A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Emerging Designer

Xiang Gu (MDes 2019)

by Liz Logan

Xiang Gu (MDes 2019). Photo courtesy of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.
Xiang Gu (MDes 2019). Photo courtesy of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.

Beijing-native Xiang “Sean” Gu’s (MDes 2019) graduate collection of sculptural garments has earned him accolades in the New York City fashion world and at SAIC. He is the recipient of the 2019 NicNac Fellowship, a $10,000 award that recognizes exceptional promise in a graduating master’s student in Fashion, Body and Garment. The winner is selected by Stephanie and Bill Sick Professor of Fashion, Body and Garment Nick Cave.

Gu has lived in the United States for eight years. His work is inspired by the freedom and rebelliousness of hip-hop culture. “In hip-hop, there’s this tradition of sampling, and I sample shapes for building garments the way that hip-hop producers sample melodies,” he says. “My values come from hip-hop culture. Hip-hop has taught me to look forward, to hustle, to try new things, to not hesitate.” For his collection based on some of the stated Core Socialist Values of the Communist Party of China, Gu took the Chinese character for the words democracy, equality, justice, and integrity, and made a pattern using the shape. “Then, I began to play around from there,” he recalls. After a long prototyping process, the finished garments—made with leather, vinyl, and sequins—are cumbersome, with many openings that suggest the desire to break free. Gu says, “I wanted the collection to convey the feeling of trying to save myself from a future dystopia.”

The collection was selected for the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s highly competitive Future Fashion Graduate Showcase 2019, and later it was exhibited at MoMA PopRally x The Bronx, an event curated by the staff of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and MoMA PS1. He hopes to exhibit the collection in China. 

Gu has parlayed what he’s learned as a student in SAIC’s Fashion Design department to working as an intern at Vivienne Hu and as assistant designer at LRS. With the NicNac fellowship, Gu is now making pieces for his own fashion brand, NOY, while working in fashion in New York City. In the future, he hopes to establish and lead a successful Chinese fashion company.