The mythological being that those outside Asia often term a “Chinese Phoenix” bears about as much similarity to the “Western” Phoenix as Chinese food does with much “Chinese food” eaten in the West. The Western Phoenix, whose origins are Greek (although some attest Egyptian), is basically a beautiful symbol of natural renewal, later conflated with Christianity. There are awesome oversized cosmic bird protagonists in almost every ancient culture. In China, however, this protagonist is not a “phoenix” but a fenghuang, aka 凤凰.
This sudden 凤凰 familiarity came courtesy of a call with Feng Chen Wang, still working remotely from her London team in her China studio. “The fenghuang is different because it is both male and female, which is very interesting to me. And it is quite personal too because it sounds a little like my name in pronunciation. It’s a merging animal, both genders, and that’s quite cool.”
Although she emerged through Lulu Kennedy’s now degendered Fashion East menswear platform, Wang too has always leaned unisex, increasingly presenting more female worn looks in her collections, and increasingly exploring less binary interplays of gender characterization in her work. This collection both handsomely and beautifully—and via many other possible adjectival tokens—continued in that direction. Highlights included cutaway knits in a puckered and slashed weave shaped to create unusual windows upon the mostly male bodies that they contained, and finely draped tailoring with severe cinching to aggrandize the facade of the mostly female bodies that they in turn were cladding. Running through the collection were pieces patterned with brush painting inspired prints, sometimes worked ingeniously into irregular pleating. Each of these garments were by the nature of the manufacture of the fabric complexly individual, like a hand painted barcode.
In our chat Wang said that she wanted to stress that much of the collection was fashioned from deadstock, and that she is working to develop her articulations to be more materially positive in their ecological impact. That 凤凰, who appeared on some shirts and roll necks, had also inspired her to examine more determinedly the worn geography of gender that her thinking is working to alter. What’s great is that a designer from Fujian, trained via the Royal College of Art, can achieve the multicultural attitude from which to survey her field of interest with such fresh perspective.