STAR WOMAN WAITING IN THE SKY: INTERVIEW WITH JUDY ZHANG
Updated: Jan 6
Not everyone is particularly fluent in body language. Some of us can't enunciate in a room full of people. Others are quite adept. Whether it is in the wrinkles forming in their forehead, or the placing of their hands, they ask you to lean in, and, as it were, listen. Judy Zhang belongs to the latter. This expressiveness helps her tremendously - in rooms where English was the first language. Hers is Mandarin. Perhaps this expressiveness was developed as a faithful companion, for such occasions. But whatever prickly bits of vocabulary or conjugation do not come quickly enough to her, she makes up for it with a smile and quizzical look upwards. When reaching for a colour blue, over dinner, without the promise of a Pantone book, this body language saves the day, and the meal. Or when describing her new collection, without the actual samples in front of her, she pantomimes the movements of a specific garment, how it functions on the body, or the movements of the wearer in said garment, heightened to comic effect. But with either rendition, we clearly understand how the feel of the garment or how the wearer would feel, enamoured by it. Judy says, "I try, I try", sometimes in English, sometimes in Mandarin, sometimes in body language. And more often than not, we get it.
IRK: What inspired you to pursue a career in fashion?
Judy Zhang: As a fashion designer, fashion to me is beyond a career. Fashion is a passion, and beyond that, it’s a calling. Under the fast developing fashion industry in China, I want to take this opportunity to spread Chinese culture to the world. China is not a‘fashion dessert’but a place full of vibrant creativity. IRK: What are your favorite styles from Shenzhen, Milan, and New York and, do you find that, maybe even subconsciously, you use them in your designs?
Judy Zhang: I really like Shenzhen eventhough the tempo of the city is fast-paced. A lot of women still put effort in dressing themselves nicely everyday under such high career pressures and fast paced environment. This is inspiring to me as I want to showcase the independence and power of women in my designs.
IRK: Did you feel a pressure to launch your brand in a fashion capital, rather than in China, to see greater success? Why did you choose to launch your brand in a fashion capital, rather than China? Judy Zhang: Pressure is enevitable but I do like a challenge. From the very beginning I don’t want Judy Zhang to be resitricted in China. The brand Judy Zhang is just like my child, I want them to reach beyond and have freedom to express in the global stage. I want Judy Zhang to shine internationally. IRK: Why New York over the others? It was a decision made under careful analysis of resources and markets reach. IRK: As a female entrepreneur, what obstacles did you face, and do you think they were caused by sexism? Judy Zhang: My personality is more boy-like, and have been independently working for years, sexism in the industry no-longer fazes me. I believe in the face of sexism not only must you build up your spirits but have solid unbetable skills. In other words, the hardest obstacles doesn’t come from the environment but if you have the corage and skills to face it.
IRK: How have you created a space for yourself in the industry as a Chinese-American, female designer? What is the statement your designs make, that is unique to you - as a Chinese-American, female designer? Judy Zhang: There is two aspects to this. One, is the price-point of the goods. Two, find our own advantage points, in other words what makes us different. Judy Zhang is woman designing for ‘woman’. We design for independent woman following a combination of strength and softness . It’s a multi-aspected, vibrant, unique character. IRK: Is there anything that you would change about that journey that others in similar positions could learn from? Judy Zhang: I believe an independent fashion designer must learn not only how to design but how to run a business. How to manerouver between commercial and artistic expression. How to market, and how consumer also inspires designer. It’s a balance and dialogue between the designer and the clients.
IRK: Your Spring/Summer 2021 collection is inspired by the Chinese folktale “Legend of the White Snake”, what design aspects were incorporated into this collection that were inspired from the folktale? Judy Zhang: In China, “Legend of the White Skake” is a famous folktale. The two main female characters, Baisuizhen and Xiaoqing, has different personalities. Therefore visually I used white for to represent Baisuzhen. The silhouettes are clean and strong to illustrates her passion and determination to chase love. Xiaoqing’s personality is rebellious and willing to break tradition, therefore I choose to use color, patterns and beading to express her fun personality. IRK: Your Autumn/Winter 2021-2022 draws from Anna May Wong's style, what does she represent to you that you chose her for the collection inspiration? Judy Zhang: Anna May Wong without the doubt is one of the most successful Asia actress to step into the global stage. Beyond her works, I admire her courage and independence. Her independence to challenge and break traditions. To me, she inspires the woman I want women to be like. Instead of a delicate woman, I want woman to embrace their strength.
IRK: The future is undoubtedly bright for Judy Zheng, but what do you see and hope for your brand? Clothing is a ‘language’. All my designs are to express the deep thoughts within women. Therefore I want to discover more about what women wants either supporting them mentally or physically. These are the direction I am exploring my designs in. I want my clothes to be the language women use to express their feelings. IRK: What does a feminine feminist mean to you and how does this duplicity inspire your designs? Judy Zhang: I believe feminist isn’t to be against men, but to merely express women’s independence, freedom and autonomy. To inspire women to live with confidence. Therefore I did not give up the softness so innate to women in our designs. I want the softness to co-exists with strength. IRK: You are a strong independent woman with a strong vision. What message would you like to give young women and men? Judy Zhang: I want more people to be open-minded. There are many aspects in a women. They can be soft and feminin but at the same time determined and strong, fighting for what they believe.
IRK: You have had experience as a designer in Shenzhen, Milan and New York. How have these very different cities and cultures changed you and your vision for your brand? What is your favorite city? Judy Zhang: No matter which cities I’ve been to, their culture and history is inevitably tied with the contribution of women. Seeing these contributions created more confidence in me to create designs for women. Shenzhen , Milan or New York marks different milestones in my memories, they are all equally important.
IRK: What culture do you relate to most?
Judy Zhang: Woman’s culture IRK: What is next for you and your namesake brand? Judy Zhang: As a brand, I want to collaborate with more big name international magazine as well as stepping forward in the Chinese market. Recently we have had multiple fashion shows in China. The fashion show was well received with Chinese media and celebrities
Photographer: Lindsay Adler (@lindsayadler_photo)
Styling & Interview : Cannon (@thecannonmediagroup) at The Only Agency (@theonly.agency)
Make Up: Joanne Gair (@joannegair)
Hair: Linh Nguyen (@linhhair)