Meet Cardi B’s favorite Chinese designer, Rui Zhou

    Loved by Victoria’s Secret and Adidas, Rui is the designer driving the cutout womenswear trend. She talks to Jing Daily about her journey so far.
    Rui Fall 2024. Photo: Rui
      Published   in Profile

    Cobweb-esque, cutout bodycon fashion would never have gained momentum in womenswear if it was not for Rui Zhou. Hailing from Hengyang in Hunan Province, the now Shanghai-based designer has built a cult following all over the world for her sensual, sex-positive collections.

    Each design serves as a second layer of skin, with the body becoming part of the outfit itself. Since launching her eponymous brand in 2019, the winner of the LVMH Special Prize 2021 and mainstay on the Paris Fashion Week schedule has made holey fashion mainstream. As a result, her instantly recognizable, sultry performance wear has been snapped up by major brands.

    That bold identity was championed by Victoria’s Secret for the brand’s first-ever Chinese designer collection last year. Despite being for the China market only, the line gained traction on a global scale thanks to the Parsons graduate’s loyal international fanbase, which includes A-listers like Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa, and Tyla.

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    Adding another notch to her belt, Rui just announced a Spring 2024 Adidas capsule collection. In the lead-up to her sportswear debut, Jing Daily spoke with the founder about her brand and what it means to be a female Chinese designer in 2024.

    When did you first know that you wanted to be a fashion designer?

    “It was really late because I never thought that I would do fashion forever. I always wanted to do art and design. My bachelor’s degree was in textile design, then I changed my major to fashion design. I’m still unsure if I would like to do it forever or not. In school, we learned a lot about technique, the visual side, and how to appreciate arts and history as well.”

    When you were younger, what did you want to be?

    “Where I grew up in Hengyang, it was very small. In the whole city, we only had one KFC and one McDonald’s, and they were the only stores selling Western fast food. The only fashion knowledge was in a magazine or something. Not even a foreign publisher, but a Chinese publisher only. I didn’t really know much about fashion when I was young, but I really liked doing sketches in my notebook and drawing.”

    Rui won the LVMH Prize in 2021. Photo: LVMH
    Rui won the LVMH Prize in 2021. Photo: LVMH

    Your designs are quite daring considering that you weren’t surrounded by fashion growing up. Have you always wanted to express female sexuality?

    “Well, I stayed in my small town until the age of 17, then I went to Beijing for my bachelor’s degree. After that, I was in New York at Parsons. So every moment that changed my living space, I feel like my life changed and my mind changed. I think in my childhood, the aesthetic was more important, the visual side of fashion. Then later, I started to seek [out] my own personal aesthetics and philosophy, like my opinion of beauty.

    “Eastern culture really influences me [in terms of] how to express women’s beauty and celebrate the body. [As a result], you see very sexy pieces.”

    Rui Fall 2024. Photo: Rui
    Rui Fall 2024. Photo: Rui

    What has been your favorite moment of your career so far?

    “For me, it’s not about the highlight moments like winning the LVMH prize; it’s more that I have built my team successfully and done wonderful collections. But my favorite could be the feeling of being satisfied with work and life balance.”

    Which market do you see the most interest from?

    “Chinese people started to know us and were surprised that designs worn by celebrities were designed by a Chinese girl. I feel that it really brings [up] their confidence in the country — I can feel the impact. So people say they like our brand because they feel proud of us. We always celebrate the body and embrace imperfection, showing more diversity in the industry. That’s why people love us, I think.”

    Are your clothes widely accepted in China?

    “Yes. Nowadays, people feel more confident about showing their skin and body. Maybe before, people just wore our pieces to go to the club. But now they do a lot of layering for daily wear. And with our jackets and pants, we have categories that people feel comfortable wearing in the daytime or even for work.”

    What are the biggest challenges that you face as a designer?

    “I think it’s about how to balance the business and the art and fashion. [When collaborating], it can also be very hard to keep our identity at the same time as showing the other brand’s identity. So we have to keep both and then pick the interesting way, but still be practical and wearable.”

    What do you gain from these collaborations?

    “I learn how to market my own brand. I can always learn from how big brands do their marketing and function as a business through collaborations.”

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    Is expressing femininity important to you?

    “Yeah, I appreciate feminine design that is not only for women. LGBTQ+ groups love our pieces. We support drag queens and any group of people. It’s really open, and it’s really about showing the possibilities of identity there are in the world.”

    Do you feel like you have a responsibility to support LGBTQ+ groups coming from China?

    “In China, it's really hard because of the policy and everything, but we are just trying to be open. We are saying that we are open to every different type of body.”

    Do you see differences in how people approach your brand in China compared to other global markets?

    “US clients are more positive toward showing their skin, even sometimes without nipple covers — they’re so confident to walk on the street like that. But for other markets like Europe and China, they layer more, preferring to be more covered. They wear [our] pieces inside more and see it as more sexy in their culture.”

    What do you think is the key to longevity as a fashion designer?

    “Communicating with a community. Trying to not only be part of a community but also learn from the industry around you. You’re allowed to change your mind on a lot of things, but stick to the taste of your brand, and your brand will keep going for a long time.”

    • Loved by A-listers like Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Dua Lipa, Rui is a leading Chinese designer who has gained a cult following in China and around the world.
    • After graduating from Parsons in New York, Rui founded her namesake brand in 2019 and became a mainstay on the Paris Fashion Week schedule. Her distinct aesthetic of cutout bodycon pieces has made her a favorite among brands, from Adidas to Victoria’s Secret.
    • The designer notes differences between each consumer market: while Americans are confident about flaunting their bodies, European and Chinese shoppers prefer more conservative looks.
    • As independent designers like Rui invite creativity and cult communities to global brands, could this lead to new creative director roles in the near future?
    • New-generation Chinese designers are prompting a sex-positive revolution in mainland China, which is likely contributing to the update on China’s menswear identity too.
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