Both intimate and abstract, Rui Zhou’s delicate designs have won over a new generation of fashion fans. Inspired instead by abstract concepts over visual references, the Chinese designer creates second-skin pieces that take their cues from geometric shapes and the human form. In 2021, Rui won the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize for Young Designers, which was split with KidSuper and Lukhanyo Mdingi, credited for her wabi-sabi-inspired design lexicon which finds harmony in playful juxtapositions.
The designer studied in China prior to getting her MFA at Parsons New York. Moving across the world, although difficult, proved an enlightening challenge. “I absorbed a lot of knowledge and I learned a lot of experience,” she says, calling from her studio in Paris.
Our conversation falls a week after Rui presented her AW22 collection in Paris, where she has been working on expanding into European markets. As the first Chinese designer to get into the LVMH Prize final, she stresses the importance of the achievement for other Asian designers. “It is really hard to get into that competition – even into the semi-final”, she explains. “Every time, when any Chinese designer gets into the semifinals, Chinese press will announce it and everyone will know. It’s like the Olympics for us.” However, rather than spotting differences between communities, she is inspired by what happens in the grey sphere, on the intersection of the Chinese and Western cultures: “Both of these [cultures] have impacted me a lot, I learn from the space in between.”
Rui’s collections delve into a state of in-between.“At the very beginning, I got attracted by the the relationship between imperfection and perfection – the duality of all things, fragility and strength,” she says. Her ideas start as abstract, then she thinks in terms of relations between concepts: elastic fabrics allow her to show the tension between the body and the fabric; skin and clothing. Her design process results in delicate, wool tights, bodysuits and tops.
For AW22, Rui expanded her repertoire, designing brand’s first T-shirt. As she explains, she wants to maximise her brand’s capabilities. She gained notoriety for her bodysuits, made out of delicate wool and laden with sensual cut-outs and beads, however, as she firmly states, Rui “is not a bodysuit brand – it is a fashion brand. Some people feel that they’re not ready for showing their skin. So we’re trying to think of a balanced way to to develop, for our customers and to try to explore our concept int another way.”
This season saw the designer explore jewellery for the first time, too. Rui sees it as an opportunity to delve even deeper into abstraction. She emphasises the androgyny aspect: “I wanted to do something not limited by body shape and not limited by genders,” she says. The highlights were a series of hoop earrings which came adorned with thorns, an expression of the “tension between softness and hardness”, says the designer. Despite being at the emerging stage of her career, Rui has achieved something many her senior are yet to accomplish. Not only has she made a desirable label: in doing so, she’s retained an aura of secrecy.
Photography courtesy of Rui.