We talk to rising star Andrea Jiapei Li about her youthful, oversized SS16 collection

Andrea Jiapei Li is a New York based designer who recently graduated from the MFA in Fashion Design and Society at Parsons. For SS16, Li designed with the adult-kid in mind, and her oversized womenswear pieces blatantly broadcast her source of inspiration: Patti Smith’s book Just Kids – the title of which is embroidered on the back and sleeves of garments. Toying with playful silhouettes and details, Li cuts sleeves wide and trousers long and flared, bringing back memories of dressing up in your parent’s clothes – the sleeves swallowing your hands whole while you trip over long-legged trousers. The Chinese designer takes inspiration from the biggest playground of all, New York, where she played with the big kids – 3.1 Philip Lim, Diane Von Furstenburg and Edun.  Now, with her own label she has her own rules, and SS15 is “Just Kids.”

Can you tell me more about your childhood growing up in China?

I was born in the northern part of China but l lived in different cities in China growing up. I did spend a lot of time painting and drawing when I was in school.

What are your first fashion memories and what drew you to study fashion?

I discovered fashion magazines when I was in high school. I became intrigued by the glossy images of models and garments – the fabrics of the clothes, the composition of the photographs, and the emotions behind them. That was how I became really interested in fashion and ultimately decided to study fashion.

Are your designs influenced by any part of your Chinese heritage?

I think all designers are influenced by their upbringing to some degree, including their cultural heritage. However, we live in such a globalized world. New York (where I’m based right now) is a melting pot itself. I’m definitely more influenced by what I’m exposed to on a daily basis now than my Chinese heritage.

Would you move back to China to continue to build your brand or why do you want to stay in NYC?

I decided to stay in NYC after graduating from Parsons. I really enjoyed living and working in the city. I love the diversity of its people, the energy, and all the happenings and possibilities that come with it. It is also home to many great fashion designers and brands, and the vibrant fashion and art scene is great for young designers like me who has a lot to learn from.

Can you share what you learned during your work experiences at 3.1 Phillip Lim, Diane von Furstenburg and Edun?

I was able to gain first-hand experience working at these great fashion brands. –Being involved in the day-to-day activities and learning about the creative and operational processes were really eye-opening for me. I also met some amazing people, I was humbled by their talent and professionalism, which was as valuable as the experience itself.

You have gained recognition from VFiles, MADE, Dover Street Market, LVMH and H&M. Why are all these awards/competitions necessary for emerging designers to breakthrough in the industry?

I’m very fortunate to have received support and recognition from these awards/competitions. They were great opportunities to share my work with some of the greatest industry professionals and influencers, as well as invaluable learning experiences; you also get to meet a lot of fellow designers along the way. The media and press exposure that came with it also made it possible for more people to see my work.

What draws you to the graphic look of incorporating phrases on your garments?

In my graduate collection I used phrases such as “I AM WHAT [I AM]” as a way to express myself, whereas in the two most recent collections I incorporated phrases such as “YOU NEVER KNOW” and “JUST KIDS” to add playful elements to the design. I like how short phrases can be catchy and at the same time up to people’s interpretation.

You have previously touched on the fact you design for everyone and support the idea of agender garments, but you must have someone in mind when designing. Who is the Andrea Jiapei Li wearer?

It would be someone who is optimistic and ingenuous, not afraid to take risks and always curious about the surroundings. I think more than anything, it is the attitude towards life that defines who wears my design.

Your garments tend to be oversized, boasting large bows or this season huge layered sleeves and flared trousers. What is it that draws you to these oversized silhouettes?

To me oversized silhouettes provide freedom of movement, it takes away the restrictions of garments, almost by creating a space for the body to move more freely.

In the past architecture has inspired you. Where do you source your inspiration, and who and what is inspiring you right now?

I often draw inspiration from different art forms. Lately I have been interested in Alexander Calder’s work, as well as Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings – I find the colors and the juxtapositions of the objects in his work very intriguing.

You repeatedly feature mesh fabrics in your collections, and have woven neoprene. Can you tell me more about the textiles you are drawn to, and any material/fabrication discoveries you have made?

I am interested in using unconventional fabrics as well as creating new textures and surfaces by combining fabrics of different attributes. I have discovered that when two fabrics are combined through bonding or other techniques, not only are the colors and textures altered, but also the

I know the poet Patti Smith inspired your SS16 “Just Kids” collection, but could please elaborate on the story?

First I have to admit that I started reading her book “Just Kids” while I was designing the collection, but I was far from finishing it! I was definitely intrigued by the title, and the idea of “adult-kids” – adults that are as genuine and curious as kids.

I noticed a small triangle bag in your SS16 collection. What do you envision for the future of an accessory line?

I think it is too early for me to develop an accessories line, but I do like the idea to have my design aesthetics transcend beyond garments – it could be bags, shoes or something else. I plan to continue to design one-off items that share similar style or design elements as the collection, it is almost like a fun side project.

What would you like to achieve in future collections and for the future of your brand?

In the future collections I’d like to further build upon the aesthetics of my work so far, while creating something new and fresh every season – my goal is to establish a rather consistent and distinctive style that nonetheless doesn’t fail to innovate and bring (hopefully) good surprises season after season.

Ivan Bideac
Janine Leah Bartels