“We hope the audience arrives at the event feeling like they’re entering into a scenic garden surrounded by flowers, organic shapes and sounds. Adding an element of interaction to the space, for example, guests picking flowers to take home increases the lure of the garden and spirit of freedom of the space.”
East London-based fashion boutique Shyness Space partnered with the Royal College of Art (RCA) this season for a presentation titled “SHINYGALS”. The presentation is open to the public from the 22nd of September to the 25th. Shyness Space is providing their space in Old Street to six RCA fashion graduates to curate, install their work and immerse the public in their innovative worlds. 5’ELEVEN” spoke to the founder of Shyness and the fashion graduates contributing to the event.
Firstly, we speak to the founder of Shyness, who has a unique take on fashion and believes in more diversity in luxury fashion. How does this affect the way you do business?
Shyness Space tries to do things our own way. Our intention is to become a platform that challenges the mould of what luxury fashion commerce is by championing diversity and emerging fashion talent from all corners of the globe. Since our inception, we have been cultivating relationships with graduates and newly established brands - this has been at the forefront of our values. We also have a strong appreciation for pioneering digital and physical art as an integral part of our identity.
What should people expect when they attend the Shyness Space x RCA event?
Shyness was established as an online fashion store. However, throughout the years we’ve had so many customers knocking on our doors wanting to see the store. The demand is clearly there and the truth is... we do have a five-story building that we can possibly turn into something. However, ideas kept evolving throughout the years, and we would like to keep it very exclusive and cosy by making it an appointment-only space. Our recent developments see us uniting creatives via private events and activating partnerships with cultural institutions and like-minded brands to join our journey. We hope the audience arrives at the event feeling like they’re entering into a scenic garden surrounded by flowers, organic shapes and sounds. Adding an element of interaction to the space, for example, guests picking flowers to take home increases the lure of the garden and spirit of freedom of the space.
Before this collaboration, how did you select the brands you wanted to work with and what criteria do you use when selecting partners?
Brand identity and values are important. Shyness also believes in the “Law of attraction’’ - there are certain elements of intuition within.
What would you like to say to new designers and graduates?
Follow your heart, not the trends. Breathe deeply and observe. Get inspired through little things. Be freely true to yourself.
With that advice ringing in our ears, we spoke to the six Royal College of Art (RCA) alumni contributing to the event: Bing Xiong, Ciccy Lyu, Erin Yang, Hanzhi Tang, Kaelan O’Neill and Shan Hua during the exhibition.
Bing Xiong is a fashion designer whose muse is herself. Having graduated from Central Saint Martins and completing her Fashion MA at Royal College of Art, her work has a self-explorative aesthetic that tells the sensual story of undressing. Parts of the body that society instructs to remain hidden are used as the main focus of her collection. These moments of vulnerability that we are told to keep behind closed doors take centre stage in her creative world as she explores modern femininity and sexiness of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Hi Bing, what influences you the most when it comes to art and fashion?
Everything about feminine sensuality inspires me. I think the message of the artist and fashion, rooted in thought, is my greatest source of inspiration. In my world, art and fashion are not only about appreciating beauty, it is equally important to send a message and it is an expression of values.
And is there any specific moment that is the inspiration of your collection for Shyness Space?
When I came home one day and I was in the process of undressing, I found a part of my body exposed that many people would say is a vulnerable moment. Yet, I found it to be a sexy moment. So, I captured that moment as my inspiration and made it code for a collection - to create a new aesthetic of sensuality.
Why do you think "size-inclusive" is so important when it comes to fashion?
Because as human beings, our bodies are also diverse. Fashion should be at the service of humanity, working to make the world a better place and making people more confident through fashion. If we restrict or dictate the aesthetics of a single size, this is effectively a negation of other body types. I think the importance of fashion in terms of size and inclusivity speaks to both its inclusivity and the value of fashion.
The Texan fashion designer Kaelan O’Neill’s route into fashion has been a somewhat unconventional one. First, graduating with a business degree and later pursuing a successful career within that industry, she chose to give it all up to follow her true dream of being a fashion designer. Much of her work centres around her personal experiences, often writing poetry or making sculptures as precursors to the fabrication of garments. Her collections and creations take shape in order to understand the "grey areas" of life: the moral ambiguities, those moments where conflicting emotions arise, and the uncomfortable parts of life.
You’re from Texas – what’s the difference between fashion and art between London and Texas?
I am from Houston, Texas and technically a suburb town called Friendswood. In London, they wear cowboy boots to be trendy, in Texas they wear cowboy boots because they’re actually cowboys.
You went to business school - has that changed your perspective of fashion?
Having gone to business school mainly revealed to me how incredibly poor fashion education is, and gave me a better perspective of why the fashion industry is in the state it is in. The problems that fashion companies face in the real world? We used those as example case studies in business school to understand how to navigate and problem-solve on an international scale.
Sustainability and the future of fashion is a key focus for Shyness – what does this mean for you?
I think sustainability is the future of fashion. I think the way that I work and make is inherently sustainable. I don’t make patterns or samples - I have very minimal waste. I work basically in reverse. Rather than cutting pattern pieces from the fabric, sewing them together, checking the fit, and then re-doing that whole process until it’s “right", I just drape straight from the fabric, adjust accordingly, and trim away the excess. More like a sculptor. The entire waste of my two-year MA could fit inside a shoebox. I like to give myself challenges - I limit myself to offcuts, discounted/clearance products, or donated scraps. Very rarely will I splurge on new fabrics off the bolt, and if I do, I only allow myself 2 metres. I think true design is working around limitations. There is so much to be done with what already exists, it’s just a matter of reframing what a fashion process is “supposed” to be.
The NFT and technology enthusiast accessories designer Hanzhi Tang explores the interactions we have daily with nature and how they may affect our moods, feelings and emotions. During her time at RCA, Hanzhi experimented with innovative materials and traditional craftsmanship to find out which textiles achieve the emotional resonance felt between humanity and nature. Many of her creations are self-explorative, drawing inspiration from reflections on puddles she has stared into or plants she has brushed past.
What inspires you the most in art/fashion?
In my designs, inspiration often comes from my life. I really like to try to feel my surroundings, being in the middle of a noisy crowd or on a quiet rainy day can inspire me.
How has your educational background influenced your approach to design?
Having studied industrial design at university, I was interested in learning about materials and thought it would be interesting to apply some of the techniques associated with the industry to the fashion sector. So, when designing in the field of fashion accessories, I also like to present my designs by looking for ways to combine new materials with fashionable traditional materials. I want to use natural materials combined with new industrial techniques to make the user feel their surroundings.
What is your point of view on digital fashion? Do you think this will affect how you create?
I am very interested in NFTs and in digital fashion. I think that this is the way forward for fashion and it will solve the conflict between fashion and the environment. I think that in the future I will present my accessories digitally, which will also avoid some of the difficulties of making products.
Shan Hua is an artist that combines a digital identity with fashion thinking in order to explore human existence and the symbiotic relationship we have with the environment. Her work is heavily influenced by her observation of the nature that surrounds her, the wind as it rustles through the trees or light creating reflections in the water.
Shaping these elements into individual characters that carry unique personalities, clothing and physical movements. They are sometimes gentle, sometimes merciless but they attract her like fate, everything loses relevance under such irresistible forces.
What is your inspiration for your contribution to the Shyness Space?
I contributed 2 pieces of work to this exhibition. My first piece “THEY” is about everything outside of me. I observed elements of nature and changed them from invisible elements to visible characters. My second piece, “I Can Hear You”, in an unfamiliar way is about everything inside of me. I observed myself and created 9 Metahumans based on the Enneagram system. These 9 Metahumans have different personalities, appearances and backgrounds, but are all myself.
What is your perspective on when fashion meets high-tech?
High-tech has been widely used in the fashion industry. Virtual clothes and models are just small part. AI can help fashion designers with pattern cutting and printing patterns. These programmes can calculate 100 clothing styles with pattern cutting in one minute. As far as I know, many companies are already proficient in sporting this technique.
Has the pandemic changed the way you create?
When I was studying at the RCA during the pandemic, I was taught online. I chose digital because I felt it was a more visual and less error-prone way of presenting my work. Also, at that time, many material shops were shut down and digital was the best way to get the desired effect. When I was able to achieve the desired result with less than half the budget pre-pandemic, I felt that there was nothing holding me back.
Erin Yang, born in North China, is an accessory and jewellery designer whose work explores themes of philosophy, space, psychology and - most importantly - culture through a digital and physical lens. Her design process is heavily influenced by the Chinese philosophy of focusing your spirit on nature which is used in the formation of Chinese gardens. This project investigates how healing spaces can be created in both Chinese and Western cultural contexts and compares and contrasts them.
Where did you grow up and has this had any influence on the collection you are showcasing in Shyness Space?
I am from Qinhuangdao, China, a seaside city with a history of over 2000 years. I also lived in Beijing for 5 years and now I live in London. I think most of my inspiration comes from traditional culture and sculpture. China has a long history and there is a lot of interesting art and philosophy to be discussed. I've always enjoyed looking at sculptures and installations, especially the ones made with new materials. They inspire me a lot in terms of shapes and craftsmanship. In Chinese philosophy, it is believed that when people focus their spirit on nature, they can feel the infinite changes of the universe and thus can forget about time and the worries of the moment. It is also widely used in the formation of Chinese gardens. According to Freudian psychoanalysis, in dreams one temporarily forgets the rational dichotomy of thinking and the suppressed subconscious is released and healed, which is also the basis of surrealism. The architects create utopian spaces - with light as the core, combined with colour and water to give a strong emotional experience, as if you were in a surreal world and forget the worries of real life. This project combines philosophical and spatial language, looking at how healing spaces can be created in both Chinese and Western cultural contexts, finding commonalities, and combining them in an experimental way.
If you have a chance to collaborate with a designer or a brand, who would you like to collaborate with?
I've always had a longing for the brand Aje - their bags are made with a lot of character. The combination of the metal handle and the leather or soft fabric of the bag body really appeals to me. And then there is the Austrian accessories brand Published BY. Their 3D printed bags have a sculptural beauty, and I always wanted to work with them.
My next step is to explore the possibilities of traditional embroidery techniques in fashion, and I will be interning at a professional embroidery studio to learn more. I really love traditional culture, including handicrafts. Although 3D and digital technology will become more popular in the future, I still feel that some handicrafts are irreplaceable. They need to be combined with fashion in a more creative way, which is what I want to explore.
Last, but not least, from Zhengzhou, China and now based in London, the multidisciplinary designer Ciccy Lyu presents her womenswear collection titled “Speak Slow”. Cissy's creative world grows freely in between the realms of fashion, architecture and furniture. Her work allows us to embark on a journey in search of a language that translates the fluidity of time into tangible materials which bear the memories of herself and her generation. The capsule collection she created is a quiet, sentimental celebration of time, memories and decomposition.
Does your cultural background inspire your art/fashion work?
It certainly does - although I try to avoid quoting cultural elements directly such as traditional embroidery. Yet the vibe, the societal influences and the memories here - whether I like them or not - have become part of me and provide fuel for my art and design practices.
Tell us about your collaboration with Shyness Space.
The collection is called “Speak Slow”. The original inspiration comes from my memory of stained architecture surfaces. Once in Zhengzhou, there were many residential apartments built between 1950-1990, and they all share similar style and structure under the influence of the Soviet Union (even when it ended), called Khrushchyovka. The surface of such architecture is usually made of brick with decoration of paint, which stains easily by rain and sometimes weeds take root in the bricks and grow wildly around the building. The stains, the weeds, the smell and the dystopian buildings formed my memories of my hometown. I left there when I graduated from high school. Every time I went back, even at the crossing I used to pass daily for school, I couldn’t recognise where I was. Most of the buildings had been torn down and replaced by new ones with glass or metallic surfaces. They don’t stain. I have grown a fear of such material. They could not bear the memory of people who lived there or the memory of the city. Everything seems to be moving forward. But is there a forward without the past? I couldn’t help but wonder if we are just repeating the same pattern like Sisyphus, always going forward only to get back to the starting point. This is why I created this collection with metal and knitted fabrics. I wish to create something that is a vessel of memory.
What does this collaboration mean to you?
I am very grateful for this opportunity. I have been a customer of Shyness for years. They have very good taste and I feel honoured to be selected by them to present during London Fashion Week. I am also very grateful that they are providing opportunities for young designers who’ve just graduated, which gives my works more exposure to the public and gives me confidence for my future career.
Discover the Shyness Space x Royal College of Art: SHINYGALS
Presentation from 22nd to 25th of September 11:00h - 17:00h
at 346 OLD STREET, LONDON EC1V 9NQ