This season, he surprised them by switching tack, dialing back on the surface embellishments he’s known for in favor of fabric development and construction.
The result was one of his strongest shows in recent memory. The designer said that the ’60s drama The World of Suzy Wong, which he saw again recently after first watching it as a kid, had stuck with him. “I always thought there was something different about the star, Nancy Kwan,” said Gn. He later learned that her father was Chinese and her mother was Scottish. Soon after, he came across a still of Grace Kelly wearing a traditional cheongsam, and it clicked. “It’s very covered up, but for me the cheongsam is the sexiest dress the Chinese ever created,” he said.
Gn and his atelier dove deep into construction techniques, developing python and zebra jacquard or snakeskin lace and using them as panels, inserts and overlays with cut velvet jacquard and taffeta. An early geometric jacquard coat with feather sleeves signaled this new direction, and that initial black and white series flowed into a masterful exercise in color blocking. (Said Gn after the show: “I am a colorist. I don’t wear a lot, but I love it.”)
Emerald green snake appliqués on sharply tailored coats and jackets were another striking departure. Toward the end, the designer pushed the cheongsam idea into a trapeze dress embroidered with silver stars and rhinestones that is probably already packed up and on its way to a red carpet somewhere.
Other groupings hewed more to familiar signatures, such as butterfly frogging on a flounce-sleeved top with a mandarin collar, and a royal blue coat or a white crepe dress. The guipure dresses with 3D appliqués were also classic Gn. Elsewhere, he transposed a chrysanthemum motif from a Japanese Meiji period vase onto a series of dresses, most strikingly on a chartreuse midi with hand-braided fringe.
Those kinds of special, limited-series pieces are something Gn’s core customer counts on. Now that he has his e-commerce business squared, Gn is building out his business incrementally both online and off. He’s in talks to open a store in Hong Kong early next year, but in the meantime he says he’s finding pop-ups an ideal way to connect personally with his base. To that end, the designer is readying one for Chicago in May, with part of the proceeds earmarked for the University of Chicago cancer research fund.
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Words by Vogue.com