Born and bred in China, Haoran Li and Siying Qu form the design duo Private Policy. Together they make awesome and outre fashion getups that channel the shifting social, political and economic identities of Chinese creatives working abroad.
Hailing from China and now hq’d in The Big Apple, the dexterous duo behind Private Policy create a cosmos saturated with sartorial and cinematic allusions, niche historiography and hybrid motifs that result in a buck wild aesthetic—a synthesis between the disparate realms of haute couture, costume and streetwear. Their ready-to-wear whammies include shimmering satin velvet and silk wool varsity jackets, faux fur chaps that resemble Nick Cave’s kooky-cool soundsuits, and reversible raw-edged bombers embellished with artful appliques and fun onomatopoeia (that read ‘TADA’, ‘TakaTaka’ and various cheeky Chinese idioms). Just two seasons out of the gate their zesty cross-breedings (the bulk of which is unisex) have even been compared to vintage Comme and Junya for their philosophically tinctured narratives and surreal styles. Pushing East-West pluralism to the max and mashing up polyglot linguistic/artistic systems, Private Policy make eccentric, avant-garde alternatives that crackle with hybrid charm, wacky wearability and cross-cultural verve.
VIVISXN popped by their NYC atelier to peep out their processes and pick their brains on topics like Chinese identity, cosmopolitanism and how to make their brand viable in a merciless fashion market.
Where exactly are you guys from and what’s your background?
Siying Qu: I’m originally from Qinghai in Western China. I came to the US as an exchange student and eventually moved to NYC and enrolled in Parsons. Haoran Li: I’m from Qingdao, China (pronounced like the beer, ‘Tsingdao’!). We’ve worked at a range of design houses and brands before we launched Private Policy, including Alexander Wang, CK/PVH, and 3.1 Phillip Lim.
Can you talk about the meaning of ‘Chinese identity’ and venturing out of your homeland to pursue your artistic dream?
We all know that China is teeming with change but working there can sometimes be culturally polarizing and politically constrained. We think that in order to optimize creative output and maximize business prospects it makes sense to set up shop in NYC. When it comes to self-expression, identity politics, personal creativity, etc., we are of the view that the best social system is the one that provides unbridled creative and cultural freedom—an ‘artistic ecosystem’ that is situated in the interstices between modernism and classicism, between Old China and New China, and celebrates an individualistic spirit. Our heritage is Chinese, of course, but our fundamental identity straddles modernism, traditionalism, cosmopolitanism, freedom and nowness!
How did you two meet?
We met at Parsons and our friendship and creative partnership blossomed from there.
What’s your underlying design philosophy?
We aim to design a high-impact, cosmopolitan brand that transcends gender binaries and pushes artisanship to the brink. We make fashion that is fundamentally wearable, cool and conceptually-driven.
Your designs embody Western fashion elements alongside Chinese decorative arts and costume. Can you talk about that?
We want to make mutually enlivening and artistically enlightening fashion propositions that result in visual and cultural discourses that encourage new interpretations of modern China and the West. Global and local ‘street style’ is a major reference for us; we also explore the multiple meanderings of Eastern influence and the feedback loops generated by globalization. We are interested in colliding traditional aesthetic modes with different ‘street elements’ and heritages to generate new memes, dreams and inventive fashion.
What recent references have you incorporated into your fashion?
The film Snowpiercer is one. It is a film about a dystopic future where an experiment to end global warming has left the Earth covered in ice and killed off all the inhabitants except for a class-divided few trapped on a train that never stops moving. It basically addresses the theme of social inequality, class hierarchy and revolution. We were inspired by the film’s storyline, wardrobe design, cinematography and egalitarian ethos. Other recurring references for us are: Chinese art history, ‘Orientalism’, gender ambiguity, Tibetan artistry and elements of chinoiserie.
What’s the best way to standout in an oversaturated and hard as nails fashion system?
By pushing and advocating the highest creative values and embodying undiluted artistic integrity.
What is your division of labor like when you design and market your collections?
Siying focuses on shape, silhouette and style; I focus on textiles and fabrication. Our creative vision is united because we share the same aesthetic values and work toward the same creative and business goals.
Who are some other Chinese brands/designers you admire?
We love Andrea Jiapei Li and Ground-Zero for their street savvy-meets-luxe appeal; we admire Feng Chen Wang for her cool conceptualism and subtle political zings; Ryan Lo for his full-on fantasy realm fashion riffs; Claudia Wu for her nuanced construction and fun prints; and Yang Li for his progressive silhouettes and intense youth energy.
Name your all-time favorite designers.
Rei Kawakubo and Raf Simons!
Favorite Chinese food outside of China?
China Blue at 135 Watts St in Chinatown!