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Without bizarre dresses, dyed hair, or multiple earrings, Kong Fanfan appears like an ordinary fashionable woman. No one would finger her for a fashion designer at first sight. However, a poster for Design Korea, a Chinese-Japanese garment size conversion chart, and several design drafts casually tacked to the wall remind visitors they are in a design studio.
Kong’s studio is not spacious, but clean and neat. Leaning against one wall is a sewing machine flanking a work table, on which lies some of Kong’s half-done work: CDs are strung together to create a futuristic “jade burial suit sewn with gold thread.” The opposite wall is packed with bookcases and clothing racks, and the space in between is narrow enough to allow only two people to pass by.
Kong was admitted to the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in 2002 and graduated in 2010 with a master’s degree in fashion art. Thanks to the eight years of study at China’s most prestigious art academy, her work is more artistic, like a synthesis of art, fashion, and design.
Kong’s design career began in 2006, when Lu Yue, then dean of the Fashion Art Department of CAFA, organized a graduate exhibition themed “Cheongsam of the 1930s,” sponsored by the popular brand Shanghai Tang. Kong’s creation, “The Eaten One,” astonished both her teacher and peers. Constructed with silver leather, her “half-tailored cheongsam” seemed far from a practical garment.
“I was thinking whether the cheongsam is only related to the human body through ‘dressing’,” Kong explains her concept while displaying supporting documentation on an iPad. “As a designer, I tried to break conventional form and use ‘integration’ to interpret the relationship between the cheongsam and the human body. My aim was to allow the culturally-saturated garment to become infused with the body. In other words, the human body is sculpted by history, and can also be destroyed by history.”
This bold creation was praised by Dean Lu Yue, who attributed Kong’s design to thorough contemplation of fashion art.
“Fashion art,” not frequently discussed in China, is a term that originated from the United States. Initially, fashion’s function as body covering was highly emphasized, so much so that it seemed art was completely removed from fashion. Later, rapid development of industrial modernization propelled the application of new materials. Today, fashion has outgrown conventional concepts of clothing, becoming a genre of art. Functionality has become less important, while artistic voice has emerged as a major focus.