Rui Zhou's knit lingerie explores our intimate relationship with skin
The Chinese designer's nude cutout bodysuits in her latest collection, 'Adrift', are a surreal celebration of all shapes, sizes and colors.
Photos courtesy of Rui Zhou.
On a Friday afternoon during New York Fashion Week, in a tiny apartment on the Lower East Side, an intimate presentation took place a few flights of stairs above the hustle and bustle. Against a geometric background created by hanging nude fabric shapes, and to the sound of elevator music, models wore knitted nude cutout bodysuits paired with sneakers that had the tongues cut out of them. It was designer Rui Zhou's latest collection, an exploration of the intimate relationship we have with our own skin.
The collection, titled “Adrift”, is only Zhou’s second presentation since graduating from Parsons’ MFA program in 2018, where she studied the space between skin and fabric, body and garment, and entities and boundaries. Born in a small city in the middle of China, she draws influence from Zen Buddhism and the Wabi-Sabi Japanese aesthetic. This, combined with the visually delicate collection, might be why the show was such a peaceful contract to more bold presentations held throughout the week. Observing the pieces felt like a kind of clothing meditation.
Speaking to Zhou is no different. As a designer, she takes on big, conceptual ideas and somehow conveys them with simplicity. Last year, her collection explored being in a long-distance relationship. This year, it’s all about feeling lost or “adrift”.
“I always travel from China to New York and sometimes I feel that I’ve lost myself, so this collection records this kind of state for this moment and my feeling of the journey,” she explains. “Sometimes I feel like I am roaming and wandering around a bubble-like outer space, but it makes me anxious and confused. But I enjoy living this lifestyle, being adrift in the big city, being around people with a diverse background, culture and temperament.”
While travel is clearly an ongoing theme for Zhou, her “obsession” with skin is the most central part of her emerging namesake brand. Like Wabi-Sabi, her interest in exploring skin through fabric comes from its imperfectness. Because of this, she uses knitwear with elastic in it to create an illusion of “second-skin”. “Skin is a very important element to protect us from the outside,” she says. “I want my clothes to be like this also.”
The pieces are designed to be worn as bodysuits and lingerie. The cut-outs make them somewhat impractical as outerwear, but wearability is something Zhou hopes to explore more in future collections. “I’m still in a very creative part of my design process, but I’m starting to think about how to make it more practical,” she says. “On one hand, I want to keep this creative spirit in my collections always, but on the other way lingerie is a big market with a lot of commercial potential.”
You can’t help but think of the burgeoning bodysuit market when thinking about the potential for Zhou’s designs, drawing comparisons to brands like “Skims”, the slightly less inspired shapewear line by Kim Kardashian. Where those brands lack innovation and cultural awareness, with Kim Kardashian getting backlash for first calling the venture “Kimono”, Rui Zhou finds the perfect balance of shapewear and exposed skin. The aim of the pieces is not to “suck you in” or help you conform to traditional female body shape standards, Zhou’s use of cutouts help to reimagine the body in a new way.
This rings true for her choice of casting also. Working with Rachael Wang, who served as creative director of the show, the range of models reflected the range of skin exploration: “We wanted curve models and models with different skin tones because that’s the point of it all. To explore all skin,” says Zhou.
As one of the most interesting lingerie designers out there, Zhou’s work also imagines a future where the bodysuit exists outside of the male gaze. Knitting unexpected and creative shapes together, we’re forced to consider the body’s complexities through the detached approach to cutouts. It seems that exposed knees and lower back shapes help us to celebrate the natural beauty of what Zhou is most passionate about: all types of skin in all its glory.