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Leeann Huang designer food Dali
Photography Joanna Wzorek

The CSM fashion grad questioning why we shouldn't play with our food

Leeann Huang’s avant-garde, technically edible clothing has gained her fans including Brooke Candy, Grayson Perry, and Jazelle

If you’re thinking that Central Saint Martins graduate Leeann Huang’s SS19 collection looks good enough to eat, then you’d just about be right. Inspired by Marco Ferreri and Juzo Itami’s sensual, food-driven films La Grand Bouffe and Tampopo, the former fashion print student’s offering begins with a hypothetical feast in which gourmands gorge themselves on an enormous platter of oysters and lobster, before eating the clothes off each other’s bodies in an erotic dance of decadence.

Technically, it's all edible too, which manifests in cable knits crafted from real jelly and chocolate, beaded trousers decorated with glass from vintage chandeliers and glazed oranges, and jewellery made using glazed prawn crackers. The result is an imaginative, avant-garde collection, in which the French sumptuousness or Dali’s surrealist cookbook Les Diners de Gala and the atmosphere of Paris’s Grande Epicerie clash whimsically.

It’s no surprise, then, that the LA-based designer earned a highly-coveted place in CSM’s infamous press show earlier this year. “Every part of my work plays with expectations and reality, and questions everything,” she explains. Your mum might have told you never to play with your food, but Huang asks: why not?

“Every part of my work plays with expectations and reality, and questions everything” – Leeann Huang

The designer has never been one to play it safe when it comes to fashion, which she explains is thanks in no small part to her mother and grandmother. Growing up, she would watch as her grandma – a seamstress – made costumes for her mum, a ballroom dancer who often used to pick Huang up from Catholic school in head-to-toe leopard print Fendi. “Both women have always had this very romantic view of craft, fashion and narrative, so this was instilled in me from an early age,” she says.

Not only did these experiences inspire a boldness in her personal style, they also permeated her work from the get-go. She’s clearly doing something right, given she has amassed some pretty high profile fans: Brooke Candy, Grayson Perry, and model Jazelle have all been spotted wearing pieces from her line in recent months.

Here, we speak to Huang about her avant-garde approach to fashion, her earliest memories of food, and one pretty special mentor.

What was it about food that inspired you so much?

Leeann Huang: When I was young I really wanted be a chef. I obsessively watched the American cooking show Iron Chef, hoping that I’d one day duel Chef Morimoto. I soon realised I was a pretty crap cook – although granted, I was only 10 – but I loved creating something visually stunning with my hands that could make people happy. That eventually translated itself into fashion.

How did you decide what food items to include in the collection?

Leeann Huang: Like in the Grand Bouffe, I wanted to create a huge French feast. I spent a work placement year in Paris and sourced all my imagery from the Sunday market in Bastille and La Grande Epicerie.

How did you make the garments?

Leeann Huang: I worked in a cake shop to create a texture mould that helped me mould chocolate and strawberry jelly into cable-knitted garments. The resin-dipped orange slices and walnuts were beaded onto vintage chandelier chains to form trousers or decorative accents, and soldered cutlery was used to make bag handles, sunglasses, and earrings.

How has your approach to fashion changed since you started at Central Saint Martins?

Leeann Huang: Moving to London was a culture shock in so many ways but it really expanded my horizons as a person. I had never been surrounded by so much diversity and the appreciation and approach to art and design was so different compared the more commercialised American lens I was used to.

At Central Saint Martins itself, I was constantly confused and uncomfortable. I felt out of my depth, trying to learn and take in all the new magazines, designers, and artists I didn’t know of. My approach to design has grown so much because of these new perspectives and references, and all the self-doubt that really pushes you to create and focus on who you are and what you like.

What have you been working on since you showed your collection at the CSM press show?

Leeann Huang: I have been primarily playing around on photoshoots with my photographer friends. We are obsessed with food editorials like those in The Gourmand and Lucky Peach, so I’ve been making more clothes and accessories to build on those ideas.

You worked at Margiela alongside Galliano – what was the experience like?

Leeann Huang: I was lucky enough to intern as an Artisanal Design Assistant for John Galliano at Margiela. He is very generous with his time and opinion, and I learned so much and had so much fun working with him. He really takes in every design proposal and works to develop it more by giving more references or material ideas, he’s like an encyclopaedia.

What was your favourite moment working in the Atelier?

Leeann Huang: Once I draped a dress for him that reminded him of an elegant bird, so he played “Swan Lake” for an entire day. He liked playing off ideas and getting everyone excited – I really loved how he always pushed everyone in the company to be the most glamorous, most colourful versions of themselves, even using them as inspirations for his collections. I was so grateful to work for him.

What are your future plans?

Leeann Huang: I just got onto the MA Fashion program at CSM, so I'm excited for all those projects to come. I’m also really enjoying working on my small line of clothes and accessories, which I currently make only for friends, but hope to share and sell more of soon.

@leeanntheman