Artist Oscar Wang on Collaborating, Cartoons and China’s Gen Z

This exclusive interview with Oscar Wang is part of Jing Daily’s bi-weekly Collabs and Drops newsletter — your 360-degree lowdown on the world of collaboration. Subscribe here.

You might expect cartoon animal characters to be reserved for kids TV shows and movies, but both Stella McCartney and Fendi have made them protagonists in their China brand marketing, with the help of Shanghai artist Oscar Wang. 

As part of ongoing collaborations with his design studio OpenWork, Chelsea School of Arts alumnus Wang founded Fendi’s now-locally famous panda Fendidi in 2019 and Stella McCartney’s endangered animal cartoon “Stella Friends” in 2021. Both have quickly taken the role of mascots for the brands, assisting them in engaging with China’s luxury-consumers-to-watch: Generation Z.

Oscar Wang designed three animal characters for Stella McCartney’s China campaign. Photo: Stella McCartney x Open Work Studio

The booked-up artist also owns a clothing label called Earthling Collective which, despite being just five months old, has already collaborated with Stance and EvolveTogether, and hosted a Kim Simonsson art exhibition with IYOUTH studios in Shanghai.

As an artist, though, Wang’s industry recognition began when he was invited to design one of Fendi’s Peekaboo bags for Design Miami’s 10 year anniversary, due to a PR agency fortunately recommending his name as an emerging artist to represent China. Since then, his work at Fendi has involved creating themed Fendidi emoticons for their social platforms such as WeChat and KakaoTalk, as well as a physical installation to promote the Jackson Wang x Fendi collaboration in 2019, and a Mid-Autumn Festival animation in 2020.

In addition to lending his artistic imprint to Converse, Beats and Hoegaarden, Wang’s collaborative relationship with Stella McCartney involves his animated endangered animal characters which have featured in a film series and on Airpod cases for the label. Their latest short film just launched in celebration of Mid-Autumn Festival 2021, and it marks the second of many 15-second episodes which will eventually tie together to tell a full story in years to come.

Here, Jing Daily catches up with Wang, as one of luxury’s new favorite collaborators for gaining relevance among China’s Gen Z.

Jing Daily: What do you think has attracted high-fashion labels to collaborate with you in China?

Oscar Wang: It was by luck that I had the opportunity to do the Fendi Peekaboo project and that allowed people in the industry to see how I can create products. The local team was asking a PR agency what young artist is around town that could potentially do this project and my name popped up. I think they just heard my name from friends or something, I wasn’t very established back then, I was just a designer.

Do you think there is a wider opportunity in China for local artists to collaborate with luxury labels?

The doors are definitely opening up, but what I’m seeing is that the luxury brands are having a hard time finding the right partners who understand the DNA of the brand and can apply their own taste to it. I think the artist has to think in the perspective of the brand’s DNA to create something unique that has commercial value, otherwise you can’t sell. 

And if you told an Italian designer to do something Chinese, or the other way round, it won’t work as well as it would if an Italian was creating something Italian and so on. You have to actually be experiencing the culture and personally apply that.

When creating your animations, how do you incorporate the identity of the brand that you’re working with?

At Open Work studio, I’m going to start applying the same see-through concept to all of my designs, like going through the space of time with layers to it. I take a couple of keywords that I grasp and then apply my take to it, for example, Fendi is youthful, trendy and fun. I visualize the global perspective of the brand and then apply Chinese elements that consumers understand from China.

How did you come up with the idea for Fendidi?

Well, we were doing it from Chengdu and pandas are from Chengdu, so we wanted to create something that’s youthful, cute, modern but still has that Fendi swag. We wanted to make this panda super chill, gave him an eye mask just so he’s a little bit more mysterious and then applied the FF monogram on the black parts of the panda and then that was basically it. 

Fendi launched the Fendidi panda character in 2019 to celebrate its collaboration with Chinese artist Jackson Wang. Photo: Fendi’s Weibo

Do you still have a lot of creative freedom to produce what you like when working with established brands?

Yeah, they’re super free. They let me do what I want. Of course, they’ll readjust certain factors, like the characters might have to be carrying some merch so they’ll say I want this on this character etc.

Please could you tell us a bit about your latest collaboration with Stella McCartney?

For the Mid-Autumn festival, we did another video. The last video was an introduction to these three characters – if you connect all of the videos that come out if this is ongoing in five, ten years, you’ll see that the story has never stopped. The characters are superheroes and in the last video they leave earth but in this film, they land on the moon because it’s the moon festival and they’re eating mooncake, looking at earth. It’s hard to convey a message in 15 seconds but with tight-knit storytelling, you can get the story across. There’s no accessories this time, it’s purely just the video. I think next time we will have to do some clothes.

How does the process for your consumer goods and luxury fashion collaborations contrast?

Hoegaarden was more of an art piece because I created six different glasses and six different stories… that was for an exhibition purpose so people would go and look at the pieces themselves so it’s more of an artistic process. But when it’s for luxury brands I have to think more from the consumers perspective and how they’re receiving the information. 

I focus on high-end. I did Hoegaarden because I actually like the beer and it’s considered a high-end beer. I want to stay working with luxury for branding reasons. The stuff I do is always young, trendy, cool, sleek, cute…

Do you think luxury brands need to collaborate to stay fresh in 2021?

I don’t think that collaboration is key but I think through collaboration, they’re able to reach different target audiences that they might not have a certain reach to because I think, truthfully using KOLs, bloggers, fashionistas has already been an ongoing process for so long but if you want to really tap into a different demographic who might not have been so interested in the brand then you kind of need to work with certain people that you’re unfamiliar with. 

Working with me has given brands access to a lot of younger audiences because I guess, people who like my stuff are much younger, they start thinking about luxury brands at a much younger age and they’re able to see from my socials, articles etc. I’ve noticed more young people recognizing my work. The younger people are really getting in tune with it, they’re really seeing more of this digital art space as the future and then when they see my work it relates to them more — it’s easier to approach than something too serious, sometimes luxury fashion can be seen as too serious.

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