for designer kingkang chen, fashion is a liberating dream

Crossing continents to pursue your true passion.

by i-D Staff
10 June 2016, 3:35am

Photography Agnieszka Chabros

From small beginnings in a Chinese Village, designer Kingkang Chen now calls New Zealand home. As a child, who was never without his sketch book and who'd dress up whenever he had the rare chance to discard his strict school uniform, his journey has been one of sheer will, all in pursuit of doing what he loves. Since graduating, Kingkang has developed a unique sense of cultural dualism, rather than appropriation, in his work. For him fashion is a way to help change attitudes towards gender and marginalisation, with the ultimate aim of reaching a place of purity. 

What inspired your move from China to New Zealand?
In the small district of Tianjin, where I lived in China, there was no fashion, no art galleries or museums at all. I came to New Zealand for fashion.

Were your parents supportive of your plans to study and practise fashion in Auckland? 
My parents actually sent me to study Business at the University of Auckland but when I elected a design course and won a top student prize they were understanding when I transferred. The one thing I was sure about was that fashion was my dream. I love that I can create a heaven, a wonderland in my collections. I can create a new nation in my works. I can escape from the real world and live in a story that I want to tell. And I think because my passion has led me to win numerous awards throughout my study, my parents now see that I can do well in fashion. 

What's the story behind your latest collection?
The Dada manifesto was the most important inspiration for my collection. I wanted to use this collection to find out who I am by striking a balance between conforming to society and preserving a sense of self-identity. The fusion of my culture in my life naturally brings about a unique aesthetic. I wanted to combine the Eastern zen mood and romanticism, with Western subcultures and a rebellious sprit to express and vent my emotions.

This collection includes a mix of editorially-inclined pieces and more wearable pieces. Is this a conscious balance and do you have a favourite piece?
I am a person full of contradictions. As you can tell from the collection, I am not a big fan of repeating the same pattern in different looks. The oversized jumper made of the dark red and silver cheerleading pom-poms has a lot of meaning for me as it is a reminder of when I used to make clothes with my best friends from cheap party store stuff. I made it to remind myself to keep a pure sprit and love for fashion.

Why have you made the collection unisex? 
Because gender for me is a very blurry thing. I don't feel much about it. I once loved girls, but came out as gay when I was 15 years old. I have a lot of LGBTI friends who will always be my muses. I'm inspired by people who just dress how they like no matter whether something has been assigned as menswear or womenswear. But my friends and I still get judged, it is so stupid. I aim to remove the tags. 

What are you working on now?
My new collection, which is called Straight Acting. It continues my conversation about gender, identity and personal stories, but in different way. 


Text Jamie-Maree Shipton
Photography Agnieszka Chabros
Styling Jamie-Maree Shipton
Hair & Make up Kate Radford
Models Chai & Caleb @ Folk Collective, Mercy @ Fivetwenty Management

kingkang chen