THE NOW Container
Ting Ting Zhang, creator of the Cloud HAT, and Gianfranco Villegas, founder of the SelfMade brand, offer an illuminating insight into the world into the industry of contemporary fashion, illustrating how the latest generation is able to move between seemingly distinct areas in order to find solutions, and make the most of the opportunities offered by technology.
conceived and curated by Linda Loppa
produced by NAM – Not a Museum
11 themed containers hosting a series of 11 conversations between notable figures from all over the world, with expertise in a wide variety of sectors, including fashion, design, science, art, and literature. A balancing act between opposing views to rediscover the joy of speaking together, with the moderation of Linda Loppa, curator of the project.
“The under-30 container”
“Fashion is a driver of happiness and beauty, not of vulgarity and ugliness; fashion is a noble activity, so let’s talk and save the future of fashion, dress, tailoring, production and fashion education. The NFContainer project can contribute to this debate by giving a space and a voice to the new generations. They will decide the content of this container.”
Speaking in the Now Container are two fashion designers who were born in the 90s, Tingting Zhang, creator of the i-Cloud Hat, and Gianfranco Villegas, founder of the SelfMade brand, providing a vivid insight into the contemporary fashion industry. Tingting Zhang effortlessly combines digital, data and internet culture with artisanal production in her line of hats, revealing a process that makes herself a container, a ‘cloud’ ready to adapt and move between different situations, from London where she was trained, to China where she was born and continues to work. Fashion designer Gianfranco Villegas, after being spotted by a Japanese distributor and launching his collection with a video influenced by the Gutai art movement, decided to focus on experimenting with fabrics and producing something that really made an impact, both conceptually and in terms of environmental sustainability, collaborating with his suppliers to invest in recycling. The freedom with which the new generation moves between various fields within the fashion system, influenced by art and the virtual world, is connected to a search for identity that starts with the individual and goes on to form a collective whole. Who are we? What is it that we like? How can we change the world? Whereas on one side they have the physiological energy of youth, there is also a willingness to find solutions, combining the opportunities offered by technology in the 2.0 era.
THE NOW CONTAINER – CONVERSATION TRANSCRIPT
Good morning and good afternoon both, Gianfranco is in the morning and Ting Ting in the late afternoon.
Ting Ting tell a bit about you, you’re Chinese, you studied fashion design in China, but also in London. And there, you had a crazy idea, but I leave it to you to explain the situation in this story which it’s very interesting.
Well, I went to London to study fashion design for five years, three years bachelor degree in Central Saint Martins and then two years master degree in Royal College of Art. And, I was majoring in textile design in Central Saint Martins. I am very obsessed with knitting, and combining knitting with some new technologies, like, engineering knitting stuff. And then I went to Royal College and I chose a very special subject, which is millinery design as no Chinese students were applying for that subject, because it’s not really a big culture in China, we don’t really have the habit of wearing hats. I wanted a container for me to express my feelings, rather than just making fabrics. So, I think a hat is like a little container, like a cup. I can pour in coffee or juice or whatever, it’s not like clothes. I think I will have more freedom making a hat because people would have no expectations of what a hat should be. So that gives me a lot of freedom and space to use this as a medium. I started to make some, and I wanted to combine data and the virtual life and internet culture with the engineering fabrics. Then, I started to make a hat like a little cloud, like I-Cloud, but it’s a physical cloud mixing with a lot of data going on and the data will influence how the yarn is going together and how the shape of the hat it’s going to be. Basically, that is my academic experiment. But I have to say at that time, my subject, like my content and my work were still just a little bit up in the air like I’m a like a cuckoo land, a cloud cuckoo land. And then I went back to China and went to the factory and build up a relationship with local workers in fashion, in the industry, not just catwalks or the beautiful things, but also the life of the Chinese manufacturers, and also the dark side of ‘Made in China’. And I found my subject and put it into my container. And so, I started a lot of social concern projects in China. The context may be quite special and a little bit hard for foreigners to understand, but not for my friends in London as they know me better about my work, while I was in Royal College of Art. But now in China, people are familiar with me, and with my work that I did with social concern projects.
That sounds great. I like that you often use the word container because it’s actually the project that I was writing ‘The New fashion Container‘ project, and the “now” container meant for a generation under 30 years old; and you should fill that container with content. So, I’m happy that you do so; you’re already on the container project to fill ideas and content. Gianfranco is another story. I know him a little bit better. We had the chance to talk many times. He’s Filipino. He is born in Florence, but I leave him his little story to himself because he can tell it better than I do.
Since I graduated in 2013, already from the graduation collection I got this attention from a Japanese distributor that actually has not seen my graduation collection, but instead he saw a performance video that I did during my graduation, where I was emulating and studying this particular Japanese group movement from the fifties, the Gutai movement, that basically was painting and doing action painting in a really particular way. They were painting with the water guns or with electronic cars driven with a marker attached on the back. So, I decided to study them on how they were finding new colors or new graphics by doing this crazy stuff. So, I recorded the video. I put it online on the website of ‘Not Just a Label’. After two weeks, I got this email from this distributor saying, Oh, what you did is really crazy. It’s something that we never seen before. So, I got an email and they said, okay, I want to buy your graduation collection. And actually, it had a really good feedback from the proper consumer. And since then, they decided to support me and to distribute my collection in Japan. But after that, I didn’t want to properly launch my brand because I felt that I was still like to young. So, first of all, I moved to Antwerp where I did my very first internship. And after that, I moved to Paris to do other work in some other companies. But while I was doing my internship, I was keeping alive, let’s say, my project, I call it like my personal diary. So nowadays the main signature of the brand Self-Made is like an embroidery that I’m using to write my words, my feelings. So already from the very beginning, I was writing all my, let’s say pain, all my joys, everything that I had in mind that I wanted to express to tell my consumers, and actually I’ve noticed that the consumers, were not only attached to the garment, but also because it was good quality or was a nice, color, but they were attached to the things that I was expressing through the words that I was on the garments. Since the very beginning I wanted to stay attached to this. I call it like my expressive animal instinct, where every season I’m trying to speak about the world we’re living in, how I’m feeling, how I could change it, how I can support it. And that’s basically what I am doing now while I am trying to work on my brand and still trying not to be too much compromised by the real fashion system, but still trying to keep alive my joy of doing this job, trying to talk about things that I like. But then of course, later on, we’re going to see that, you know, there are certain laws in this fashion system driven by other things that you cannot control; driven by the marketing and by the sales feedback, price points and this kind of stuff, but still, I’m trying to have fun with my project and on the garments and each collection.
Ting Ting talk about your hat, and your impressions and messages that you have in that kind of project? What is the message of your work, where do you get your energy from?
So, it is actually an organic growing process; at the very beginning when I was in London, the first question that hit me is who I am, because, when I was in China, I didn’t really have these feelings of asking myself, okay, what is my identity? I’m just Ting Ting and I didn’t have to really think about what it is like the real identity and I just have a very strong feeling of expressing myself like this, like an animal instinct. I want to express; I want to tell people my feelings and my thinking. I don’t have a technique to provide them in a very sophisticated way and in the way that I expected to be. So, when I went to London, I wanted to learn how I can express myself better. And then the question just hit me when the tutor started to ask, knowing who you are and knowing what your inner identity is! Zoe, is the course leader and she does keep asking us these questions. And I was so annoyed for a period of time, I didn’t even want to meet her. Don’t ask me who I am, I don’t want to answer this because I don’t know, because I thought I knew because I was always very confident and I always knew that I wanted to do this, I want to do that. But then she asked us to do like a mirror project, that is like, you, you have to tell people who you are. And I was just stuck for the first of my time. I think, I don’t know who I am I, I am Chinese and I was born in the 1990’s, this internet age, but if you ask me who I am, I really had no accurate words. And if I express it in a certain way, I just felt it’s not all of it. It’s just a very small piece of it. And then I started to question myself, it’s was really a big self-questioning at that time. And then I started to find out that actually I’m just like a cloud, you know, I’m like a container, because, when I was little, it was already internet time and all the information and culture that I learned were from the internet. There were also small pieces and there’s not something that I experienced physically. It’s something that I get from the screen, I get from other people’s words, because I was born in the 1990s, in that period of time. China already opened the gate and it’s already embracing all different kinds of cultures. And it’s not like in the culture revolution, and also because of the cultural revolution and the other previous history of China. I lost my connections with my own family, like if the culture stopped. So basically, I’m like a blank paper and other Chinese societies had been like a blank paper and then suddenly the economics just developed so fast and we’re receiving all the cultures, not by just doing trade or people come to our land and having some different lifestyle. It’s not this way. It’s by opening the gate and then connecting with the internet. So, for me, everything is a bit like very fast, and I don’t have a fixed culture root in any of the things I do. I can’t say that, okay, I’m Chinese so my culture is about the paper cutting, is about the wood structure, is about the dragons, phoenix, the Spring Festival. I feel strange and I don’t think that I’m much more familiar about these things than you guys do. So, I have to be honest, then I think, okay, I don’t really have a very physical or a very fixed identity. I’m just like a cloud and information just flow inside of me. And I’m very good at perceiving this process the information, but it’s all about uploading, downloading, uploading, downloading, just like a container. So, I’m not like my friends who are from East London and they just have that vibe that I’m so jealous of that they just have this vibe naturally, you know, that the culture, they are stuck into the culture and they are just like sponges and every, every liquid comes from their body, just from East London. Me, I am from everywhere and then nothing is very physical and deep, but they were mixed together and connected in a big scale. For me, and I have to be honest then to tell them that I am a container, I’m not a cup of tea or a cup of coffee or a bottle of juice. I am a cup and you can pour all different kind of liquids inside of me. And then I will become a juice, become a coffee, or become something.
Then I was thinking, okay, like a hat is very close to our head I have this kind of nervousness inside of me that I want something physical, material wise, not just virtual. So, I was thinking, okay, can I make something connected to my identity, the cloud, transform this activity into fabrics or something you can actually touch and feel. So, I started to collect a lot of data and mixed them together. And then I did data visualizations to transfer the data into very beautiful visuals, adding different colors and adding my emotional feelings and then transfer all the data’s visualizations and my design arrangements into the engineered knitting machine to knit the information out.
And it’s a very interesting thing because I used the technique called jacquard, and I put a lot of information into it. It got a lot of colorful pixel spots and that makes the fabric in a very big curve, and I feel this curve is actually got something to do with the pattern. And then I added some other knitting patterns to dance with the curve to make them into small curves, so they have a very beautiful flow. It’s not just a plein jacquard, it’s a jacquard with different knitting textures. It’s not a print, it’s really lively, it feels like, a digital screen, but in real life. And then I try to allow them to achieve a merging of ascetics of physical and digital screens in knitted fabrics. And then I started to change a lot of data, and make a series of hats with these fabrics. And they were all in different alien shapes, but I didn’t block anything or put any structure to support them. They are just growing whatever they want. And I worked with it, dance with it. And so, the first series collection, I called them, cloud hat. And then at the final presentation, I still remember, at a standard presentation at the Royal College of Art, there was a guest, a professor, I really liked him, but I forgot his name. And he asked me one question: Ting Ting, it’s a very fabulous project, but I want to ask you about all this information, what does this mean to you? They are very fabulous, as I can see you collect a lot of data, but what is the personal connection with you and those data and that nervousness hit me again. I was like, okay, so I don’t really have a topic. I say like, give me a break. I just find out I’m a container and I just make the fabrics to express myself and maybe my topic is the next stage. And then when I was back in China, something magically happened…I got my context. I think what I’m doing now, putting the context into my hats is my experience when I’m came back to China.
It’s a beautiful story. Are we not all searching for meaning Gianfranco? When I see the three of us on my screen, we are so different generations, different moments in life. And I am also asking myself every day, who am I, and what is the purpose of what I am doing, why am I writing this fashion container project, because I could have easily done without, but I think we have, all three, the kind of dream that we should change something in the world, is it? it’s about the fashion system, but also about other systems, the whole political system is so old and traditional and tired. Gianfranco, don’t you feel we have to change something in the kind of how we communicate with people?
Yeah. I mean, as Ting Ting was saying before, we are the children of this new digital era in which we are living in now. For sure, everything, not only fashion, is adapting to the evolution of the world and of humanity. So, for sure everything is changing. Everything has changed thanks to the new technologies. And, from the communication to the proper final product, lots of things changed. At the same time, it’s good I think to change, but at the same time, it’s really important to preserve the proper knowledge, the feelings that, people in this industry, are putting into a collection. I think we should still preserve that, that joy, that pain, that feeling that brought us to choose that color that brought us to choose that fabric. But of course, nowadays we are not communicating anymore that product as we were doing probably in the early eighties or nineties, we are going to use the digital evolution. So now with all the platforms like Instagram, like Tik-Tok, we, of course, are using those platforms to communicate that color that we chose. So; I think it’s a funny and interesting moment we’re living in, for all of us, from the older generation to the new generation, like to see this big change that unfortunately had affected the world in terms of, all the disasters that are happening, you know, lately to the world. So, for us working in this industry, we need to help the world to heal and start working in a more, you know, friendly way, because I think we, in the last years, we only thought about consuming and producing garments. Unfortunately, as you said, Linda, fashion is the second industry that is polluting the most in the world. So, not only me and Ting Ting, the younger brands, but also the bigger brands need to start changing. Only if we’re working all together, we can make a proper change because we cannot hide the fact that lots of natural disasters are happening and there are not happening randomly. Actually, it was interesting, at the beginning of this new collection that we’re going to present in January, I actually had a meeting with all my suppliers and trying to find a solution with them. We spent like a whole month in all our warehouses where we were stocking all our fabrics and with my team, we were looking to each other, trying to understand how we can reuse those fabrics. We used some wool and some ready to print cotton from probably five seasons ago, and we are going to reuse it, some jacquard and mohair. We are going to do a kind of mix and match of different fabrics. Also, of course, by reusing fabrics that you already bought in the past seasons we reduce the costs. So, first of all, we did this as a small thing in our company, but as well together with my suppliers, we try to find, to look and to search fabrics that were recycled from the very beginning from the loom or from the thread itself, coming from upcycled fabrics as well. So, we are trying, but in our small reality, because of course we, I, cannot change the world. As I said, in the beginning, we need all together to work in the same direction, because we cannot hide, unfortunately, all the disasters that are happening to our fantastic world. I’m trying in, in my small reality and I hope that things are going to change. I’m ready to see and to look forward on how fashion is going to change because the next fashion week is going to be digital. It’s going to be interesting to see how other brands and other companies are going to present their work not physically, but digitally. It’s an interesting moment, I think for the general culture, not only for, for fashion, but for music, for musicians, as they cannot do any more live concerts. They are trying to adapt to this new world by doing concerts on streaming. Let’s see how art is going to do without any physical art fair. I’m looking forward to see the evolution.
Do you think that we can stay out of the system and creating a new system that is more humble and less pretentious, gentler to each other? I think we are all there together to find a new other system for bringing our ideas to the world in a humbler, and a less greedy mentality. What do you think, Ting Ting.
Yes indeed, because when I came back to China, I found that China is becoming a huge market for all the fashion big brands. I am a fashion designer; I am a young generation and I do some crazy stuff. And then a lot of big brands, especially the marketing people, just invite you to grab a cup of coffee and ask you more about Chinese people. They are indeed so important because we want to express our culture and we want to educate them. I would just want to tell them how amazing Chinese culture is. I feel it’s so scary because then all the young people in the next generations, they just are hunted by the big brands, by the culture machine, because they are the biggest cultural critic, like they’re so powerful.
And now it is the ‘social media’ time as well. Anything where the information can flow like a flood can just flow everywhere into everyone’s life, not just in your target markets, but also to people who cannot afford the very big brands products they can also get all those seducing images true the information from internet, from the social media. I just feel like they are creating so many desires, they’re creating cultures based on the purpose of selling things; the marketing has become too high percentage of the whole process. And then, like the next generation, they are all get used to learn from the internet, knowing about cultures from buying stuff, from how to like big brand, tell them what culture is, what hip hop is? What is, African culture, what is Chinese culture? And they were educated by the big brands and they approach the culture through the translation of the fashion business.
And I’m just really worried because I think it’s better not knowing something. Then you just know a very bias or a very small part of it. And you think, oh, it is all about it. You know? So, I think it’s just like we all live in a very informative age, but actually probably we know less about a thing than before, because before you could still experience things. Human is not an AI based on the big data, but human is based on small data, we can just know a little tiny bit of things. And then we have the emotions to picture and to imagine the rest of the things, that’s a very unique way of human learning and receiving things. And that hugely abound with creativity, because so many data from the fashion industry educate the young generation about what culture is. Because I also teach some of the young people, I give them some lectures as well, and I feel it’s so hard to approach them, because if you ask them, what do you think of, for example, a plant, a flower, the answer from them will be all the things they read about online. I read about it, something tells me about this, and I know also something like colors…but I cannot know these are all the true feelings about this flower, swimming through all the information, all the references that they get from the internet of the brands or the pop cultures, and then to approach their inner feelings about these flowers. For me, I feel we are all customers. We are not women or men or a teacher or a student or a banker. We’re all customers. The consuming behavior kind of shows us who we are. I appreciate this or I appreciate that, but behind it is actually all leading by the advertisements.
I think you’re right Ting Ting. And I think we can’t close the Internet. We can’t stop this moment, but I think we can go deeper into our own personalities and our own beliefs. It’s urgently time to stop thinking about the fashion system as it is, but use it as you think it’s necessary. We all are ready to find a new way to communicate, because connecting is actually the key word of my new fashion container program. So, I think we have to close here. We had a fantastic discussion. Gianfranco, the last word is for you, he is the oldest guy. Oh no, that’s me.
Yes, we need, as you said, more deeply inside of us by making a small change in our daily routine by how we’re going to live from the morning to the evening, all the choices we are going to choose. It has to be with passion, not driven by a commercial goal that we’ve seen on the Instagram feed. That’s the most important thing to me. To listen more to our soul.
To our soul. That’s a good concept to start the day for me and Gianfranco and to end the day for Ting Ting. Thank you. It was a fantastic conversation!
Thank you it was interesting.
TingTing Zhang on instagram
TinTin Zhang, graduated from RCA MA in Fashion Womenswear Millinery and CSM BA in Textiles. Being a fabric patent holder, TinTin has won series of awards such as International Talent Support (ITS 2018) OTB Award, RCA & Adidas Design Forum First Prize. While based in Adidas German HQ, TinTin played an active R&D role in FIFA 2018 Russia World Cup project. Neon Cloud Hat System is TinTin’s new venture upon returning to China in 2018.
Neon Cloud Hat System (N·C·H·S) grows out of a social concern project (“Putianciaga”: FAKE shoe material rejuvenating into REAL creative hat) initiated by TinTin Zhang in 2018. This project reflected critical thinking across art, fashion and consumerism, aroused social debate from all walks of life. Thereafter, the present-day creative club was officially founded in 2019. By employing “HAT” as a signature symbol, CONTENT wise, audience interaction is achieved by creative workshop, interactive art exhibition, pop-up space and so forth; PRODUCT wise, TinTin’s design is loaded with reflection on symbols, the unique “Weight” system endows abstract content with concrete carrier. Neon Cloud Hat System excites about digging out diverse content underneath facade of local social status quo, thinks critically and reacts creatively upon consumerism in this information era.
Gianfranco Villegas was born in 1990 in Florence, Italy. As the son of an immigrant Filipino mother, he didn’t enjoy a privileged upbringing. He began working at the age of fourteen to satisfy his big love for fashion, eventually graduating in 2013 from Polimoda, in Florence.
In the upcoming years He has worked between Antwerp and Paris at Damir Doma and Lacoste, alongside collaborating with Supreme and Bape.
In 2016 He moved back to Florence and focused on his own brand “SELF MADE”.
Each piece of the collection is hand-crafted in Italy with premium materials and tailored finishings. The overall concept of SELF MADE is about mixing Italian luxury culture with Filipino American streetwear and hip-hop culture, resulting in a High-end Streetwear collection where the clothes have become the designer’s own personal diary.
Gianfranco Villegas on Instagram