Glass meets … New York-based emerging designer Claudia Li

NOW on her third collection for her well-received eponymous line, the China-born Claudia Li  grew up in New Zealand and Singapore before going on to study at Central Saint Martins in London and then to take an MA in fashion at Parsons School of Design, New York. Li was talent-scouted by Jonathan Anderson returning to London for two seasons to work for him before returning to NY to launch her own brand. Glass sat down with her recently in New York.

claudia_final-portrait1Claudia Li. Photograph: SSam Kim

claudia_final3A look from Li’s latest collection. Photograph: SSam Kim

How did you come to start your own line?
After completing the MFA program at Parsons School of Design and working, I felt it was the right time to start my own line.

You worked for Brandon Maxwell and J.W. Anderson. How was the experience? Did it help you starting your line?
I think so, I learned so much from both. Both environments were unique in their own way and parts of each experience stayed with me. Each person is really good at what they do and that helped me to become better at what I am good at.


A look from Li’s latest collection. Photograph: SSam Kim

What made you study fashion at Central Saint Martin even though your background was in fine arts growing-up?
I always knew that I was going to pursue some form of art, I just did not know exactly what it is was when I was younger. I started painting when I was really young because it felt natural with my family being in the art business and growing-up around it my whole life. To me, fashion is another way of expressing myself. I loved fine arts, but I felt like I could not express myself as fully as I could through fashion.

And you launched your line in New York. What made you choose New York?
It is the only place I have ever felt that I belonged.


claudia_final5A look from Li’s latest collection. Photograph: SSam Kim

What is the most challenging part to you being a designer in New York?
I think there is certain expectations when you are based in New York. There is a tradition that people do not want to break. American fashion has a very distinctive look and feel when people describe it, so I think that when you design outside of that box it is harder to break into the market and be accepted.

Where do you go for inspiration? What inspires you the most?
Small moments in New York and things that happen to me, people I meet, moments I share are really what drive me in New York. Each season I draw inspiration from my personal experiences and all of that helps tell the full story.


claudia_final7A look from Li’s latest collection. Photograph: SSam Kim

Compared to other European designers, New York designers seem to focus on customer response and commerce rather than to focus on design creativity. How about you? How you do you balance creativity with commerce?
To me, personally, it is not just commerce, not just clothes. I think it is more about people connecting with the story of the season and the clothes, and commerce plays a second hand in the whole process.


claudia_final6A look from Li’s latest collection. Photograph: SSam Kim

How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I would not define my aesthetic in any particular way. I like to keep my process open.

Can you tell us about your FW16 collection?
I wanted to express self-preservation. It was about protecting oneself after emotional destruction and the recovery period right after.


claudia_final2A look from Li’s latest collection. Photograph: SSam Kim

What makes you different with other designers?
I think every designer is different in their own way, personally I am an expressionist at heart.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
I see myself still doing what I love.

by Ssam Kim

All photographs: Ssam Kim.
Hair and make-up: Yoshie Kubota using MAC Cosmetic. Model: Maggie Mizner @Wilhelmina NY

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