XX + XY: Why Not? Chinese Designer Launches Unisex Line in SF

Categories: Fashion

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Photo credit: Jimmy Wang
If I had a shiny nickel for every time panic paralyzed my boyfriend's face when I asked, "is this belt too '80s with these earrings?" I could buy solid gold Blahniks that would make a cross-dressing King Midas salivate.

Tackling gender-bender style that deftly combines the finest of masculine and feminine forms is a new unisex fashion collection "Mute" -- by fashion designer Joanne Lu -- a recent San Francisco import from China that is trying to collapse the boundaries between male and female apparel.

"Mute" was just showcased at "Beyond Rationalism" last Wednesday at La Galleria Cafe alongside four Taiwanese designers (Kai Jie Huang, Regina Liang, Ching- Lun Hsieh, and Frank Tsai) who focused their own design work on the nature of "conflict."

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Fashion designer Joanne Lu
Lu first began fashion design in 2005 toggling between menswear and womenswear, following in the wake in what she considers a kind of cultural and stylistic Renaissance in 1990. Prior to the early '90s, China was "rather closed-off," Lu says, shirking the avant garde or active cross-pollination with other countries.

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Model Frida Thomsen struts her stuff wearing the Muse collection. Photo Credit: Liaoyi Wang
As flannel and Nirvana-printed shirts clad our bodies, fashion magazines were beginning to trickle into China's mainstream offerings -- and Lu found herself pining for the latest looks.

"My aunt was very curious and she would buy all the magazines -- like Vogue and Elle and then she would give them to me. She really introduced me to fashion. About how to show your personality from your style."

While Lu was initially steeped in the American trends propagated from the proverbial fashion glossies, she has since developed her own concept of what it means to be fashionable.

"Fashion is not a thing that you 'have to have'. Fashion is not about being 'up to date.' It's about a statement and an attitude. It's about finding something that matches your soul."

Despite the fact the Lu's pursuits were rather unorthodox for her family -- both her parents are doctors -- the fledgling designer says she attributes much of her success to her parents who supported her as she pursued her dream.

"My parents have no interest in fashion," Lu says laughing. "But I have. But my parents and I overlap in that we're all very responsible about the things we're in charge of and focused on details."

"Mute" was designed to be largely androgynous -- combining unlikely materials like silk and wool or jersey and cotton -- as means to create texture and straddle the concepts of "hard and soft."

"Mute is the attitude and the statement that I have for my life. You are quiet, but fast. You don't have to tell everybody what you're thinking or going to do, but you always have your own direction."

Lu believes that in this era people are tired of the "clean boundary between male and female. I want to tell the public [gender] is no longer something you can define in one way."

Her palette is arguably rather masculine -- highlighting charcoal grays against stark blacks -- but the lines are decidedly feminine, using draping, delicate details.

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Photo credit: Jimmy Wang. Sytlist: Isabella Zhao
Lu explains her aesthetic adventurism stems from experiencing both Shanghai and Hong Kong in her upbringing, which fostered an abiding acceptance of many different ideas. She was drawn to the United States -- and especially San Francisco -- to launch her fashion career because she believes it's a country that celebrates new concepts.

"I think America is a country where foreign and international people come together." I think it'd be hard to launch a fashion line in China, they're not into the brand new ideas. Asians can have very traditional minds."

Lu not only believes in pushing the boundaries of fashion, but gender roles and our own personal boundaries as humans.

"When we're born and grow, your parents tell you, 'you're a girl, do something a girl should do.' People are already designing your life for you. And often, you just keep going this way without deciding yourself. I thought, 'why don't we try to do something outside of this, something in the middle. Something powerful and strong and independent."

Because some days you're from Mars and some days you're from Venus. Or in Lu's case, sometimes your both.

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