We had the opportunity to speak with designer Tianze (Nora) Lan, who studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design. Nora has spent the last few years exploring the intersection of Eastern and Western design aesthetics. She draws inspiration from the timeless elegance of black, white, and gray, which form the basis of her monochromatic color palette. Nora delves into the interplay of textures, shapes, and proportions to create garments that are both visually striking and wearable, empowering the individuals who wear them and pushing the boundaries of conventional style. We are excited to witness Nora bringing her innovative design perspective to the fashion industry.
You are originally from China. Could you please tell us about your early life in China and how it helped shape your work today?
During my early years in China, I led a fairly typical life as a school-going child, diligently taking numerous tests. Despite not having an artistic background or peers with similar interests, I chose to keep my dream of becoming a fashion designer to myself. Being raised in Beijing, I developed a profound interest in exploring the city’s rich historical landmarks, including the iconic Forbidden City and various Buddhist temples. The timeless elegance and profound cultural heritage of China continue to exert a lasting influence on my artistic endeavors.
How has your exploration of the intersection of Eastern and Western design aesthetics influenced your creative process and the garments you create?
My work often features unconventional constructions, with bold silhouettes influenced by Western aesthetics. Visiting art museums in the West has inspired me with various mediums from contemporary art, encouraging me to experiment with different materials in my collections. However, I also draw influence from Eastern culture, which is evident in the meticulous and time-consuming aspects of my work. Eastern aesthetics, known for their conservative yet delicate approach, have shaped my attention to intricate details and the inclusion of beadwork in my designs.
How did you get into fashion design?
My fascination with fashion design began when I discovered a Rick Owens runway show online at the age of twelve. The intricate designs showcased during that show left an indelible impression on me and ignited my passion.
During high school, I immersed myself in fashion illustration, learning about the proportions of the human body and garments using markers and colored pencils. To take another step towards fashion, I enrolled in tutorials on pattern making and draping, beginning to learn the fundamentals of patterns.
What ultimately makes me interested in fashion design is the boundless innovation. I can constantly push the boundaries of my own creativity, uncover the endless possibilities in garments, and incorporate my own artistic visions into my collection.
Who is your favorite artist? Who has influenced your work the most?
My favorite designer is Rick Owens due to his exceptional creativity and mastery of intricate drapery. His ability to craft stunning silhouettes, often through minimalist construction combined with multiple layers of draping and fabrications, results in elegant and highly detailed designs. What sets Rick Owens apart is his distinctive style, which doesn’t rely on visible logos or names. When you see someone wearing Rick Owens, you can immediately recognize his unique vibes without any external branding.
I have to say I’m drawn to Rick Owens’ embrace of a dark aesthetic. His designs predominantly incorporate my preferred and comfortable color, black, which further resonates with my personal style.
What inspired you to create your collection, and could you give us some insights into the materials and tones?
Inspired by Joseph Beuys’s performance art piece, “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare,” I found a deep connection. Beuys’s act of carrying a deceased hare while attempting to communicate through photographs resonated with a personal memory of witnessing the passing of my own bunnies. Depression consistently influences my work, leading me to gravitate towards dark colors. In this collection, I incorporated hairy fabrics to mimic bunny fur, symbolizing their presence. While not exclusive to this collection, I also find profound inspiration in sculptures. Sculptures always ignite my imagination, guiding me towards innovative silhouettes and intricate layers.
You chose black, white, and gray as the basis of your color palette. How do you believe these colors contribute to the overall impact and appeal of your designs?
Depression serves as a consistent theme in my work, and as a result, I gravitate towards using dark colors. For me, colors serve as a primary means of expressing my emotions. The cohesive combination of black, white, and gray allows me to maintain a consistent tone throughout my collection, effectively conveying the intended mood and message.
Can you describe the process, from the concept to the final product? What is your favorite part of the making process?
Pattern-making is my favorite aspect of the creative process. It allows me to bring 2D sketches to life in the form of tangible garments. Witnessing the gradual transformation of flat patterns into three-dimensional pieces is both fascinating and enjoyable. The process of fitting each piece together, observing how they interact and generate new forms of beauty, takes me on an interesting journey.
Can you discuss the balance between creating emotionally charged designs and ensuring practicality and wearability? How do you approach this balance and ensure that your garments remain accessible to a broader audience?
For ensuring the both aesthetic designs and wearability, fitting plays a crucial role in the creative process. Working closely with my model, who is one of my closest friends, has allowed me to conduct frequent fittings, enabling me to make necessary adjustments to enhance comfort and wearability. We can always identify areas that may be uncomfortable or if a garment feels too heavy. Thus, fitting holds great practical significance in ensuring that the final designs are both aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to wear.
How do you perceive the relationship between fashion and identity, and how does this perspective inform your artistic approach and the message you hope to convey through your work?
I believe that fashion has the power to help individuals express their personalities through clothing and gain confidence through their personal style. I first realized the profound relationship between fashion and identity when I witnessed the impact of wearing my designed jacket at CSM. Two of my classmates wore it, and they were pleasantly surprised by the transformation it brought. They felt empowered and confident, evident in their enthusiastic movements and heightened sense of power.
On another occasion, I created a jacket adorned with bunny toys, and when my friend wore it, she expressed feeling protected and warm. These experiences have solidified my belief that I want to create garments that establish an emotional connection with people, enabling them to express their personalities and experience empowerment through what they wear.
We know that you have presented your work at ‘The External Organ’ in New York. Can you tell us about the exhibition? What was it like participating in the installation process?
The concept of the ‘external organ’ draws inspiration from Joseph Beuys’s performance art piece titled ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare.’ In this performance, Beuys treated the dead hare as an extension of his body, emphasizing the significance. Inspired by this idea, we organized a collaborative exhibition to showcase how fashion serves as our external organ—an essential aspect of our identity that not only supports us but also connects with the audience. To convey the concept of the external organ, we transformed the gallery space into a laboratory of growth and exploration. Rather than using traditional mannequins, we opted for installations.
During the installation, Our team member, Tianze Wu, skillfully welded iron frames and cubes to create structures that allowed us to display the garments. Using threads, we connected the garments to the iron frames and suspended them from the ceilings. By taking this innovative approach, we aimed to create a more engaging and artistic exhibition that emphasizes the profound role fashion plays in our lives. The exhibition showcased a cohesive and resonant collection of black, white, and gray garments sourced from three different designers. The deliberate color palette created a visually compelling and harmonious display, highlighting the shared essence and artistic vision among the pieces.
How do you envision the continuation or evolution of the themes explored in this collection in your future work? Are there any specific aspects or concepts you would like to further explore or expand upon?
What motivates me is finding a balance between avant-garde and casual wear. With the advancement of technology, fashion has seen the incorporation of more 3D prints and unconventional materials. However, these often result in garments that are uncomfortable and not suitable for daily wear. My goal is to discover how to use unconventional and technological materials to create casual wear, or how to minimize the dramatic construction seen on the runway for everyday clothing. I aspire to make casual wear extraordinary, infusing creativity and innovation into people’s daily attire.
What are your aspirations or goals as a fashion designer?
My ultimate goal is to strike a balance between innovative designs and practical daily wear, while also incorporating new technologies to create comfortable and wearable technological clothing. Moreover, I aim to develop garments that empower individuals and enable them to express their unique personalities. As a fashion designer, it is enjoyable to always push the boundaries of creativity and continuously challenge myself to enhance my technical skills.