XANDER ZHOU Is Putting AI Fashion Into Perspective

Since debuting his namesake label, XANDER ZHOU has surpassed milestone after milestone. The designer has shown in the British capital since 2013, promoting his diverse background through an inclusive outlook that combines orientalism and futurism – and has become the first Chinese designer to be welcomed on the London Fashion Week schedule.

XANDER ZHOU’s collections often explore the future of humanity, creating virtual worlds that defy the traditional. ZHOU’s otherworldly characters live together under one roof, providing an adaptable realm joined by humans and aliens alike. 

While defining his own boundaries, XANDER ZHOU’s Fall/Winter 2023 collection “STREET CORNER 3.0” is set inside an ultra-modern cityscape. The garments are designed to accompany travelers in metropolitan environments pulled from the future, acting as an extension of the body to enhance performance for daily activities. ZHOU’s FW23 characters feature sidewalk-surfing urban nomads, buffed gym lovers, and zen-meditating personalities. 

By using artificial intelligence, the designer embraces advanced technology to create fantastical images that inspired the utopian city concept. Bear-chested figures sport protective cargo pants and puffed outerwear, while low-slung versions of the former don shielding knee caps and bulky exterior pockets. Fitness enthusiasts hit the elliptical wearing cutout knitwear with armor-like detailing, accessorized with defensive face masks for critical conditions. Elsewhere, alien-esque shoulder protectors accompany printed knitwear and cushioned nylon jackets, while exposed pockets and secure straps jump from warrior to warrior.

To make sense of this ethereal universe Hypebeast caught up with XANDER ZHOU to learn more about his multicultural upbringing, how he combines AI technology and fashion, and what to expect from his Fall/Winter 2023 collection. 

Hypebeast: What is the concept behind XANDER ZHOU as a brand?

Xander Zhou: The collections prior to 2018 were somewhat of a prelude to a story, paving the way for future development. Starting from my 2018 Spring/Summer collection, the “Supernatural, Extraterrestrial & Co.” story began to develop season by season. Vertical and horizontal storylines interconnect the collections. 

The story takes us through different times and spaces, and it includes humans, AI, humanoid robots, aliens, and other types of known or unknown species. It is a story about a world of tolerance and coexistence. You can think of it as a fantasy or as a future that has yet to come.

What type of fashion do you wish to deliver, and what set you apart from the rest?

The starting point for the collections I release every season is always the creation of a set of “characters.” I think that is a very important way to express myself. I will typically blend different fashion styles in my collections, I don’t have strict boundaries when it comes to that. Anything that serves to further shape my characters. 

You can think of my different collections as opportunities to experience being different movie-like characters. This is actually a bit like experiencing a virtual life in which you can choose to be any of the characters I create. Each season, you can try out a different fantasy. And each season, you will find that the story has new characters to choose from.

“You can think of my different collections as opportunities to experience being different movie-like characters.”

Your collections often see Orientalism and futurism collide. How do you make this happen?

The orientalist side of my collections is actually inspired by the many Hong Kong martial arts movies I watched when I was young. Many fantasy martial arts costume films of that golden age gave me a lot of imagination when constructing scenes and elements. Putting them in my futuristic design creates a unique aesthetic perspective, which can be traced back to my roots but also extends to encompass the entire universe. Traditional, oriental, modern, future, surreal, realistic, common, and purely imaginative, these elements can be mixed together to create countless possibilities, and they can produce connections between stories from different parallel worlds. 

How does this change across your new Fall/Winter 2023 collection?

In my latest collection, our story takes place on a street corner in a city sometime in the future. On this street corner, people move between areas defined by a sidewalk. The background is bright and white, which is almost like a computer monitor, and you can’t even tell where this space is — does it really exist? The sidewalk here is just a metaphor for the urban area, it is more like a virtual setting than a real sidewalk. 

The “dragon” pattern, which is one of our brand’s iconic orientalist elements, has been reduced to details such as zipper pulls. Coats are tied in the same way that bundles are. The collection also includes a range of streetstyle pieces. Low-waist cargo pants and basic T-shirts appear in freshly tied shapes. Airship sneakers that seem to have soft armor appear. As a variant of the bellyband, the apron reappears in this series, but who is the owner of this apron? A fisherman on the pier, a lumberjack in the woods, or a blacksmith at his workbench? Perhaps all of these answers apply. 

Here, the aesthetic value of workwear is emphasized without being defined by labor and occupation. On the street corner of the future world, appearance is no longer the exact basis for guessing identity. It can provide clues for observation, but it also leaves room for imagination.

How did your childhood impact your outlook on fashion and design today?

When I was young, I learned to paint traditional Chinese paintings, but I also watched Transformers. I grew up in an era of information explosion where oriental traditions and high-tech was blended. Throughout my youth, I have been exposed to a constant collision of different cultures. As a result, my aesthetics have also been influenced by various cultures. I can now freely choose from all these influences as I see fit, and my designs are a clear reflection of this.

Walk me through the ideation process behind your Fall/Winter 2023 collection.

In fact, my initial setting for this collection was a future street corner, and I wanted to record a morning on a certain day in the future. I wanted to convey a constructed idea of “ordinary”, but this “ordinary” turned out to have some “unordinary” in it. I wanted to observe and express all this from an AI perspective, like an AI learning the way of life of human beings, learning how to express an “ordinary” human world. But from some flaws in the details, you can still tell there is a sense of “non-humanness”. 

After the first round of fittings, I fed the images to Pinterest and other search systems, and I got a series of related image results that had nothing to do with my original point of departure. This also included sports, such as ice hockey. Those sports armors and joint protectors from the search results gave me new inspiration for injecting elements into this collection. In my collection, you can see that the future requires a certain level of “protection.” This takes shape as physical protection, but what I want to express may be a defense against future technology.

How did artificial intelligence technologies impact the collection?

I am willing to learn and understand the latest AI technology, and I hope I can use it as an assistant to expand the possibilities of the research I do for my collections. Just like for this season, when I used reversed image searches to find new elements for inspiration, I also used AI to generate non-existent street scenes. I hope that AI can become a good tool, an assistant, or even a promising partner for creators like me. For next season, I will let AI try to use my design ideas and learn from collections I designed in the past, and see if the program can design a new XANDER ZHOU collection for me.

What can we expect next from XANDER ZHOU?

I did a “Generasian” party a few years ago, and that might set something in motion. The word has gained special meaning for me and has given me new guidance.

In other fashion news, PICANTE’s Alumni collection goes back to school.

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