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Windowsen SS19Photography Kiki Xue

The VFiles-approved Antwerp designer mixing streetwear and couture

Windowsen’s theatrical collections blur the lines between gender

As an institution, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp has produced some of the most gifted creatives of our time. With alumni including Raf Simons, Demna Gvasalianewly-announced Nina Ricci design duo Rushemy Botter, and of course, the legendary Antwerp Six, the fashion school is regarded as one of the most prestigious establishments in the world.

One designer currently making waves at the school is Sensen Lii, who moved to from China to Belgium to manifest his imagination in clothing and experiment with the current boundaries in fashion. “You can see from our school that everyone is original and they come from a completely different world from you – it’s wonderful,” Lii tells us. “The impact of Antwerp on me is unprecedented and it has allowed a lot of the ideas in my head to become a reality.” 

Starting in the theatre, he was instantly captivated by the costumes and their theatricality, which runs through the very veins of his brand Windowsen – taking its name from the computer software Windows and his name, Sensen. Entering his third year at Antwerp just last month, Sensen’s talents have now branched outside the walls of his studies, showing his second-year collection at VFiles during New York Fashion Week’s SS19 shows.

The collection sits at the intersection of menswear and womenswear, pairing voluminous orange tulle skirts with sporty drawstrings and platform trainers, or hyper-coloured, striped mermaid skirts emblazoned paired with bum bags and Windowsen-branded, neon caps. Theatrical, alien silhouettes transported the collection to a place of fantasy, outside of the real world. “I have always liked futuristic elements, sci-fi movies, computer games, 3D stereoscopic images, and people’s imagination of the future,” the designer explains of his aesthetic. “Also the dramatic silhouettes of Leigh Bowery.”

Here, we speak to Lii about showing his work on the VFiles runway, his original eye for fashion, and the importance of designing your own identity.

When did you first develop a relationship with fashion?

Sensen Lii: Before I moved to Antwerp, I studied musical performance in China, and during my final years in college I interned with a musical troupe. After the internship, I took a job as a styling assistant which taught me a lot. It was this exposure to high fashion and amazing jewellery that inspired me to go into fashion myself. From there, I started studying design before leaving China for Belgium.

How would you describe your aesthetic? 

Sensen Lii: I hope that my work has strong sensory stimuli with a strange morbid beauty. Everything is very theatrical and dramatic, but is functional enough that it can be worn on the street just as much as the runway.

What was the inspiration behind your latest collection? 

Sensen Lii: My latest collection is my second-year work from Antwerp. My inspiration always comes from the infinite imagination of how the world might be in the future, which I love. I also draw on inspiration from some of my favourite performance artists such as Leigh Bowery, Sasha Velour, and Violet Chachki.

For me, drag queens have an abundance of creativity, creating a multitude of fantasies. They are visually stimulating which interests me. I also like 3D dynamic images and computer game characters. I merge these influences with men’s sportswear and women’s haute couture; street fashion for me is not only casual and relaxed, but it can also be very exaggerated and dramatic. 

“With my work, people can determine their own identity and define themselves. It’s essential to choose your own mask to represent your face and decide how you want to express yourself” – Sensen Lii 

Your work blurs the lines between gender. Why is this important for you? 

Sensen Lii: In the days to come, I don’t want people to define a person with ‘male’ or ‘female’. We were born unable to choose our gender, where we are, how we look. With my work, people can determine their own identity and define themselves. It’s essential to choose your own mask to represent your face and decide how you want to express yourself.

What are some of your favourite, defining pieces of this collection?

Sensen Lii: My three favourite looks are the orange tulle skirt, the mermaid skirt, and the lime green sequined look. These three are my favourite as they are closer to the concept of my collection. They are special as they truly blur the line between sporty and haute couture which is my definition of human beings wear: unique-unisex clothing.

What was your experience like showing at VFiles this season?

Sensen Lii: The experience of VFiles was a beautiful journey. I was thrilled to get this opportunity, to show my collection at New York Fashion Week. The founder Julie Anne Quay gave me a lot of confidence and even when I wasn’t done with my collection, I was very grateful for her trust in me. This opportunity is significant for me, to be seen by so many people and get so much support and help, and I will never forget that. I hope that I will have more opportunities to work with VFiles in the future.

Where do you see your work going in the future?

Sensen Lii: I entered my third-year last month; my design teacher is Walter van Beirendonck. He’s always been a legend in my world. I’ve been very happy the last month during this time of exchange and learning, and he has become more like a friend. I hope my third-year collection will be more powerful and interesting. If I can work in London and New York in the future, that would be amazing. I hope that I will have this opportunity when I finish my studies next year.