‘I did not bring the hat, it was too big’, says Sensen Lii – Chinese-born fashion designer and Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp graduate - as he leans over the seven identically enormous black suitcases that he starts to unpack one by one. As soon as the zippers are undone, his degree collection - presented in June in Antwerp - explodes in plumes of ruffled organza. Looking at the sheer volume of Lii’s creations, one can only imagine how big the hat must have been.
The technicolours of Lii’s previous collection shocked the VFILES audience with its idiosyncratic vision of gender blending, sportswear come couture, presented in New York back in September. Now, they are subdued to elusive creams with tastefully discordant strikes of electrifying neon. Skin colour, Lii tells me, is underrated. “It is so powerful, so close to our real skin,” he declares.
The designer’s label WINDOWSEN - monikered after the Windows operating system - is built around the dualities: ‘exaggerated costumes’ that traditionally represent women, and ‘men's functional sportswear’ that come together into costume-like creations, dressing Lii’s utopian future where ‘people design their own looks and start showing more personality.’
Maybe, that’s the only way one can be original. “The question is about how you describe original,” he says as he carefully steams the 300 metres of silk organza ruffled into the discoid mermaid tale, which sweeps the floor with a memory of McQueen’s acclaimed dress from his Autumn/Winter 2006 collection, Widows of Culloden. ‘Because of the world of internet it is easier to see what other people design. Of course, many people inspire me.’
Leigh Bowery is his ‘biggest inspiration ever’, he says. Before coming to Antwerp, Lii studied music performance in China. And the sense of ‘extra drama, stage feeling’ in his designs are the result of his observations backstage. The ‘sense of drama’ that Lii’s meticulously crafted looks conjure up is heightened by the grand, over the top silhouettes; alluding to Australian performance artist, club promoter, and fashion designer’s legendary looks.
But like a computer programme, the data that goes into the designer’s mind processes ‘video game characters’ unlike any other. ‘I just catch some feeling in the old video games, which I think is more interesting,’ the designer muses. ‘Now children always play games where characters look like the real guys,’ he continues, ’technology can almost replicate reality. But in the old times the games were not really clear and the imagination could run wild in decorating them.’
Nothing about Lii’s creations is pixelated though, the detail that makes up the surface of the voluminous shapes is as scrupulous up close as the silhouettes are breathtaking from afar. The silver leather is padded into the winged ball-like dress. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, all tied up with laces and hundreds of plastic neon green fasteners, taken from the back of baseball caps. Caps a theme throughout, are also patch-worked into a corset and knee pads. Ostrich feather-festooned ball gown is assembled into an imprint of a monster’s claw. Basketball corset is Lii’s take on ‘pregnant straight guys.’
‘Each look is very different, they have their own personalities,’ he says, ‘but they are the same world, like video game - the characters are from the same game but they are totally different.”
words NINI BARBAKADZE
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