Photography Hatnim Lee

MARRKNULL is the VFiles-approved label shaking up Chinese fashion

Designers Tim Shi and Wang Wei made their NYFW debut last night, with a collection inspired by the Chinese ‘scenic spot’

Last night, in Brooklyn, VFiles kicked off the city’s biannual fashion week with a riotously creative show. The design incubator has previously showcased the work of Gypsy Sport and Gauntlett Cheng, and continues to support and spotlight young, emerging designers – with the likes of Windowsen, Elena Velez, and Shuting Qiu on the line-up this time around, and Lil’ Kim making a surprise appearance.

Taking the title as the VFiles’ Runway Winner, though, was MARRKNULL. Founded in Beijing in 2016, MARRKNULL is part of a new wave of Chinese labels challenging the negative connotations that come with fashion that’s ‘Made in China’. Arising from the idea of questionable or obscured supply chains and poor quality garments, in recent years, designers like Tim Shi and Wang Wei – the duo behind the brand – emerged onto the fashion landscape, with the intention of christening a new era of Chinese design that’s far removed from these existing notions.

This new generation of Chinese designers are also daringly challenging perceptions of society, with MARRKNULL dissecting the country’s culture and refracting it anew. Shi and Wei are particularly drawn to youth and regional culture, aspects of China’s social landscape which relate heavily to identity and tradition.

They translate this into their clothing by reimagining familiar – or unfamiliar, to the untrained Western eye – Chinese design tropes through the use of unique fabrication and unconventional silhouettes. Traditional cheongsam garments become asymmetric bomber jackets, lilac puffers become trousers, and deconstructed leather trench coats are spliced together to become unique hybrids. The duo are also unshackled by rigorous gender boundaries, styling men in beaded, ruffled tops, and women in traditionally masculine, wide-shouldered tailoring. In essence, the label is fashioning a bold, progressive vision of China.

For SS19, the collection was inspired by ‘the scenic spot’, a place where Chinese tourists flock to admire the natural beauty of their surroundings. Featuring distorted gingham patterns throughout, asymmetric denim mini skirts and gowns were paired with hiking boots and bumbags, while models brandished bejewelled flip-phones and selfie sticks as they made their way down the runway.

We caught up with Tim Shi and Wang Wei to hear about the VFiles show, their SS19 collection, and bringing the scenic spot to London.

What did you study, and when did you know you wanted to be fashion designers?

Wang Wei: I majored in fashion knitting at the Beijing Institute of Fashion and Technology, and I’d dreamt of being a fashion designer since I was a child. Then I met Tim by chance and we hit it off, so decided to launch MARRKNULL together.

Tim Shi: I studied Architectural Design in Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, but I didn’t like the way that rationality was given far more credit than design. I felt quite lost and distressed about this, until I met Wei and developed a strong interest in fashion design. I think it’s easier for me to convey my ideas in fashion, even if I’m relatively new to this industry.

How would you describe your aesthetic?  

Wang Wei: Our aesthetic has been influenced a lot by the way of life and behaviours of people in China. People’s understanding of Chinese culture remains in the past, so our goal is to get people to realise modern Chinese style has its own unique charm.

“The new collection is inspired by the Chinese scenic spot, which is a gathering place of natural beauty. These places bring together all manner of ‘real’ people who have their own style, behaviours, and cultural symbols” – Tim Shi

Your collections blur the lines between gender. Is this something that’s important to you?

Tim Shi: Yes. We don’t think sex needs to be divided, so our collection isn’t either.

What inspired the SS19 collection?

Tim Shi: It’s inspired by the Chinese scenic spot, which is a gathering place of natural beauty. These places bring together all manner of ‘real’ people who have their own style, behaviours, and cultural symbols. The way the tourists dress and the way they take photographs resonates with the entire environment. We analysed their way of being, which formed the basis for the season’s collection.

How would you describe the people that inspired the collection?

Tim Shi: They’re very confident, and will pull the most beautiful or fashionable poses they can think of when they take their photos. Although most people will think these poses are old and out of fashion, they are really just expressing themselves. Their confidence infected us.

As well as the VFiles show, you’re also going to be at London Fashion Week. Why two shows?

Tim Shi: We scheduled our tour early this season and it included London Fashion Week. VFiles was sort of a surprise.

What can we expect from the presentation at LFW? Will it be the same as the VFiles one?

Tim Shi: With VFiles, we really trusted our team, and think they brought out a different aspect of MARRKNULL. When it comes to London Fashion Week, we planned the entire presentation ourselves, and in this way it will be a more complete MARRKNULL vision. We’re going to transport the scenic spot to London...

What is it like being part of a new wave of designers changing the face of Chinese design?

Tim Shi: We don’t think about changing anything, we’re just doing what we want to do and expressing what we want to express..

Is there any Chinese designer that inspires your work? Or that you are more interested in traditional Chinese dress?

Tim Shi: We love and respect traditional Chinese clothes, but our inspirations comes mostly from daily life of the Chinese people.

What’s next for you guys?

Tim Shi: After London Fashion Week, we’re heading to Paris to present the collection there, before we end up in the Tube showroom at Shanghai Fashion Week in October, where we’ll be part of a small presentation.

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