Looking around her Flatiron District studio, Claudia Li acknowledges the obvious. “It’s like an explosion of floral prints and lots
of colors in here,” she says of the space, which is covered with flower-bedecked sketches, mood boards, and prototypes for her upcoming collection. It’s somewhat of a departure for Li, 28, who has never worked with prints before.
“All the collections before were really calm,” she says, shrugging, “but this season …” as if to say, all bets are off.
The newfound obsession with color and print is less surprising considering that Li initially pursued fine art, studying painting at Central Saint Martins. Then she pivoted to fashion and headed to Parsons’s MFA program. Her thesis collection, full of round-shouldered, cocoonlike shapes, was inspired by her birthplace in rural China. Post-graduation, she interned for Brandon Maxwell, who had not yet started his line and was working full-time as Lady Gaga’s stylist. (During that time, Gaga herself donned one of Li’s designs — a white matching set with Mother Monster–friendly, hyper-exaggerated sleeves.)
Her next step was equally impressive: After J.W. Anderson saw her portfolio, he contacted her directly, and she relocated to London to work in his studio as a draper. The New Zealand and Singapore native began showing her namesake label last year, with a critically well-received debut collection that featured intricately fringed and knotted pieces.
Now, she’s banking on full-on romance for spring 2017 — no wonder a coffee-table book on maximalist hero Christian Lacroix is prominently visible in her work space. The collection is titled After Dusk and Before Dawn. Explains the designer, “Every season I try to reflect on moments of my life where I feel a mood. This is more about an epiphany of finally setting yourself free. It’s like the first moments where you realize that you can just let go and be free.”
One recurring motif is the orchid, which she calls “a symbol of women’s strength and sexuality.” She’s made it feel less precious by mixing it with menswear shirting fabrics and man-tailored silhouettes like trousers and hoodies. But Li hasn’t abandoned her exploration of fabric techniques: This time, she’s played around with yarn, using it in place of embroidery floss.
Expect the show’s set to be just as botanically themed. Li’s team had 10,000 fabric orchids made, which will be papered all over the cubes the models stand on — the perfect setting for everyone wishing for spring in the middle of September.