How Shanghai brand Didu is redefining sex appeal

    Emerging Chinese designer-to-know Didu talks pop culture, patriarchy, Paris, and how she discovers inspiration every day.
    Jing Daily
      Published   in Fashion

    Counting superstars like Doja Cat, Sza, and Rosalia as fans, Chinese label Didu is now among the sexiest brands showing at Paris Fashion Week (PFW). Each collection conveys a racy concoction of miniscule tops, see-through fabrics, floor-length cuts, and contemporary punk.

    Based in Shanghai and Paris, the brand was founded in 2019 by Xuzhou-born creative Di Du, a graduate of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. It went on to show six times on the PFW schedule.

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    Didu’s collaborations have included the likes of multi-brand e-commerce retailer Mytheresa, LA's H Lorenzo, Milan-based brand AD Milano, Chinese concept store ENG, and most recently, New Balance, with a clothing collection set to be launched later this year.

    The 2022 Yu Prize finalist is finessing an elegantly grunge aesthetic that is gaining traction among Gen Z style-setters in China and all over the world — the two million posts hashtagged #Didu on Xiaohongshu point to that influence.

    She discusses each different markets’ characteristics, and what it means to be a female Chinese designer in 2024.

    Di Du closes for her eponymous brand's Fall 2024 show. Photo: Didu
    Di Du closes for her eponymous brand's Fall 2024 show. Photo: Didu

    Jing Daily: When did you first know you wanted to be a fashion designer?

    Di Du: It was when I was in high school. I chose art because I was very into painting. Then I think I watched a random TV programme explaining how designers travel all over the world, and then translate it into their collection. I don't even remember the name of the designer, and I don't even think he's like any great designers. But I was fascinated by all the traveling, imagination, and everything. I was like, oh, wow, I want to become a designer.

    JD: Was there a lot of fashion around you when you were growing up in China?

    DD: Not at all. I'm from a really small city, nothing like Shanghai or Guangzhou. I think that gave me a need to express myself differently. I remember even when I was around 13 years old, I was rebelling and was into punk, and didn't want to listen to the teachers. My bedroom was totally black and I started wearing my dad’s shirts to school; it was like the vibe of Balenciaga now. I was doing well academically though, so I could get away with not really listening, and rebelling.

    My mom was also my fashion icon, because she works in court. So, everyday she was wearing a uniform. In my hometown, all the women were wearing floral prints and dresses, whereas her uniform was a dark blue suit. I was really obsessed with her uniform. I think my mom is so cool because she just dresses so differently, and I found that empowering, so I wanted to create designs that empower women, I think because of her.

    JD: What are you most inspired by at the moment?

    DD: I’m inspired by a lot of things, even just like walking on the street. Like, yesterday, for example, I was walking for one hour on the street, taking pictures of all the door handles in Paris. I just find them very gorgeous. When I was in China, I wouldn't find daily inspiration like that. I love being away somewhere that I'm not too familiar with. And art and movies, I get a lot of inspiration from.

    Backstage at Didu Fall 2024. Photo: Didu
    Backstage at Didu Fall 2024. Photo: Didu

    JD: Which markets does your brand see the most interest from?

    DD: I think Europe. China, the US, and Europe are all rising. We get a lot of interest from Asia, like [South] Korea, and China, as always. Each country is so different. Japan is very into the kawaii aesthetic — it's very cute. China is a lot more commercial and a safer selection, like dancing and sport references. I think Europe likes more elegant pieces. The US market is more for celebrities, it's also very sexual and performative. Louder. It's all different.

    JD: What are the biggest challenges you face as a designer?

    Money. It’s the biggest issue for the whole human world. Everything is based on it. We talk about dreams, creativity, the show, but everything needs to be paid for. For me, it’s really hard to maintain creativity and to not cost too much.

    JD: Do you find being a woman in the fashion industry hard?

    DD: I think it's okay. I think it's not so bad because we have our sensitivity, which is a strength when it comes to creativity. But I do see men in the industry getting very good positions and women getting fewer. For example, I think there are a lot of male creative directors already. We don't see many women [in these positions] – it is a pity.

    JD: What is the key to longevity for a fashion label?

    DD: You just really have to love it a lot, so that you don't give up. Sometimes, there are barriers and you have to carry on, jump over them, or pass through, maintaining high energy because you love it enough. There are going to be so many small details that you hate, but you just have to do it because you love it.

    JD: What are your plans for 2024?

    DD: I've never been to LA, so I am planning to do an activation or pop-up there, and to have more exposure in LA, and also around the Korean market. It's really exciting there, so I want to check out Korea when I'm going back to Shanghai.

    • Xuzhou-born designer Didu is based between Shanghai and Paris, and has shown her sexually-charged grunge collections at PFW six times.
    • A Yu Prize 2022 nominee, Didu graduated from Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 2019 and launched her namesake label that year.
    • Didu’s brand collaborations include Mytheresa, AD Milano, Chinese concept store ENG, and New Balance.
    • She was inspired by her mother’s uniform for working in court, and went on to become a fashion designer in a small Chinese city, with a love of punk fashion, TV, and movies.
    • The designer notes stark differences between consumers in each market: Japan’s love of cute kawaii aesthetics; Europe's taste for elegance; China's commercialism; and the US' celebrity factor.
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