Windowsen has made cyborg couture the hottest thing in fashion. Creative director Sensen Liispeaks to Zaneta Chengabout breaking away from traditional ideals of beauty while tearing down gendered thinking in the industry
What do you get when you throw sportswear with organza, a dash of drag queen, a tablespoon of aliens and a whole lot of couture together on one mannequin? Stumped? The correct answer would be Windowsen, one of China’s newest fashion brands that is taking the industry by storm.
Founded in 2019 by Sensen Lii, Windowsen is known for its boundary- breaking, unrestrained use of fabrics, thrown together with other-planetary silhouettes that has created a completely different visual language for couture as we know it today.
Lii is well aware of the alternative quality of his pieces. “I want to express something very intense [through my work]. I don’t want to express something that is considered pure and beautiful according to traditional aesthetics,” he says. “I have a rebellious side to me in that I don’t fully agree with traditional aesthetics of what is beautiful or tasteful. I think ugly things also possess qualities of beauty. I don’t think I’d be satisfied if my work was judged through the meter of beauty. My work shows my aesthetic and that revolves around finding a mode of expression for something considered ugly.”
Take his use of fabric, for example. A leather skirt can fuse together leather which comprises the skirt front, while the back is spliced with a sportswear fabric as well as sporting rope. The whole thing looks like a butterfly chrysalis from behind but the leather in front retains an almost armour- like structure.
“It’s more exciting, frankly,” Lii says. “Think in terms of food. No one generally hates rice. Most people eat it. But spicy or bitter foods, those divide opinion and there are as many people who dislike those flavours as there are people who love them. The latter is what I want in my work.”
And the reception has been enthusiastic to say the least. One of the poster children for new design in China, Lii has been commissioned by pop stars from Blackpink to Hong Kong’s Sammi Cheng to Taiwan’s Jolene Lin and was one of six designers handpicked from across Asia to design pieces to be exhibited at K11 Night’s exhibition The Love of Couture: Artisanship in Fashion Beyond Time celebrating 200 years of couture.
Lii’s universe is very complete. He knows this and named his brand Windowsen – a portmanteau of Windows, after the Microsoft operating system, and his own name – as a way of communicating a futuresque entry point into his world. Inspired by drag and late ’90s fashion, his brand has not deviated from this direction since he put pencil to sketchpad in 2018.
“This is what I did at the time, in 2018, and that first page is what I’m still working with now. I bring in the element of the drag queen because I really want to break the concept of gender,” Lii says emphatically. “In traditional fashion, when people think of couture, they think of these dramatic silhouettes and associate them with women whereas they’ll associate sportier, athletic elements with men. They’re considered mutually exclusive, so I decided to put these two elements together in my design because I don’t want that kind of delineation to exist. I use colour because personally I find my own sensitivity to colour to be stronger and I can’t really express myself through black and white, so I use a lot of different colours.”
Things could have gone very differently for Lii. Originally set to pursue a career in music, he one day decided that his calling swayed more to garment making. So, he applied to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and, as he waited, he worked as a stylist and subsequently at Hong Kong- based brand Ground Zero. Even at one of the world’s best schools for fashion design, his vision was almost considered too much.
“Of course the experience remains influential to this day but when I was actually at Antwerp I felt that I didn’t fit into the school very well,” Lii says. “It was probably because I had some work experience before I went to school so I had a vision for my future and I had a very strong idea of what kind of designer I wanted to be. So there were times when I wanted to go one direction, which would not be the direction that the teacher wanted me to go. The feedback I got back from my teachers was that they felt that I had a system of my own and that I couldn’t break it.” Lii eventually dropped out of school entirely to found his label.
With such a strong brand signature, does Lii worry about getting stuck in a rut? Not at all. The Windowsen universe, it seems, is vast enough for all evolution and permutation. “I don’t think there’s a limit. I don’t know how far it will develop. If we know now, then it won’t be fun – and keeping design playful is very important,” Lii muses. “What I do know will not change is the message and the story. I want to see everything from within a genderless perspective and present my findings there. I don’t know if I can make substantial change but my designs, I hope, are a view into how the world could be.”