With her “fairy” aesthetic, Susan Fang is taking fashion into new, and ethereal, dimensions. In doing so she has become part of a sisterhood of designers (that includes Molly Goddard, Simone Rocha, and Cecilie Bahnsen), who are creating unapologetically feminine looks for the female gaze. (At the other end of the spectrum is the growing group of women designing “sexy” clothing for women.) Fang implicitly attributes her affinity for frills and flourishes to fourth wave feminism. “I felt like maybe now we don’t have to use our exterior to prove that we’re equal,” she said on a Zoom from Shanghai, “or it doesn’t have to be something on the surface anymore, and it feels safe enough to just do what we like, like wearing soft clothes wouldn’t mean that we are soft inside.”
The designer certainly proved her chops with her spring collection. By applying her light touch to a wider repertoire of materials she underlined the strength of her vision. Air is the element Fang has harnessed, mainly through her air flowers technique (the designer cuts strips of fabric onto which she layers, folds, and stitches more fabric into blooms, creating ribbons of dimensional blooms that can be attached together). She also makes use of transparency, laser-cutting, and spray paint to capture the ephemerality of flowers, the movement of insects and jellyfish, and even water bubbles (see her 3D printed bags).
For fall, Fang turned some of her flower strips upside down so that they float like butterflies. She created a marble print (think: paint floating on water) because “we wanted the prints to be less controlled,” and made much use of elastic smocking, because “we always want the garment to feel very free.” Fang uses color and texture as a painter might, and this season’s combinations of smocking and air flowers and of smocking and featherlight knits were winning, while offering a viable alternative to the ever-popular mesh look. The key look is the pairing of a smocked air flower dress with a quilted underskirt. Touches of faux fur also add warmth to the collection.
Inspired by her first heartbreak, the making of Fang’s spring collection was, as she put it, “a self healing process.” Having passed through that transitory state, fall finds the designer steady on her feet, and quarantined at home. In turn, this is a collection one can grab onto; it’s more present somehow, closer to the skin, and perhaps to other modes of existence and connection. During its making the designer woke up from a vivid dream thinking, “maybe in the future our souls can be more free, and then we will be able to turn into the physical form of insects, or jellyfish, or just the wind itself. And then, through those experiences we’ll be more understanding, or we’ll have more empathy, and then we’ll just grow more love for each other.” Given the current news cycle that imagined Eden seems ever more distant, but Fang’s work keeps the dream alive.