Sankuanz designer Shangguan Zhe dishes the dirt on CNY fashion collections and the Sankuanz x Puma Cell Endura sneaker collab
Light as air
Athletic shoes were sh*t hot in the 90s. Back then, the world of sport was larger than life, with flicks like Space Jam, The Mighty Ducks and, yes, even Cool Runnings defining many of our childhoods. The feats depicted in those movies may have bordered on the unrealistic, but performance wear did take a huge leap forward during that magical decade. Puma's Cell Technology shoes, released in 1998, offered some of the best and most stable cushioning on the market, and no other shoe in the line was cooler than the Endura.
After a two-decade absence, the style is making a comeback: it's been updated with the latest materials and design features, and given a 2018 spin by Chinese designer Shangguan Zhe. Zhe is the founder and creative director of streetwear label Sankuanz, which was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize in 2015 and which has been seen on the likes of Bella Hadid, Kaia Gerber and Rita Ora. While he was in town for an early launch of the Sankuanz x Puma Cell Endura sneakers at Culture Cartel, we chatted with Zhe on his formative fashion experiences, fashion's weird relationship with China and more.
What was the first time you remember feeling strongly about clothing, either when it came to what you wore or what other people were wearing?
I first remember yearning for clothes when I had just entered primary school in the early 90s. At the time, China was still quite secluded from the rest of the world, and there were not many choices out there. Representatives from our city's sports training centre visited my school to recruit athletes, and I was deeply fascinated by their dark blue Kappa uniforms. I had never seen clothes like that.
Fashion in the 21st century is more diverse and fragmented than ever, with no real consensus on a definitive 'look' of the times. Why do you think that is?
Most of online shopping, which has been fashion's most recent game-changer, is based on the "long tail" model of business. I think this is why there's no longer a global consensus on the "look" of the moment. With the flow of online information growing faster and more convenient every day, how we dress ourselves will only get more diverse.
What does fashion mean to you as a maker and/or consumer?
As a designer, fashion is my platform for creation and communication. I'm not much of a consumer, though. I only purchase basics for daily use. These days, what's interesting in fashion is not product, but behaviour. Take a pair of Dickies overalls as an example: sell it at Walmart, and it's just a pair of overalls; sell the same item in a designer boutique, and suddenly it becomes 'fashion'. The industry has transformed, leading to a differentiation between designers who make clothes, and designers who make 'fashion'. For modern designers, the scope and demands of creativity have expanded — it's no longer just about clothes, but extends far beyond that.
The currency of streetwear is 'cool', whose exact definition nobody can seem to agree upon. What does 'cool' mean to you?
Coolness is about creativity. I don't see anything 'cool' in commercial streetwear.
China as it is perceived by foreigners is still the dominant representation of Chinese culture in the West. Do you see educating audiences and challenging preconceptions about China as an important part of your work?
I don't really care about educating audiences about Chinese culture. How the West sees China and any biases they may hold against it has no interest for me. As far as I'm concerned, China is the only source of Chinese culture. How could it be otherwise?
You once released a Year of the Dog/Chinese New Year collaboration with Vans. What do you think about international brands issuing New Year collections that lean on Chinese culture without providing non-Chinese audiences much context?
Chinese New Year collections are just meeting market demands. That's how business is supposed to work, isn't it?
What does streetwear's takeover of the luxury market mean to you?
I think 'takeover' is an exaggeration...
The Sankuanz x Puma Cell Endura sneakers will be available at Leftfoot, Limited Edt. On Pedder and Robinsons from 26 January 2019.