“To me, revamping aesthetics is nostalgia, and satisfying an urge that some customers have. Whereas technology is true progression and innovation.”

Fashion design graduates from schools like Central Saint Martens, Parsons School of Design, and the Fashion Institute of Technology are at an all time high. With young designers aspiring to create their own brands and make a name for themselves, it can be quite challenging to attain recognition in a business that is frankly quite over-saturated. Organizations like menswear trade show PROJECT, British Fashion Council, and CFDA+ in New York assist young graduates to transition from academia to professional, working designers.

This season PROJECT has created a Next in Class section, which offers recent graduates an opportunity to expand and grow their emerging businesses. Designers were hand-picked and will exhibit their FW17 collections to luxury retailers, buyers, and e-commerce vendors, gaining exposure and insight into the wholesale marketplace. Madison Li, a menswear and accessories designer, is one of the selected finalists showcasing his FW17 collection entitled: BETA, at PROJECT. IDOL caught up with the ingenue to discuss the selection process, his aesthetic, and what modernity means to him.

What made you decide to study design?

Growing up I’ve always been interested in different kinds of visual art. There’s a lot of power in perception. People get influenced by what they see. Maybe I decided to study design, because I wanted to understand how I get influenced, and how I can influence others.

You’ve attended two very prestigious design schools, Central Saint Martens and Parsons. What did you take away from each school and how have those experiences prepared you for starting your own collection and forming your aesthetic? 

I benefited a lot from the mandatory history and theory lecture classes at Parsons, although initially I would have preferred more studio time, and found lecture classes to be boring. Those lectures really inspired me to think critically and creatively.

Central Saint Martins was a rather immersive experience to be surrounded by a community of very creative people, which pushed me to be somewhat less of a populist, and more about individualism.

How has your time in London and New York respectively influenced you as a designer?Madison Li

The nightlife scene is where I find most people use fashion as a medium to express themselves, and I don’t find the scenes in New York vs. London that different anymore, so they probably influence me more or less the same way. I accidentally moved into a room with bed bugs when I was living in London and that forced me to wash and dry all my clothes in high heat multiple times, and a lot of clothes were ruined because of that. That experience probably changed the way I look at clothes haha…

Your thesis collection is about moving past modernism with a “more is more” approach to
fashion. Tell me more about what that means to you and how that approach is visible in your clothes and accessories? 

My theory is that to cope with the overflowing information in the Digital Age, we tend to compartmentalize and simplify everything. By doing so we often lose the contexts, multifacetedness, and diversity. Cubist art is known for its ability to capture simultaneity and multifacetedness, and that is why I chose Cubism as an inspiration. You can see some reference to Picasso in the collection. Inspired by his sheet metal sculptures I wanted to create pieces that have different dynamics when viewed from different angles, and I wasn’t satisfied with conventional 2D sketching, so soon I transitioned to using 3D modeling program to sketch apparel and accessories.

You use technology like DIGIdrape and algorithms to create your designs. Talk me through your creative process and why technology plays a strong role in your collections?

The idea of developing the software, DIGIdrape, came to me as I was designing the apparel collection. As I was sketching apparel in 3D modeling program Rhino, usually used in product design and architecture, I had a lot of ideas as how a program like Rhino could be a lot more beneficial for fashion designers. Not only would that accelerate the creative process in a precise manner, but also this new technology would expand the possibilities and enable designers to sketch, design, and construct in ways that they never imagined. To me, revamping aesthetics is nostalgia, and satisfying an urge that some customers have. Whereas technology is true progression and innovation.

Madison Li

You’ve been selected by PROJECT as part of their Next in Class section at the trade show.  What was that selection process like and what do you hope to gain from your presence there? 

I had the great honor of being invited by PROJECT to showcase my work on their floor, so I’m very excited to meet people in different roles in the industry, and get feedback from them.

Are there any designers you’re particularly inspired by? 

I find my former professor Timo Rissanen very inspiring. He taught the Zero Waste Garment class. His enthusiasm and optimism towards bringing awareness to preserving the environment in the context of this industry gives me a lot hope.

What’s next for Madison Li? 

I look forward to learn more as I continue to work in the industry, and hopefully soon have my designs accessible to everyone.