Terrence Zhou (@bad_binch_tongtong) is a New York-based artist and designer whose avant-garde approach to fashion and the industry at large harnesses the power of online connection. On this episode of In The Know: Style Changemakers, Zhou shares how self-expression through social media inspires his designs and creative process.
“Sometimes, we have a lot of limitations in the physical world,” Zhou tells In The Know. “Online, we are actually showing our true personalities that we might not show to our colleagues in the office or students in a school.”
Zhou’s viewpoint regarding the unlimited expression that social media affords is exhibited in his clothing, which features sculptural designs with exaggerated fabric manipulation that give each garment an otherworldly quality. His acknowledgment of his clothing not being the most functional illustrates his stance on the confines of daily reality. “As someone who’s creating things, it always starts with a question within the society that cannot give me an answer directly,” Zhou shares, describing his creative process.
Despite the many fantastical elements imbued in his clothing, Zhou strives for authenticity in forging a connection between his designs and the individuals wearing them. The expressive freedom Zhou seeks to showcase in his fashion corresponds to his multidisciplinary identity that’s not limited to the label of designer or artist. “I call myself an artist and designer just for other people to understand [what I do],” Zhou says. “In my mind, I don’t think these two tags or these two titles can define who I am.”
For Zhou, fashion is multilayered in both the literal and figurative sense. “I think fashion [is becoming] more multidisciplinary right now. Fashion doesn’t only mean clothing or style, and I think at the end of the day, I know what you make, makes who you are,” he tells In The Know.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the self-expression infused in Zhou’s designs conjugated with the freedom of self-expression provided online. “There were basically no institutions to judge my work. I just posted whatever I liked on my Instagram,” recalls Zhou. As his Instagram took off, Zhou started receiving consistent requests from people wanting to buy his clothing. The many inquiries inspired Zhou to launch a business and create more wearable versions of his designs that were available to purchase.
Concerning design, Zhou says that creation begins with a vision. “In school or any situation, people taught us how to plan, but they never taught us how to believe in our own vision,” he says. “I think it’s really important to have that in the first place, and the rest of it will unfold by itself. I think everybody is so unique. There’s no cookie-cutter advice for everybody. I’m still exploring as well.”
Zhou’s work is undoubtedly visually striking, but his creative process and multifaceted approach to design help question notions of mutual exclusivity in art and fashion, among other industries.
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