Susan Fang looks delighted. It’s hardly surprising — we’re meeting the day after her London Fashion Week debut. “This feels like a dream,” she gushes while ordering coffee. “I didn’t even believe it had happened until I saw the footage afterwards.”
Her show was, by all accounts, a standout on the schedule. Staged at a 1930s leisure center in Soho, the set (which she art-directed herself) featured giant bespoke inflatables, what she calls her “peace bubbles,” in signature marble prints which floated atop the covered pool. Lifeguards patrolled in logoed tees making sure guests were safe as they navigated the perimeter to find their seats. It made the perfect setting to see models in gauze-dresses so light they bounced and rippled like water.
In Fang’s skillful hands, fabrics do new things. Through the simple acts of tacking, weaving or beading, she creates movement and volume on the runway. She gives these techniques names like “air flowers” and “nuance silks.” Alongside such aesthetic concerns lies a dedicated business strategy. In our conversation, she regularly darts between the passion of an artist and the realpolitik of an entrepreneur.
Her career-defining bubble bag, for instance, is contextualized within a change in material conditions. “In China, everyone uses WeChat pay, so this means they carry less in the handbags and can use them more like jewelry.” This astute observation resulted in the production of a childlike accessory that is now synonymous with her label, and helped her secure a list of stockists that once included London’s Browns and Selfridges.
Of course, this is not her first rodeo in the city. Back when, in her words, “the world was a different place” (i.e. four years ago), she was featured on Fashion Scout’s One to Watch platform. A graduate of Central Saint Martins, Fang was eager to return to London once COVID-19 permitted and has been here since July in preparation for the event. This involved waking up at the grueling time of 3 a.m. daily to catch up with the mainland — and most importantly of all, her mum.
It’s Fang senior who does everything from managing production to creating the marbled prints on water. “I feel like I’m living my childhood again,” she laughs as I imagine her painting on water and hand-beading accessories. If it sounds twee, well, that’s because it is. But what’s so special about Susan is the wide-eyed authenticity she brings to her craft. Where else would you see, let alone hear of, a giant plastic ball called a “peace bubble full with good wishes”?
According to influencer platform Lefty, her quirky inflatables produced results. Bolstered by the support of influencers and KOLs, the London outing bumped her up to a top 10 brand ranking on Weibo with an EMV of $145,000 (1.2 million RMB). Chinese influencer Youjin Cui, who was at the show, explained that despite Fang’s early days in the industry, anticipation was quite high for this season. “After a few showcases at Shanghai Fashion Week and the collaboration with Zara, Susan now has a big name in the Chinese fashion industry.”
Expectations have been fueled by these collaborations, which have been key to her (and many of her contemporaries’) successes and have helped to commercialize her zero-waste brand (“they pay very well,” she discloses). These have run from local ones such as with Chinese fashion label Peacebird and phone brand Oppo to Fujifilm. Crocs sponsored her runway footwear and she has more in the offing too, including Uggs; more are currently in discussion including one with a luxury name.
Still, from talking to Fang, it feels like her whimsical designs are a deflection of her personal anxieties — everything from loss to the post-pandemic environment to a looming world war. In fact, despite her positivity, she is by her admission a pessimist. “Because I’ve moved so much, I’m constantly having a fear of saying goodbye to people, but all that time it was my mum who supported me. For me that strength is the light.” (Her collection is called Air Light.)
Given that Fang has moved so much, she’s acutely aware of being an outsider. But it’s precisely this kaleidoscope blend of cultures and ideas that allows her to be, as influencer and creative director of Møy Atelier Betty Bachz says, “such a breath of fresh air as a designer.”
So Fang is resolutely upbeat post-show and confident about re-energizing her stocklist, some of which fell away during the pandemic era because of complications from COVID-19 or the “difficulties of doing orders over Zoom.” More importantly, she is confident that she’s in this on her own terms.
“For me it’s not about selling or being commercial, it’s longer. I want to build a business step by step. Perfume, even furniture. My mum says, Susan, do things that are fun.” And for now anyway, it sure seems like she’s doing just that.