Rui Zhou’s designs focus on the tension and intimacy between the body and garments. The knitwear designer once told the CFDA, “The body changes the shape of the second skin.” A 2018 CFDA+ Design Graduate and a 2017 H&M Design Award semifinalist, Zhou takes a poetic, minimalist approach to fashion, making wonderfully conceptual pieces that adorn and elevate the female form.
Yesterday, during her NYFW fall winter 2020 presentation, her gauzy knits took the form of a spectrum of nude-coloured bodysuits with geometric cutouts and pearl details. Some were layered with pink and blue fabric on the arms or legs while other looks featured sculptural pieces that resembled the famous curvy shapes of architect Zaha Hadid. The models, who were all women of color and whose bodies represented a range of sizes, wore Reebok sneakers without socks. The shoes were also missing the tongue, a subtle detail that emphasized the contrast of the laces against bare skin while also mirroring her angular designs.
Taking place in what appeared to be a tiny apartment on the Lower East Side, the pack of models moved in subtle formations amidst a backdrop of fabric that mirrored the shapes of the body suits. The crowd and a band of photographers were packed into the room like sardines while the designer moved around the crowd with a trail of PR people following her. Stylist Rachael Wang, who served as creative director of the show, watched in the background. As someone who is a bit claustrophobic, the tight space wasn’t uncomfortable. Instead, it felt like we were equally part of the show. I realized that sense of belonging was a feeling I’m not accustomed to experiencing during fashion week.
Zhou’s process is intuitive. Rather than sketching, she knits textiles, creating pieces that feel sculptural or installation-like — what results is a glimpse into her inner world. One where thoughts and emotions are sacred, and the female form is cherished for its curves and imperfections.
According to the CFDA website, the former Parsons student and Alexander Wang employee was born in a small city in China where she became interested in Zen Buddhism and the Wabi-Sabi Japanese aesthetic — and these two things influenced the way she approaches her pieces by blending “security and protection” with “courage and vivacity.” For her, skin and fabric capture emotions and recall her close bond with the women in her family, a concept that reverberated during her intimate presentation yesterday where bodies were celebrated alongside the clothes.