Gina Sun is on the Master Cleanse, a strict dietary regiment of maple syrup, cayenne, and lemonade designed for only the most earnest of epicures. It’s meant to flush out toxins; that is, if you can get past the extreme hunger pangs and merciless temptations. Her conviction to successfully complete the cleanse perfectly echoes her quiet bearing, with forethought being her MO. A recent graduate of the London College of Fashion’s MA Fashion Design & Technology (Menswear) program, Sun marched her revolutionary costumes down the catwalk as part of the LCF graduate show. Steeped in Chinese culture, her collection draws upon a wealth of history, as she fronts a new wave of up-and-coming Chinese designers.
Trey Taylor: Tell me a bit about your background, before menswear.
Gina Sun: Before this I did womenswear. This is my first menswear collection, and I still have a lot to learn. I appreciate people who dress themselves for fun and menswear is more about details – how people feel while wearing the clothes is very important.
TT: Your collection was about the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which was the ‘60s and ‘70s, right?
GS: Yeah, my generation had nothing to do with it, but my parents went through that period.
TT: Did you know a lot about it when you grew up? Was it a big deal?
GS: Not really, because the first time I heard about it I was in Canada. You can’t see any videos, or go to any websites that talk about it in China. That was the first time I saw the videos of the Tiananmen Square shootings. It was very violent.
When I was really young, about four years old, I heard gunshots. I wasn’t allowed to go to Kindergarten because it happened. My father said he felt like it was the Cultural Revolution coming back. We weren’t allowed to leave the house. I asked my grandmother what all the noise was and she said it was fireworks [laughs]. It wasn’t fireworks. It was gunshots!
TT: Were you scared at all?
GS: No, not at all. After, when I found out about it, I couldn’t believe it happened in my city.
TT: So were you born in Beijing?
GS: Yes, I was. I left when I was eighteen and went to Canada. I studied computer science in New Brunswick. After I finished I decided that I didn’t want to do it. I could’ve found a job in that area. I worked for two months for a company and I was like, “This is what I’m going to do with my life?!” I started thinking, “I like to make stuff. I like to make art.” My grandfather was traditional Chinese painter [Qifeng Sun]. I grew up in that environment. Chinese culture is important to me. During the Cultural Revolution, a lot was destroyed.
TT: I watched that Ai Weiwei documentary, Never Sorry. They had the Black Cover Book, which opened up a space of free thought. It talked about all the art that was illegal.
GS: Chinese people were scared to create things. They just followed the rules. People were getting stuff from America, Japan, and Europe. At that time, people didn’t care about their own culture after the Revolution. There is a lot of history and culture going back 5000 years. We have to bring it back. It’s our duty.
TT: What aspects did you take from the Revolution? How did you translate that into your collection?
GS: I took inspiration from the patterns. There are three different patterns, from ‘characters’ in the Cultural Revolution. Some people are black guards. They were like the resistance. I just take that idea and present it in a neutral way through the clothing. It’s a way to look at it and show that something happened.
TT: If you were to do this in China, would it be seen as controversial?
GS: It would be. It’s a very sensitive topic. It would get me in trouble.
TT: There are a lot of new Chinese designers. Do you identify with this new generation?
GS: A lot of people who are born after the ‘80s are starting to study fashion. In the past 30 years, it’s been dead. After the ‘80s, people started wearing labels from the Western world. People start to think about what they really want.
TT: You mentioned your grandfather and how he was a really important painter. Did you spend a lot of time with him?
GS: He is very important to me in my life. I want to be like him. He is a pure artist. You know the kind of artists that don’t take care of themselves? That’s him. He just paints, reads books. That’s his life, basically. He doesn’t know the cost of rice, the cost of the clothes he wears. He wears whatever. He’s a true artist. I really look up to him.
TT: Is he still alive?
GS: Yeah, he’s 94 years old and he’s still painting.
TT: What’s next for you?
GS: I’m going back to China to renew my visa. As I just graduated I’m willing to open my mind to more possibilities in terms of creation. This year I’m going to join a group of artists to create artwork inspired by Buddhist philosophy. I am still going to work on my techniques. They still need to be changed and improved for my next collection.