When Xander Zhou sent out invites with words “Wild West” complete with a black-and-white image of cowboys around a campfire, it made people a little nervous. Was this going to be another show appropriating American iconography? Are people going to find it offensive? In the wake of instances where fashion has been the pretext for cultural appropriation — the trendy dialogue of the digital sphere — Zhou’s show served as a prime example of how cultural appropriation need not be a bad word. History tells us appropriation lay at the foundation of our post-modern post-globalized world. The Chinese-born designer cleverly used his show and heritage as vehicles to demonstrate this point.
It certainly helped that the cowboys Xander Zhou sent down were not in the literal sense, in the very least. “When I first set eyes on Wild West elements, I had the same experience as most westerners when they see oriental elements for the first time — I could only discern their crude forms, their superficial appearances, as if watching a caricature western film”, he shared.
The initial Western idea was a springboard to present a collection rich in destroyed denim, fringe, fur and leather. As Zhou shared, a quick glance will not do justice to the amount of detail that went into the choice of fabrication and the construction techniques. Elements that are native to the designer’s Asian background could be seen up close. The overcoats were made of basket weave reminiscent of Chinatown bags, left unhemmed to look like Western fringe. Many of the pieces also had a badge housing Chinese characters drawn by accomplished calligrapher Wang Dan. “It reminds me of the time when I studied Chinese traditional painting as a child, which might have been the starting point of the creative path that has taken me here”, Zhou added.
The craftsmanship was impeccable. Plenty of work went into creating textures and challenging conventional menswear staples. Cloud-shaped cutouts from sheepskin and alligator were stitched onto 70's zipper jackets and raglan coats.The footwear best described as a crossbreed of utility canvas sandals and desert boots showcased the designers prowess in accessories design. And there was definitely a distinct 70s subtext throughout the collection; the space boots, graphic chevrons abstracted from collar tips, diamond patchwork were looking more retro than Dallas, Texas.
To be fair no one has ever really taken offense by a Cowboy-inspired anything. But Xander Zhou made a point today. His collection brought to mind an entire sub-genre of Neo-Western Chinese film like "No Man's Land" directed by Ning Hao — endearing and completely benign.