Zhou Xue Ming explores otherworldly structures and techniques in his crafty hair designs
Land on the Instagram account of Zhou Xue Ming and you’ll be instantaneously enamoured, scrolling and pausing – with curious hesitation – as you start to question the process behind each of his creations. A hair designer by title, Shanghai-based Xue Ming is more of an artist-stroke-wizard as he expels his craft on the artful placement of a do, from the decoratively lavished to the perfectly coiffed. Proving that there’s more to hair than hair itself, Xue Ming has been working in the industry for almost 10 years now. And ever since his first hairdo, he’s since been published on the covers of Nylon China and Modern Weekly Style, and has collaborated with an abundance of makeup artists, from Shuo Yang at Jonathan Makeuplab to Yooyo Keong Ming.
Xue Ming’s impact is mammoth, not least in the creative application of colour but also in the use of materials. It’s not just hair that’s incorporated into these designs, for there’s also the unexpected addition of metallics, wires, peacock-like feathers, spikes or a material that appears like the cracks in a frosted lake. With a vast “enthusiasm for artificial hair”, he tells me, it’s no surprise that his portfolio succeeds in pushing the boundaries as to what can be worn on the top of a head. Sadly, we’re not going to be getting any answers as to how he makes his pieces – “this is my little secret” – so instead, we invite you to marvel and leave the methodology to the imagination.
One of the most recurring motifs of Xue Ming’s is the periwig, known as a highly styled wig worn on formal occasions, often sported by judges or barristers as part of their professional attire. Explicitly artificial, these wigs usually tend to have unmissable height and weight to them, placed atop a head in a composed and careful manner. The periwig was most popular from the 17th to the early 19th century, typically composed from long hair with curls on the sides. The colours are usually dyed in more realistic hues, whereas Xue Ming’s are quite the opposite.
In fact, Xue Ming’s take on the periwig is widely juxtaposed with the more traditional concept of the wig. In one design, the hair appears like an explosion of fireworks with its vibrant yellow tones and splaying textures – the type that makes you want to reach out and touch, even though it looks like it could burn you. Others are more multi-toned and soft, displaying a palette of blush pink, sky blue, purple and sunshine yellow; while some – with pointy edges similar to a sea urchin – look completely unwearable. Or so you’d think. Not too long ago, the designer worked with a “young lady called ‘Princess’”, wherein he was “pasting posters with ‘princess’ cartoon images to prepare the periwig”. He ended up covering the entire periwig with these posters; “I was really interested to see the result”.
The work is a wonderful merging of old and new, where traditional headgear has been transformed, warped and lavished in the modern style and technique of Xue Ming. You can easily see some of the silhouettes being worn in the past, most likely the Regency era, while others are drawn from a far-reaching trend found in the future. Perhaps he’s ahead of his time, and world of hair might become little more creative in the years to come.
What role does fashion play in society? A new exhibition at Antwerp’s ModeMuseum explores
Fashion is a mirror of society, often reflecting the shifts in attitudes, ideas, tastes and preferences that evolve throughout the years; it’s a Zeitgeist. An early example harks back to the hemline, with skirt lengths shortening along with the fight for women’s rights and equality. While in more recent times, the influx of globalisation and the internet – and thus the immediacy of information and access to goods – has also altered our perceptions and ideals of identity, meaning that, on the one hand, fashion choices have become more liberal, conscious and sustainable, while the other is quite the opposite (taking fast fashion into account). Then there’s health crises, a pandemic, economic inequality and social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo signalling to a change in a global society. But what is fashion’s role amongst it all, and where does it sit in the recent world?
Posing this very question is a new exhibition titled E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition. Presented as part of the reopening of ModeMuseum (MoMu) in Antwerp – which opened its doors on 4 September – the exhibition is curated by Elisa De Wyngaert and features works from Helmut Lang, Walter Van Bierendonck, Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, Hussein Chalayan, John Galliano, Raf Simons, Versace and more. A time capsule of sorts, E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition, looks at how fashion has “served as a visual signifier of contemporary instabilities, concerns and emotions since the 1990s,” explains Kaat Debo, MoMu’s director and chief curator. Below, I chat to Kaat about the role of fashion and how it can evoke real change.
What does emotion mean in the context of this exhibition and in the wider sense of fashion?
The choice for the title E/MOTION was motivated by a need for genuine emotion. Over the past 18 months, we’ve all had to work, live and create from home and a large part of our lives took place online. Also, designers have been forced to work digitally because of the pandemic. We wanted to research whether there’s place for genuine emotion in a digital world. We felt the need for real human interaction and the wish to integrate a live aspect in the exhibition, which is difficult within the static context of a (fashion) exhibition. We invited director, performer and countertenor Benjamin Abel Meirhaeghe, in collaboration with the opera house in Antwerp (Opera/Ballet Vlaanderen) and the exhibition designers (Jan Versweyveld & HuismanVanmerode) to create a live performance for the exhibition. A challenging but also very exciting experiment.
In order to reflect on the future of fashion, as well as on the recent past, we conducted numerous interviews with fashion students and established designers during the pandemic. The designers gave their personal views on a wide range of subjects: what impact does the digital (r)evolution have on their creativity? Are fashion shows important? Can fashion evoke genuine emotions? What is the importance of craftsmanship, local production and sustainability? And what do you hope for the future? Fragments of these interviews formed the basis for this performance, that will be the closing installation in the exhibition. The performance will be brought 20 times during the entire exhibition period (September – January).
Fashion has long mirrored certain shifts in society. Can you tell me a bit more about this, and how fashion responds to particular events?
Over the last three decades, we have borne witness to unprecedented globalisation, which has had its impact on the creation, production, dissemination, communication and consumption of fashion. More than ever before, it has pushed fashion into the barriers of its own complex system and made it a stage for international political crises, from the Gulf War in the 1990s to terrorist attacks at the start of the new millennium, as well as for financial crises and recessions, the ecological crisis, and such health crises as the AIDS or the current Covid-19 pandemic. Fashion always reflects the prevailing zeitgeist, from social and economic inequality to global social movements, including Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. How have these evolutions impacted the way we see and perceive emotion, success, beauty, creativity, authorship and collaboration? And how has the role of the fashion designer changed in all this upheaval? Some examples…
90s recession: Against a backdrop of recession, a deflated job market and pessimism about the future among the younger generation in the 1990s, the Heroin Chic look became popular in fashion imagery. Fragile-looking models with messy make-up and drugged expressions appeared not only in photography, but also in fashion shows. The emergence of the look was linked to the Junk Culture of contemporary movies about addiction, such as Trainspotting (1996). The embrace of heroin and unhealthy body images in fashion drew vitriol. After the turn of the millennium, the Heroin Chic look was replaced by a tanned, toned and – in contrast to its predecessor – ‘healthy’ looking body.
Health crises: Our fear of death and disease during the past three decades has been further fuelled by various epidemics and pandemics, including HIV, swine flu and Covid-19. These health crises also affected the fashion industry. In the early 1990s, Benetton, the Italian fashion brand, ran controversial advertising campaigns referring to the AIDS crisis; while Martin Margiela created t-shirts for charity to encourage open conversations about AIDS; and Walter Van Beirendonck included rubber pieces as protective shields and printed messages about safe sex in his activist collections. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the face mask has emerged as a symbol of the crisis.
Terrorist attacks: The euphoria of entering the new millennium ended abruptly in September 2001. The repercussions of the terrorist attacks in the USA were complex, violent and disruptive, changing the course of world politics. The attacks occurred on the fourth day of New York Fashion Week, making fashion journalists the first to report them. Though incomparable to the tragic loss of life, the financial impact of 9/11 forced many independent designers to file for bankruptcy or to look for outside investment. Another challenge occurred when, against the sudden trauma of 9/11, some of the Spring-Summer 2002 collections were reinterpreted by the press and buyers as inappropriate and insensitive. Some fashion photographers faced the same issues when a few editorials had to be cut at the last minute. In these, models were depicted falling from buildings or looked like survivors covered in dirt; they suddenly seemed too close to reality.
Military references in fashion were often in direct response to pervasive images in the news about war and terror. In the last two decades, a series of terrorist attacks in European cities led to increased military presence. The surreal experience of encountering soldiers in camouflage uniforms – previously out of context in cities – heightened a sense of unease and fear. Directly or indirectly, these ongoing emotions of anxiety and terror prompted fashion designers to investigate the dichotomies between feeling protected and feeling threatened, between soldiers and female warriors.
Can you give an example of what’s involved in the exhibition and how this relates to the theme?
One of the exhibition themes is dedicated to the digital evolution and the internet. In this theme, we present a chiffon Versace dress, that was worn by Jennifer Lopez in 2000 during the Grammy Awards. People all around the world Googled her photo. This sudden peak in the search for a specific image was the reason Google Images was invented. The look became a metaphor of the ever more powerful symbiosis between fashion and celebrity culture. Twenty years later, Jennifer Lopez appeared on the Versace runway in this very dress.
What can the audience learn from this exhibition?
I hope the exhibition will inspire and move our visitors, as well as provoke conversation about fashion culture and its impact on society.
E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition is on show at MoMu from 4 September 2021 – 23 January 2022
Fashion designer Margaret Howell and photographer Alisdair McLellan reveal a new exhibition, which will show off the fruits of a 13-year long collaboration
For five seasons, Margaret Howell’s love for the varied landscapes of Britain and the clean simplicity of modernism have been encapsulated through the lens of British photographer Alisdair McLellan. Now, or the first time, the pair will exhibit 40 images from the 13-year long collaboration in a specially curated show.
The partnership, which began in 2004, has been shaped by Howell’s “very distinct vision of the British Isles” suggests McLellan. “She loves it when the weather is typically British and isn’t bothered when we’re shooting if it’s raining in summer, or sunny in winter,” he says. “She understands that this is the way the country happens to be and goes with it. Margaret prefers to shoot in black and white too, which is brilliant.”
“I know what I want our photo campaigns to achieve and Alasdair knows how to achieve it,” Howell adds. “His judgment, vision and tenacity make for a valuable partnership.”
Since they first began working together, McLellan has produced over 40 photographs for Howell, all of which capture the brand’s hallmark aesthetic of quiet, contemplative beauty. Celebrating the diversity of Britain’s geography, the images were shot at a plethora of unassuming locations, including Wensleydale in North Yorkshire, Devils Dyke in East Sussex and, for SS17, the historic seaside town of Hastings.
McLellan’s images will be exhibited at Margaret Howell, 34 Wigmore Street, London, from 17 February – 19 March. The exhibition will coincide with Howell’s first combined AW17 menswear and womenswear runway presentation at London Fashion Week.