I have been very fortunate to meet and work with Vincent Li, a very talented designer based in Melbourne. I met him at last year during the Melbourne Fashion Week.
Vincent is from Shanghai, his background is clearly reflected in his contemporary designs. He studied Fashion at Raffles International College in Hong Kong. He is a very accomplished artist producing unique and beautifully cut pieces, he meticulously designs his own fabrics, cutting is own patterns and pulling together with great skill and precision.I was very intrigued by him.
Vincent Li is a very soft spoken, calm individual with a wealth of knowledge, he is mindful and conscientious about the world around him. I spent some time getting to know him and we talked about his background, his life, ambitions, skills and inspirations as a person, artist and a businessman.
A the beginning of our interview, he explained his underlying ethos ,”Vincent Li is not about creating something new and amazing to wear, but it’s much deeper.” Explaining, “I want to capture the emotions and heart of the wearer, it’s not the aesthetic, but the whole”.
He wants people to put the clothes on and then for them to begin a journey into intellectual artisanship, he adds “wanting each garment to instil”. With such powerful beliefs and strong artistic resolve, there is no wonder his passion in his collection is so prominent.
I wanted to know more about is creative process and how he finds his inspiration? His response ,”The Inspirations could be an emotion or feeling, a mood, a story or an important message.” Vincent translates the intangible emotions or abstract concepts into a silhouette, a shape, details, prints and colour.
Having grown up in China, he combines modern influence and experience with an underlining east Asian philosophy and aesthetic, which he explains are more “abstract, subtle, irregular forms and poetics”. He believes we should inherit the spirits and philosophies of the culture and traditions which should be interpreted and applied in a modern contemporary way.
He is a curious man, always with his mind open and eyes and ears on something that draws his attention, he says “it must be something that connects”, “It could be a movie, TV show, theatre, an artist, music, art, a book or visit to a gallery or place”.
Vincent also tells me about people who have inspired him. His favourite designers are Dries Van Norton, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo, quite an array of stellar designers, he also adds that he looks up to new designers, Craig Green and Damir Doma. “I admire designers who are consistent and stay true to their brand, which today requires enormous resilience, courage and passion,” adding “I likes designers who have been constantly bringing new innovations forward and never staying in their comfort zones”.
Vincent refers to a quote by the late, Bill Cunningham, a New York fashion photographer “Fashion is like an armour without it, it will be like without civilisation”, saying that is made a big impact on his work and the in the way he thinks.
I wanted to understand a little more about his procedures, creative process and conception.
He works the old fashion way, involving intensive research on the story and topics. He then spends time producing and developing hundreds of rough sketches and through this process discovers the strongest idea for the collection. His prints have been a classic element in his design, turning his initial drawings or paintings into digital forms, developing up to 40 digital images, and finally only selecting 2-3 to use. He tells me “These prints not only represent my story or mood for the collection, but the colour pallet”.
Vincent kindly invited me to Next State, a digital printers in Abbotsfords, Melbourne.(https://nextstateprint.com). I was so excited to be privy to the experience, getting the chance to watch the printing machine slowly roll off Vincent’s printed fabrics. I could feel Vincent’s anticipation as each centimeter appeared. The nervous energy as the prints came through and the ink slowly dried to reveal the true colour depth and then the final finished article.
I asked him about his fabric choice?
He works with Next State, together they decided on the best fabric to use, normally a natural fibre is selected. Image of Japanese fabric Vincent also works with a local Japanese Fabric Supplier, a family run business, that represents up to 40 Japanese Textile Companies. They are the only agency for the Australian Market. Vincent visits, each season, spending hours looking at fabric options, once the decision is made, based on his collection ideals, price and availability, he orders and the fabrics and they are imported from Japan.
In response to how he gets to his conception of the collection, how he gets the spark to kick things off?
He answers “The conception is something that runs through the designs, and the purpose of the concept is to encourage people to be confident, open minded, adventurous, to be ‘ourselves’ and be curious about the new and the unknown”. He strongly believes that clothes should have their functionality but it should not just be for consumption. He believes “there is a connection with the appearance and our heart”. His clothes are very wearable and really speak out when it comes to artistic aspects and appeal.
I asked Vincent about his creative path and if it differs between each project? He likes to set himself a challenge each time to test and improve himself, so each of his projects must be consistence with his identity, aesthetic and high standard of work and quality. He tells me “I get bored easily and I don’t want the consumers to get bored easily”.
When he starts to develop each piece, he thinks about how he should present them together. This includes the whole creative path from head to toe styling, the location and the set design for a photoshoot. He is clearly a very conceptual artist, spending a lot of time researching different forms of art, culture or literature. This keeps his work fresh and new each time.
He explains that when he develops a collection he says “It is a process from one to many and then from many to one”. Everything is planned at the initial start and all aspects will evolve and grow as the project develops, but each step can be clearly mapped out and planned meticulously and methodically. Having photographed Vincent developing and creating his next collection, I can’t wait to see the work completed.
I asked Vincent how he feels when he sees all his work come together?
He says with great joy how rewarding and exciting the process of developing a new collection as being, “Several months ago, it was a rough idea in my head, when I see the pieces in front of me, it gives me such confidence in continuing my brand”. I must add, that I have seen some of the pieces and I find it very exciting, I can’t wait to get my hands on them. I’ll certainly be wearing them with great pride.
I introduced Natalie Deely to Vincent. He wanted her to work at a fitting session, and I photographed the proceedings. It was a very fulfilling experience creatively, watching Vincent see his clothes on Natalie. I could see his mind planning and rethinking. I could feel the energy in the room. His assistant, Harry Millward helped dress, style and became my photographer’s assistant, light technician (supermulti-tasking man!).
While we worked together I questioned Vincent on his new collection. He begins by explaining his thought pattern and realisation behind his work, saying that he is always left with so many ideas, after the selection for a collection is made, some of them could be developed further. A season is only 6 months, and he only designs 6-8 looks for one season, but with his new ‘concept’ it allows him to develop throughout the whole year, producing a flow of work.
He tells me that a song he heard captured his heart and reflects his feelings at that particular time. The lyrics are” Your smile wears a mask and pretends to be strong, but it will only make you more fragile” adding ‘ We wear the mask as a kind of language that expresses the figure one chooses to create”.
Vincent Li has taken this deep part of our psyche and turned it into his new concept – ‘Disguise Cool’ and ‘Disguise Warm’.He explains more , “that humans are divided, contradictory creatures, with an uncanny capacity, not to disguise ourselves from other people, but to masquerade our own wishes and desires from ourselves”. He thinks that our defences are methods of disguise, “a way of transforming what we find unbearable or transgressively into pro social and meaningful ambitions and fulfilment”. He finishes by saying “This masquerading of desire ensures that there is always the potential of another version of us”.
Vincent wants his concept to lead us to see an armour-like silhouette that is contrasted by different textures, panels and layers, which also can disguise our bodies in a monochrome colour palette. He wants us to contemplate the prints, and feel the emotions they evoke, whether a vulnerability, authenticity, or a real beauty of our inner selves. He is challenging us with new ideas, taking us into a contemporary place and giving us an opportunity to see fashion in a whole different light. It’s refreshing and enlightening to feel that someone can put us in a deeper more meaningful place, miles and miles away from off the peg rails shopping. All fashion starts with a concept, but with Vincent, philosophy and culture mix, they bring a different and stimulating approach to the Melbourne fashion scene.
To close the interview I asked him about his future ambitions? Naturally he want to bring his work to the World, and more people to view, accept and appreciate his work. His goal is to have his own lifestyle retail store and wanting to developing this space to become a community for people to experience VINCENT LI’s World and use it as a platform to help creative talents.
Where does he see himself in 10 years and will this mean taking his collection overseas?
His reply, “Along with my own store, I hope to hold stock in other retail stores, I also would like to collaborate and explore with different fields and art forms”. He is very determined and has set his path in motion. On the subject of moving abroad, he believes that emerging designer brands should all have a global vision, with the onset of technology and the Internet. Retail is changing fast, soon stores will integrate with social media while you are walking past. It would be great to walk past a large department store in a major City and get a ping from Vincent’s app saying he has his latest collection on show right there. Near Field Communication is coming and retail is getting ready. This is indeed a very exciting World laid ahead with just a swipe of the finger, the business can already reach every corner of the World, the power of social media , online stores and other forms of Internet communication app technology, video and voice technology, anything is possible. He says “this is bringing up the standards”, because the entire fashion world is watching. He mentions ‘ An emerging designer should not want to be buried among their peers”. The global market is a big place, with many opportunities, it is so important to understand, research and market a brand so it can be forced into the limelight. I know that Vincent is ready for the challenge.
It’s been a pleasure to see someone evolve his own ideas, and use such tremendous skill and delicacy to design and finish a whole collection. It has been very rewarding, and a great privilege to be involved with such an artistic and skillful professional. It really has been a significant experience, because I brought together other talented people in this process, which initially is the main purpose for this blog.
Thanks to Vincent for allowing me to witness such an amazing artist at work. Thanks to Natalie Deely for being awesome as usual, and to Harry Millward for pulling us all together and sorting my lighting x
Please look out for Vincent Li, take note of his work and get into his concept, feel and appreciate a great talent.