Words by Kara Becker
Mysterious old pictures as if ripped out of an aged album are intertwined with modern but vintage styled images of beautifully cut, romantic dresses. Renli Su, London–based, Chinese–born designer creates much more than just clothes. She’s telling a dazzling story and builds an inspiring world you simply want to be part of.
The charming blend of different styles and tendencies that stand behind the Renli Su brand can be seen at first glance. A respective nod to Su’s home culture is also evident. It seems like every single thread is full of history. “I’m always searching for new stories and themes for my work, whether it be in a book, an old photograph, through costume, a poem that I can abstractly interpret or through a friend telling me an old mythical tale of a town they have visited. For details, I often find them through pieces of clothing themselves, whether it be sourcing them in an antique market or viewing them in a museum. For me, the Victorian-style clothing conveys the romantic aesthetic that I want for my customer” – explains Renli Su.
The newest, Spring Summer 2020 collection takes us on a magical journey in search of the Blue Bird of Happiness, as seen in the enchanting play ’The Blue Bird’ written by the Belgian playwright and poet Maurice Maeterlinck in 1908. Su felt a deep connection to the story about two children of a carpenter, Mytyl and Tyltyl, who in order to help their neighbour’s daughter had to find the blue bird of happiness. In their dreams, they’ve visited the most wonderful and extraordinary lands. The effect is a well–thought collection full of borrowings from that era. Very romantic, deep and, despite the historical approach, very modern. There are ivory, embroidered dresses, burgundy, velvet coats with white ruffs, shirts with gorgeous victorian sleeves, very wide, O shaped culottes and many childlike silhouettes. It’s a contemporary vision of the 19th century luxurious fashion.
Renli Su is aware of the growing romantic and victorian inspired clothing trend, but she’s also candid about the fact that this aesthetic was always extremely close to her heart. “There is quite a lot of 19th century inspired brands coming through at the moment. However, this has been my signature for a while now, as much as I love this period I’m always working to evolve from this with innovative fabrics and old craftsmen’s techniques on cotton, wools, and linen. I have a lot of exciting techniques I have been developing with my team for this season such as dying techniques, embroidery, hand-painted prints and our own cotton jacquards “– says Su. It’s a path that she decided to take very early on. The designer studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, which is Chinas best Art school. “I trained in a very small class of just 10 people, our mentor is a very famous pattern cutter and person within China. This allowed me to have a very solid understanding of traditional Chinese clothing and the human body. My mentor was key to my education, he was very wise and had many stories to tell, not just about clothing but life, and the psychology behind what we wear” – she says. For her masters degree she decided to move to England to start an education at the London College of Fashion. There she discovered the beauty and art behind creating clothes. “I moved to London when I was 23. Although I was aware of fashion I had never studied the vast history of fashion and China was still quite cut off to the rest of the world at this time. London is very rich in fashion history, whether it be culture or history of the industry” – she adds. Renli Su founded her own brand six years ago, in 2014, after receiving her masters degree. The differences between the Chinese and the English approach to fashion is what she benefits from. It definitely helps in creating clothes that are suitable for both, the Asian and Western, markets. The combination of those two aesthetics, Su believes, is what makes her brand unique. “I can source, produce and design using the best of Europe and China. This means that I can be quite experimental with my collections and provide my customers with beautiful detailed high-quality clothing”.
Renli Su is getting more and more attention. Her romantic and poetic way of seeing fashion captured customers and the industries heart. Her unique ability to tell an inspiring story is what makes her one of a kind. And who wouldn’t want a beautifully constructed victorian shirt or a long, velvet coat with a decorative, textured ruff to go with our favourite pair of jeans? Let’s go back in time. And make it modern.
Photography by Marc Hibert, Assisted by Madison Blair, Styling by Rachel Bakewell, Makeup and Hair by Yumi Noh, Modelled by Cara Bregazzi.