For the love of fashion. Originally from southern China, jewelry designer Kiki Zhu in 2015 moved to Shanghai to set up her #Normal brand, a vehement vehicle using design and art to infuse a dose of fun and joy into a scenery of chaos. From golden pearls, 80s style and acrylic to qipao buttons… Temper brings you the depeche mode on Zhu!
Nailing a look sometimes requires a little help from your own personal style Jesus — i.e. a canonical accessory in jewelry. We’re not saying one must yield to the literally tough as nails punk powers that be/once were, but achieving a fine balance desires one to steer clear of the traditional and add some radical rock abnormality to your dressing discipline. Enter: Kiki Zhu’s #Normal brand.
Zhu’s design mosaic of opposing sober black ‘n white elegance and loud characteristic quirkiness — one for us to know and for you to find out! — trots out a genderless rock soul with an oversized edge. Like Dave Gahan in his glasses noir and golden boots, one must always over-do things a little. To prove the #Normal hype isn’t all hearsay (or 听说, if you will) …
Temper Magazine hits up Zhu in Shanghai and discusses standing out, shi (事) happenings and exaggerating!
“I enjoy and admire experimenting. I, for example, very much like Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde who in 2014 managed to create diamonds from polluted air.” Kiki Zhu
Living In The Now
The Temper and Zhu 666 — as it behooves the unorthodox.
Temper: Give us a little background, how did you get into art and design?
Zhu: I’ve been studying art since high school — I mean, who doesn’t like beautiful things?! Whether it concerns the smell of mom’s cooking, the shape of the dress she’s wearing, the sound of tree leaves waving in the wind… It’s art all around. I felt like I simply had no choice but to learn more about it; I had no choice but to learn how to draw them. And I am still learning.
I loved arts and crafts, was always putting something together, for example doll dresses. There was this 1997 Chinese movie called “Lawyer, Lawyer” [《算死草》], in which the protagonist sends his wife off to France to study law, yet instead, she opted to learn about fashion and design. I thought it looked like fun and so I became a fashion designer hehe. Given it always proved a difficult feat to find accessories I really liked, I set out to create my own! And thus #Normal came to life.
Temper: Ambiance and inspiration.
Zhu: The ambiance and the people surrounding me are my inspiration. There are just so many creative people and outside-the-box designers trotting the globe — just think Maison Martin Margiela, among others. Margiela’s work is very experimental, simple and delicate. I also very much like Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde who in 2014 managed to create diamonds from polluted air! [Speaking of pulling things out of thin air…]
The first time I saw actual single Roman letters used as jewelry was probably on “Sex and the City” — yes, I’m referring to Carrie’s eponymous necklace. Nonetheless, when I started looking for the Chinese character version of this concept, it was nowhere to be found. I out there. The Chinese [written] language has such solid rich culture behind it, I had no choice but to “go there”! Furthermore, given that in our culture we don’t really show emotion, the first Chinese characters I did were the “喜怒哀乐” [happy, angry, sad and laughing], helping people to display their mood of the day.
Gold remains more of a Western thing and it was only around the time of the Industrial Revolutions that the jewelry scene started incorporating an increased level of metals.
Stringing Together Past And Present
Temper: Do you ever draw “juju” from China’s minority techniques?
Zhu: In creating my pieces, I observe, feel and then sketch — before getting to the process of actual creation. I do indeed apply a number of traditional Chinese techniques, such as using a “盘扣” (qipao button) to craft a modern earring.
Temper: Gender accessorizing.
Zhu: It’s all different; man, woman, children…. Inspiration is omnipresent, and so is the clientele. Anyone can be the wearer of the jewelry I design. I do sometimes make more special pieces for special friends hehe.
Unlike the West, China displays some major gaps throughout its 20th Century past. Standing out is a difficult thing for us to do, but at the very least we’re trying!
Future Fashionable Contributions
Temper: The New Made In China. Mandatory.
Zhu: Things are changing everyday and I’ll go with the jewelry angle to answer this question. China boasts a long history for the love of jewelry; the majority of people to this day do still favor pearls, smaller gold and jade artifacts….But change is a coming! Young people are starting to crave that feel of standing out from the crowd which makes for a very exciting designer environment and source of inspiration; anything goes!
Gold is still rather more of a Western thing and it was only around the time of the Industrial Revolutions that the jewelry scene started incorporating an increased level of metals. I personally love the 1980s [we hear that!]. This was the time that China started to open its mind and accessory design started to employ different materials such as acrylic; all in super-exaggerated fashion! I actually once made an acrylic disco ball. Wonder where that one went…
Temper: How do you see the China Fashion scene evolve?
Zhu: Because China is still in full developmental swing, things are happening. Changes occur everyday, but the young often need to guide the “old”. During my mom’s time, people often had no food, no (higher) education, no “fashion”… Unlike the West, China displays some major gaps throughout its 20th Century past. Standing out is a difficult thing for us to do, but at the very least we’re trying! And that’s one wonder-full development [achievement, even] in itself.
The new legion of post-80 and post-90 Chinese photographers, artists and designers reflect a shift in China’s cultural Zeitgeist. They play a very important role in Chinese art , music and fashion. They had nothing to work with but that gap (or emptiness) — left by the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976] –I mentioned earlier on. Even their parents won’t discuss those days of the harsh past. I myself remember the news reports of mothers handing out flowers to the new high school graduates — a token of pride because they themselves often had never had the chance to complete any form of education. The post-80s and post-90s, being the only children we are, have been granted much freedom to learn, to express ourselves. We have become the bridge connecting old and new, East and West.
A final piece of Zhu advice: When accessorizing, go simple! If you’re decked out in prints or patterns, just add one simple ring or one pair of earrings or punk studs. On the opposite end of the dress code spectrum, if you wear a uni-color outfit, bear a big earring in order to stand out. Temper feels you!
Follow Kiki Zhu on Instagram: @theonebykiki
All images come courtesy of #Normal by Kiki Zhu
Copyright@Temper Magazine, 2017. All rights reserved
After tackling Beijing for some six years where she worked for China International Publishing Group, she spent a moment in time moseying down steep alleyways and writing about their fashionable and underground features in Hong Kong.
Van Paridon most recently managed to claw her way through a Europe-based academic endeavor called "Journalism". 'Tis in such fashion that she has now turned her lust for China Fashion/ Lifestyle and Underground into a full time occupation.
Van Paridon hunts down the latest in Chinese menswear, women’s clothing, designer newbies, established names, changes in the nation’s street scenery, close-ups of particular trends presently at play or of historical socio-cultural value in Chinaplus a selection of budding photographers.
Paired with a deep devotion to China’s urban underground scene, van Paridon holds a particular interest in the topics of androgyny, the exploration of individuality and the power that is the Key Opinion Leader (the local term for “influencers”) in contemporary China.
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