selling or being commercial, it’s longer. I want to build a business step by step. Perfume, even furniture. My mom says, Susan, do fun things.” And right now, it seems like she’s doing just that.

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