Andrea Jiapei Li's Fashion of the Future

October 31, 2016

Colton Lacy

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Walking into Dover Street Market New York for the first time in 2014, I was expecting to see walls covered with works by the founder, Rei Kawakubo, as an extension of her renowned Comme des Garçons line—and I did. Additionally, however, I stumbled across collections of up-and-coming designers, after venturing throughout the seemingly unending Garçons garb. Walking past a particular rack of clothes, boasting byzantine knots, neoprene blazers, and radical, geometric cuts, I came across an installation whose designer also made the clothes I had just skimmed by. The creator, Andrea Jiapei Li, was presenting her first collection, and the pieces, precariously floating beneath their hangers, were like textile sculptures. In proportion, color, and feel, Li’s pieces were wholly novel, and sheer marvels to behold. Li seemed to be pioneering a new take on womenswear, an ostensible approach to capture the playful, wistful romance of youth.

Recently graduating from Parsons’ Fashion, Design, and Society MFA program, Andrea Jiapei Li started her fashion career in her native China, reportedly as a judge for China’s edition of Project Runway. Fast-forward a few years, Li is now a seasoned fashion designer, being named a finalist for the H&M Design Award and a shortlist for Louis Vuitton’s LVMH Prize in 2015. Her graduate thesis collection was scouted by Dover Street Market in 2014, and her clothes have since garnered the attention of major fashion groups like VFiles and MADE.

Growing up in and around Beijing, Li’s interest in fashion originated in high school, citing lustrous photographs and fine textiles in fashion magazines as major players in her decision to formally study fashion design. Once in New York, Li became enamored with the city itself, decided to stay after graduation, and has since curated a glowing reputation for herself in the industry.

Li already had a taste of corporate fashion before launching her own brand in the last few years, as an intern alum of 3.1 Phillip Lim, Diane von Furstenburg, and Edun. Her first collection, however, was an overwhelming departure from these big brands’ collections. A feeling that would develop into a type of signature, Li plays largely on oversized, geometric design that make her clothes take on a space-wear look, pastel in palette, vast in architecture, and liberated in temper. Her first collection, “I Am What [I Am]” was what Li describes as a refiguring of things she does not like—like bows and stripes—into things she does like—ornamental combinations of designs. This can be seen in the evident hybrid of Korean hanbok, sauna sandals, boxer shorts, and ornate meshwear. Summed together, with bold blocks of color and large, dreamy textile cuts, Li creates something new, likeable, and self-emblematic.

With four collections post-thesis, Li has made an effort to move from an insular, theory-based approach to a more commercial one. This translation to the market has nonetheless remained faithful to Li’s go-to neoprene and feminine shades. Citing Dada, Calder, and de Chirico as her main influences, it is clear that Li is fascinated by the libertine or relaxed, refined by a certain understated elegance. Subsequent collections use catchy phrases that define the design behind the clothes. Through theme names like “Just Kids,” “So What,” and “Her Name is Dada,” it is clear Li ultimately de-formalizes her clothes through the dreamy angst of youth at the same time as she distances herself from crude, thoughtless casualwear. Perhaps her design can best be described as a spectrum from thoughtful basic-wear to fresh-faced formalwear.

The geometric silhouettes Li creates through oversized cuts, woven neoprene, and unicolor slabs make for the overall subdued femininity of wearable women’s architecture. Coupled with athletic slides or science goggles, Li’s designs avoid prescription to womenswear and instead speak to the power of self-decision. With superstar Rihanna already sponsoring her clothes, and singers Lady Gaga and Björk wearing her designs for events, Li has moved from subverting the traditional sportswear-formalwear dichotomy to making a brand for herself. Her praise as a designer of thoughtful, playful, proportional experiments has all been cultivated within the last three years. Still, Li looks forward to reproducing the current aesthetics of her brand while simultaneously producing innovative pieces for seasons to come. Li is planning to expand the commercial aspect of her brand, with an online shop hopefully coming soon. In the meantime, however, to shop her designs, visit her profile on VFiles,