Susan Fang’s surreal bubble accessories remind us that nature connects us all
The designer’s latest collection takes us on a journey into the mountains of Xinjiang, in Northwest China.
There are never-ending patterns in nature called fractals that go often unseen to the human eye. For designer Susan Fang, this repetition inspires not only her pieces but her hope for humanity, as the natural world connects us all. Originally from China, Susan Fang spends half her time in London, where she studied fashion at Central Saint Martins, and half her time in Shanghai, where she is currently, working on her namesake brand. Her latest lookbook for her collection is a journey through snowy Xinjiang, in Northwest China.
“In fashion, everyone is trying to do something that is meaningful, so I became curious [while studying at Central Saint Martins] as to what everyone thinks is beautiful,” Susan tells i-D. “Then, while traveling, I saw this very beautiful tree with wind blowing all the leaves. There was rhythm, repetition and light, and I realized nothing can surpass this because this is nature itself.” Susan graduated in 2017 and launched her brand, after she spent time working for Kei Kagami, Céline and Stella McCartney.
She has been creating her signature glass bead accessories for a few years now. Initially inspired by the bubbles she saw in the water while diving, she hand beads the headpieces, jewellery, and bags with her mom, her childhood art teacher and her auntie. Purposely transparent, she views them as incomplete until they’re worn on someone -- as the wearer fills the piece with their own personal items, the colors will show through.
After shooting last season’s collection in Yushu Qinghai, Susan decided to photograph her lookbook against the icy backdrop of Xinjiang, having the local Tibetan people model her newest pieces. The snow, she hoped, would be a change of scenery for a spring/summer collection. Susan, her photographer Charles Guo, and her stylist Fiona Cheng, knocked on doors and visited schools to find their models. “We were there for a week, but it was so cold that people were staying indoors,” she says. “We had to knock on the doors of these people who are living inside the mountains.”
Because the models are all local to the area, the lookbook seemed to unfold rather than be forced or overly planned. Susan can explain a small story behind each image, which she does so with a nostalgic look as if she’s reminiscing about a treasured family holiday. She was led into rooms to use as photo backdrops and welcomed by families, with one even asking her to stay and be their son’s wife, offering her sheep and horses.
This willingness to not plan every detail is also something Susan allows for in her design process. Her accessory shapes are grown organically, freestyling without a pattern until they’ve reached a state she’s happy with. She’s also created a special fabric called “AirWeave”, which allows the fabric itself to float between two and three-dimensional realms and fit literally any body. This collection is built off minimum fabric and waste. Since it’s designed entirely using one fabric, Susan created multiple different prints to diversify the pieces, often using leftover printed strips from last season to continuously upcycle her own designs.
Susan’s exploration as a designer is a result of her innate curiosity about nature and humans. Moving around a lot in childhood, from Shanghai to Canada to the US and, eventually, to London, Susan often felt like a loner. “When you are growing up, you’re trying to understand the world but you are going through so many changes so it’s quite emotional. I always loved art, so I’d channel that into drawing or fine art, and it made me curious about things like why people are judgmental about different cultures or different perspectives,” Susan explains, noting that she was often the only Chinese person in her classes.
This innate curiosity is something Susan is not willing to commercialize, explaining that there’s a danger as a designer in compromising away your usual excitement. This is something she’s witnessed happening to older classmates. Instead, like her designs, Susan plans to let her brand evolve organically. With a growing wedding market, she’s experiencing a higher demand for wedding headpieces, after creating her first wedding dress last season. She also wants to develop a smaller couture line.
No doubt, Susan will develop as a smaller brand in a way that feels natural to her, inspired by the natural world around her. With that core excitement for the repetition and rhythm of our environment, she gracefully braces for what’s likely the most uncertain time for a young designer in recent history. In the middle of global lockdowns, you’ll find Susan creating pieces with her Mom and speaking about the books in the library that she loves, her glass pieces an important reminder that everyone on earth is connected by a series of never-ending patterns.