Home - T Singapore

At Renli Su, A Collection For Romantic Time-Travellers

By Guan Tan

From left: A jacket, blouse, and loose-fit trousers combo; cotton dress decorated with a velvet ribbon; jacket and skirt.
 
RENLI SU
From left: A jacket, blouse, and loose-fit trousers combo; cotton dress decorated with a velvet ribbon; jacket and skirt.

"The 'past' is a huge source of inspiration for me," London-based Chinese designer Renli Su quips. She stresses on the word 'past' because it's merely a concept. "I have never experienced the past... it is an imaginary place." 

Su pours through "historical artefacts" and conjure images of life back in time. "I feel that through objects I can connect to their experience, and travel to a dream world." 

In her Fall Winter 2017 collection, Su draws from "Victorian workwear and military symbolism," and her childhood memories of days spent by the sea. The two episodes of history were approximately a hundred years apart. Yet, when assembled in Su's head, they're no longer time-bound. 

RENLI SUCotton tunic with mandarin collar and V-shaped ruffles across the chest.
Cotton tunic with mandarin collar and V-shaped ruffles across the chest.

The moment Su sketches them on paper, the past is birthed in the present. "The process starts with sketches, [which] then becomes very detailed design drawings, and finally technical drawings done with Adobe software." 

Su's sketches are developed into paper patterns by her team. "A few fittings later, the final pattern is confirmed." 

The pattern will then be transferred onto fabric. To Su, the linear and seemingly logical design process doesn't work – first the design patterns, then fabric choice. What works for her is the other way around, "The fabric's character dictates my designs." It's similar to what Yohji Yamamoto reiterates constantly, that designers should always 'listen' to what the fabric is saying. 

RENLI SUA black layered linen-cotton coat.
A black layered linen-cotton coat.

Way before her historical research and sketches, Su has already browsed through fabrics from several sources. "Such as fabric fairs in London, Paris, Shanghai, and also vintage collectors and little local fabric shops. I have also been working with fabric mills [which] create bespoke fabrics for us."

She then unhurriedly digests the plethora of fabric choices, simultaneously embarking on history research.
 

RENLI SUA military-green wool jacket embellished with velvet ribbons, worn with a pair of high-waisted wool trousers.
A military-green wool jacket embellished with velvet ribbons, worn with a pair of high-waisted wool trousers.

Her selection for Fall Winter 2017 pirouettes around linen, specifically "linen-wool and linen-silk-cotton" blends. It interestingly boils down to the same, recurring theme – time. 

"The fibres are slightly uneven, and age beautifully," Su considers. At the start, the linen might feel "crisp and cool" owing to the stiffer fibres. But over time with wear, it "gradually [feels] softer and warmer". It's a mellowing process that Su adores. It's related "to our wish for... our garments to develop a unique character with time". 

RENLI SUA cotton hand-embroidered oversized coat and skirt.
A cotton hand-embroidered oversized coat and skirt.

Linen is one of the oldest fabrics to boot. It's reportedly 10,000 years old, or proven to be 6,000 years old with evidence in the British Museum. 

Su's love for ferrying the past to present comes full circle this way. By drawing on the Victorian Romanticism, Su perhaps sees a parallel in the 1800s and today – an abandonment of absolute reason and all things technological, in favour of the truest human experience – emotions. 

T magazine

T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore's best videos: digital house tours from around the world, behind-the-scenes looks at cover shoots and more.