Xander Zhou Serves Futuristic Formal Wear at Its FW24 “Sciremony”

Xander Zhou isn’t attracted to trends. Instead, the elusive designer and self proclaimed “observer from the future” looks to various industries and uniform dressing to build his otherworldly silhouettes and their complementing narratives. At Shanghai Fashion Week, Xander Zhou presented its Fall/Winter 2024 collection under the couture division of the brand called Xander Zhou PRO. Using fashion as the medium to narrate an ongoing story, the collection weaves “Science” and “Ceremony” into a futuristic masquerade ball.

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, InterviewXander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

Technological innovation is always front of mind for the designer as he approaches his collection ideations through speculative design thinking; ever-fascinated by realities between online and offline worlds. Below we speak to Zhou on the inspirations for his recent show, his thoughts on the future of AI and coaxing characters to unveil universal truths through fashion.

What is inspiring you right now?

What is inspiring me while making any collection, including this one, is an unfinished story line that I have in my mind. It is ever evolving in my head and it keeps creating visual images that I then turn into designs.

You usually start your collections by designing a set of characters, who are your characters this season and how were they born?

This season I wanted to make a more ceremonial collection, so I called it “Sciremony,” a portmanteau of the words “science” and “ceremony.” The collection evokes the sense of a celebration or a masquerade ball that is taking place in the future. I was aiming for a collection of futuristic formal wear. A combination of uniformed and mechanized aesthetic. What I have been exploring all along is how to deconstruct space and time, by having similar elements simultaneously appear in uncanny places. Last season my collection was showing a kind of technological evolution. This season feels more like a ceremony, with a bit of mysticism, a sense of sci-fi romance and even a little bit of Chinese gothic.

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, InterviewXander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

What excites you most about the future right now? What scares you the most?

Perhaps the fact that we might experience the singularity in our lifetimes, which will be a watershed moment in the history of mankind. We can’t imagine or predict what will become of us after it happens or what our lives will look like. I don’t know if I feel excited or scared. I would like to put such emotions aside and just observe and study with a curious mind. I tend to learn about what’s coming in the future, to give myself the opportunity to be prepared. It does not mean that I’m going to embrace all the new things that are coming, but I hope that before it all comes, I will have learnt enough about it so that I will have a choice. As long as I have a choice, I will not be afraid.

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, InterviewXander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

You’ve said that you’re an “observer from the future.” Can you expand on your design and research methodology — where are you looking to inspire your future design aesthetics?

The whole process is like doing a research project. Once I have a direction, I will first think carefully about the structure of the collection; somewhat like a film script with an intrinsic logic that helps me look ahead clearly. Once I have that, I start building the characters for the story. I watch a lot of tech stories, pictures and videos and I’m inspired by the aesthetics of products that aren’t clothes. Whatever inspires me in those things, becomes the elements that make up the characters.

Fashion trends don’t attract me. I like the sense of characterization that comes from the uniformization of clothing. This season, I’ve basically only used very formal elements, which to me just call out “uniform.” Lastly, there is also textual analysis. I spend a lot of time every season to research and discuss with my writers about the direction of words and texts. I think this part is very critical. Words are a rather intuitive guidance, so I need this guidance to be objective, even rigorous and the style of the texts needs to be in line with my design aesthetics. They should read almost like a “Product Manual.”

How did you first develop an interest at the intersection of fashion and tech?

I needed a new creative context, one that would allow me to be in an environment that was not influenced by rapidly changing trends. So, I created a space that is close to a virtual world, a space in which I wanted to use an independent system to depict the scenes that are in my head. In fact, fashion is just a medium for me, it’s like a platform for visual presentation. With the help of technology, I can widen the boundaries of this platform, even across different spaces. One thing very naturally led to the other.

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, InterviewXander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

Your collections are delivered from an immense amount of speculative designing thinking. Do you think visualizing the future helps us to action it in the present and is AI changing this visualization process for you?

It is difficult to speculate about the future. My designs are just a hypothesis. One could even say they are a dramatic way to express a scenario. A scenario that may be based on some kind of current technological information, but in the end will turn out to be far from the actual future. We are curious about the future. We react to all kinds of information regarding the future and this kind of interaction will allow us to deal with all kinds of unpredictable things that will come to pass in the future. The emergence of AI can help us to visualize collected results faster and more efficiently, but for the time being that’s all. How we study, apply and even process this information, determines the direction of our future. In fact, it’s not the technology that will really change our future, it’s our attitudes and decisions. But human nature’s self-righteousness and greed sometimes make it hard for us to make rational judgements.

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, InterviewXander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

Xander Zhou Pro, FW24, Shanghai Fashion Week, Collection, Runway, AI, Interview

Consumer sentiment has been up and down around AI for the past year for many reasons. Amidst the constant online clutter of new media formats, how are you feeling about the intersection of fashion and AI today and the intersection for the near future?

At the moment, fashion and AI are mostly stuck in the stage of visual presentation. Those kind of aesthetics, through massive online distibution, create popularization. At the same time, it can cause homogenization, but these could be issues related to the preliminary stage. As I said before, many new things require a process so, trying to learn and understand is a good start. I think later on, technology in fashion will bring along more functional innovations. They will allow fashion to really become a second skin or an armour, rather than just a beautiful decoration.

If you could create any piece of hardware to enhance human capabilities, regardless of budget or restrictions, what would you make?

Something that would enable you to customize your appearance; an appearance that is not determined by your genes, but one that befits the subjective perception of yourself.


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