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On Wutong Mountain Sits an Isolated Fashion Studio

By Guan Tan

 
 

 

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The two creative directors of Ffixxed Studios. From left, Fiona Lau and Kain Picken. Photographs by Junnan Peng.

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It was back in 2012 when the two designers behind fashion label, Ffixxed Studios found themselves in search of a new home for their studio. It was an important decision. After all, an environment inevitably influences a designer's work.

The rapid-moving cycles of fashion in the past decade has culminated in fatigue and lethargy across the industry. It’s spawned several dialogues regarding the unsustainable pace of creation and design. It was no coincidence that Fiona Lau and Kain Picken looked to the picturesque and quiet Wutong Mountain in Shenzhen, China. 

“Primarily we wanted a place removed from the city. We had been living one year already in Hong Kong and then a year in the city in Shenzhen. We felt that we needed another kind of more natural and relaxed environment,” 32-year-old Lau quips. 

The duo eventually moved into a sleepy town by the nape of the Wutong Mountain. They have a five-storey traditional village house that is “maybe 30 years old”. It was empty when the duo first discovered it. “It was originally built as four separate apartments, with a small courtyard in the front.” While the duo kept the exterior of the building – concrete mixed with gravel and sand, resulting in a bumpy surface – the designers had to change up the interiors to accommodate their fashion studio. 

“On each level, [we] designed a bedroom apartment. There were a lot of doors and closed off spaces. We removed most of the doors and all the doors that we have kept were frosted glass, so there is a nice lightness in the space. It’s very basic and minimal. We made new bathrooms, kitchens, and new floors, and painted everything white.” 

Lau and Picken wanted an “integrated living and working” environment. “We really liked the idea of working in a more domestic space rather than an office.”

The team of eight works in this refurbished building. “We have Mr Lai our pattern maker, Assim who manages quality control and logistics, ‘Big Brother’ who is our sample maker, Mignon our design assistant, Chingy who is the office manager and our newest member Erica who is working on textile development and production management,” Lau recites. 

On the ground level is a “small apartment where Chingy and Mignon live in. The bulk of the team spends their time in the samples studio on the second floor. Otherwise, they are found on the third floor where the design studio and management offices are located. On the fourth floor is another apartment. “The other [members] all have families and live nearby to the studio. And by nearby we meant literally three houses away!”

It sounds like a cosy studio in a small, close-knit town. “It’s a pretty small community so everyone knows who we are. A guy stopped me in the street recently and told me that he heard we were world famous designers. He asked if were true," Lau laughs.

Ffixxed designs both menswear and women’s wear, “so four main collections per year”. The designers show their clothes in “Tokyo, Paris and Shanghai” come every fashion month. 

I asked Lau if the sleepy town has changed the way she designs. The stillness and relaxed environment has, in fact, made her “restructure our company and downscale quite a bit… The laid back, casual lifestyle of the village has definitely influenced our design. And working in a more domestic space also informs how we work and our approach to the collections.” 

Lau describes her clothes as “enhanced everyday essentials”. They are clothes that are grounded in the system and movements of life – poplin shirts that can be worn into the office, ones that do not feel or look stifling; skirts that cascade down the knee and are light to the sight. The fabrics are cut such that they hang off the body – creating room and breathing space between the fabric and skin. It looks like these clothes were designed for city dwellers – the office-goers. Yet simultaneously, there is a sense of ease in the way the clothes move. 

It’s perhaps, borrowed from the tranquility and stillness of the mountain. It’s perhaps, borrowed from the community’s insouciant attitude. “We have always been interested in the contrast between city and country life, so living in Wutong but travelling regularly allows us to explore this.”