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Radicalism and

Designer Ying Gao’s standpoint on fashion, design, time, and technology

By Brenna Dixon

“Fashion, in order to be meaningful, needs to be both radical and deeply experimental,” states designer Ying Gao who fuses fashion and technology, an interest of hers that was sparked nearly 17 years ago. With her works having been displayed in museums worldwide and alongside renowned designers such as Issey Miyake, Hussein Chalayan, and Helmut Lang, Montreal-based designer Ying Gao speaks about her earliest encounters with fashion and her intricate design ethos.

One of Ying Gao’s earliest memories of being exposed to the fashion industry was visiting the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit circa 1985 at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Beijing. “China was still a country where all dress conformed to social and political norms: blue and grey uniforms, which I found rather beautiful, especially since I always loved sobriety,” she reflects of her country’s times. Saint Laurent’s work, however, communicated something new, demonstrating a more “essential quality, which influenced me during many years: the concept of the foreign, the dissimilar, and the different,” she explains. The pivotal experience ended up laying the foundation for her future. She proclaims, “No matter what it took, I would accomplish something different when I grew up.”

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Gao’s interactive projects and collections all have well-defined theories, many of which surround current events and/or society, all with an underlying philosophy or communicative element of intangibility. “This notion [of intangibility] is a key component of my creative concepts and of the actual design of my garments. Elements that cannot be touched or captured are a crucial part of my garments’ structure,” she explains. The intangibleness is the ‘silver lining’ to her designs, which is either expressed in the selection of nonexistent fabric (light airy materials) or through “elements that are also inherent to my profession: a garment can be activated through someone’s voice, the stimulus of a look, or a flash of light, animating the concept just as much as the garment itself,” she elaborates on her design philosophy.

Circulating around the core concept of intangibility, Gao seeks abstract meaning in order to experiment in all the taxonomies within “the intangible, [which] also manifests itself through the idea of mutation. Change, flow, and volatility are all characteristics of my creations. Garments are consistently transforming in an unpredictable fashion,” she notes.

In our highly technological world, Gao considers fashion, in general, a sort of “encounter with time,” further elaborating that both “technology and fashion embody the most fragile and ephemeral aspects of our culture, insofar as that what is cutting-edge today will be old tomorrow.” Gao’s designs represent a unique blend of the fashion and tech worlds, hoping to stimulate a moment of “reflection and observation” from onlookers, as the concept of time as we know it is a linear phenomenon progressing forward. She nods at the fact that “the future belongs to those who use the technologies of their time.”

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Written on: September 20, 2019