In her Thesis collection, Parsons School of Design student Annie Li takes inspiration from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s seminal children’s book The Secret Garden, with whimsical, exaggerated details and silhouettes intermixing with organic flourishes. Complete with accessories sponsored by LMVH Group, Li’s eccentric, dreamy designs signal the beginning of a very promising career.
Describe your design philosophy and what your brand is all about:
My design philosophy is inspired very much by my emotions and the connections I draw between myself and art. For this collection, titled The Daydreamer, I am inspired by Frances Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and the collection sets out in an escapist dream of the nostalgic old English countryside where an orphaned little girl finds herself in the middle of a magical garden. It is a journey of self-discovery, and in the little girl I saw bits of myself. She is at first alone in her daydreams, but gradually she learned share her fantasy with others.
When did you know that this was what you wanted to do with your life? How did you get started?
For as long as I can remember art has always been a part of my life; my parents were collectors of the little miscellaneous souvenirs they’d find on their trips around the world. Of course I was little then, and they couldn’t bring me along so they would gather as many unique souvenirs as they possibly could to bring back to show me. From fossilized piranhas to painted ostrich eggs, I was really amazed by the transformative power of art to record time, memory, and emotions.
Do you think your childhood has had an effect on the creativity you display as an adult? What are your earliest memories involving fashion?
In my earliest memories, I remember making little paper dolls that had different outfits that could be switched. I was obsessed with stickers and would add them to the outfits to make them my own ‘designs’. My mom was very big on books and she would bring home several fairytale and illustration books at a time. That’s when I started to be interested in imaginary tales filled with outlandish characters. Their colors, shapes, and patterns really opened my mind to very bold and daring designs.
What inspires you now?
I am inspired by everything around me, the world is my playground, and I am always thankful for the figures in my life whom I’ve been inspired by.
What is your design process?
I first choose a mood, an emotion, an event in my life that I am affected by, and from there I began gathering a library of materials that makes this epiphany concrete. This could be a photograph, an artwork, or in this collection, in particular, a literary work that sparks my interest. And I find that I often look for the symbolic core of these works as the driving force behind my designs. From there I create a setting, a muse, and a narrative and work from them.
What’s the most difficult aspect of what you do?
When you are just starting out, it is very hard to find people who are like you, and can work well with you, because it is never about one person realizing their idea. So having a team of passionate people who can help you become even better is the most difficult aspect of what I am doing right now.
Do you design with a specific client in mind? If so, who is that person?
She is the girl-next- door, she is quirky and fun, she likes to collect eclectic pieces from little boutiques, and every once in a while she wishes that adulthood is just a dream.
Is there a piece or a collection you are most proud of?
It is very hard to choose… but I would say the embroideries from the collections are definitely the icing on the cake. They are the most time-consuming part of the construction because I beaded each piece by hand. The process is strangely healing though, I like sitting down in front of the embroidery hoop and just block out any distractions as I worked through the beads.
Have commercialism and/or the media had any impact on your work? Do you see commercial influence as a good or a bad thing?
I think there has definitely been a shift in my designs from the very beginning until now. I wouldn’t say that commercialism is necessarily a bad influence, because as a designer we do need to keep in mind what the function of our design is. I’m not a functional designer, I think function follows form, but there is still a line between a garment and a sculpture. In my mind, I see myself as a customer, so whenever I feel like I wouldn’t buy something I’ve designed, I know it will not represent who I am.
What is something or someone fabulous that you think is underrated or overlooked?
Remembering to be happy. I think especially this year amidst the work and chaos, I’ve really taken this quote to heart : “We shouldn’t concern ourselves so much with the pursuit of happiness but the happiness of pursuit.”
Do you have any words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?
Follow through with your dreams, there might be ups and downs along the way but as long as you follow through, you will see that it is worth it in the end.
Clothing Annie Li
Photography Natalie Fong
Production Darq Mttr
Hair Cash Lawless
Makeup Javier Romero
Model(s) Veronika Rusakova