The Anti-Influencer: Ai-Ni Chung
Her brows are shaved. She dresses like a character out of a Japanese manga (her favourite is the iconic Naruto, a coming-of-age tale about ninjas) crossed with a gothic punk, complete with irreverent facial stickers. And she does it all under the moniker and Instagram handle @yungbabygod. No, her following — 940-strong at press time — would not make her a KOL by today’s marketing standards.
Like many of the digital natives of her generation though, this 20-year-old sees social media not so much as a platform to find fame and fortune, but as an outlet for self-expression. Individualism — not influence — is their main currency, and her extreme style makes her one of the boldest and most intriguing names on the scene. “It’s hard for me to describe my style because I get bored easily, and the last thing I want to do is get tired of myself,” she says with classic Gen Z candour. She counts the underground-inspired, gender-queer Matty Bovan and Dilara Findikoglu among her favourite brands, and is now pursuing a fashion design diploma at Lasalle College of the Arts in the hopes of doing something else that’s become usual for go-getting Gen Zs: Start her own label.
The “Fashion Agent”: Li Wanjie
“L’enfant terrible” reads the bio section of Li’s Instagram page @uuanjie — a fitting description considering the 18-year-old’s affinity for the weird yet wonderful as both an independent lensman and co-founder of the five-month-old talent agency Blu. As the former — a pursuit he started at 16 — he channels the same poetic irreverence as global up-and-coming young photographers like China’s Leslie Zhang and Korea’s Min Hyunwoo (unsurprisingly, they’re his idols). Whether he’s capturing the rebel R&B artiste Sam Rui or doe-eyed beauty Fiona Fussi, his filmic, often light-soaked portraits conjure a sense of nostalgia and the surreal.
At Blu, where he scouts, casts and shoots together with co-founder Nicholas Kent Tann, unconventionality is the highlight, with its current stable of eight models (including Serena Jane McNeill and Ryan Ong, pictured here) spanning a diverse mix of faces, races and body types that would easily make the runway cast of today’s most progressive labels. Says Li: “We’ve been told that our models look a lot more ‘real’, and I think that underscores the inclusive, industry-disrupting direction we’re trying to head towards.”
The Design Wunderkind: Rachael Cheong
The alum of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague only has her graduate collection from 2017 to show, but it’d be prescient to say that when she gets down to business (give her a year or two, she says), she’s bound to blow up. Inspired by dolls, the said collection boasts 19th century-style dresses made up of a pastiche of pretty, intricately ruched fabrics like lace-trimmed gingham. It might sound sugary sweet — except that the pieces are brazenly deconstructed, then paired with latex bonnets and disconcertingly lifelike masks. Its boldly twisted, fantasy quality is almost Richard Quinn-esque, and — coupled with her artful workmanship — earned her a spot in the Lichting show at Amsterdam Fashion Week that spotlights the year’s top fashion graduates in the Netherlands.
At 24, she fits into the tribe of Gen Zs reimagining ’90s Harajuku culture with their taste for the bizarre (she loves anime, antique fashion and the concept of “perverse innocence”), but her creative process is startlingly sophisticated. She says: “Designers have to ground their work in history, sociology and culture.” Concept development and studying other designers (among her favourites: Simone Rocha and Comme des Garcons) are also key. “They inform your design decisions so that you can make something uniquely ‘you’.” Now back after an internship with Marine Serre in Paris, she’s working with local band Aspidistrafly on their new album and music video. She’s also got the name for her label: Closet Children. We can’t wait.
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