From gaming culture to South Park, this Chinese label's influences are varied and always fun

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Probably one of the most interesting brands on the Chinese fashion scene, SANKUANZ boasts a distinctive and playful approach to fashion that has gained a cult-like following in China—and abroad. Last year’s AW collection was showcased at the opening ceremony of the Commes des Garcons Trading Museum in Tokyo, and the latest collection created such a buzz at Shanghai Fashion week that people were selling fake invitations to their show outside the venue.

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The brain behind SANKUANZ is 29-year-old fashion designer Shangguan Zhe, who graduated from Xiamen University in 2007—majoring in Visual Communication and Advertising. Zhe—unlike his job-hunting peers—immediately set up his own studio and let his brand evolve somewhat organically. He tells CH, “There were not many things to do in the earliest days, I sometimes drew an illustration and printed it on shirts, which were sold through some friends’ stores. I worked in this way for a very long time—and after many years SANKUANZ came to the light.”

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I’m not trying to overturn anything. I have no sense of mission and I don’t care about meaning. Everything I do is to make me happy.

SANKUANZ’s intriguing and unconventional style made Zhe a sort of eccentric enfant terrible in the Chinese mainstream fashion scene. He has been praised by many critics as one of the the most creative young talents in the industry, but he doesn’t see himself as a rebel, “You may think I am mind-blowing, but actually I’m just making a voice. I’m not trying to overturn anything. I have no sense of mission and I don’t care about meaning. Everything I do is to make me happy,” he says. And we can see his playful and carefree approach in the latest collection. Each piece is an explosion of colors and explicit graphics, and everything seems to come out from the blender of Asian youth subculture: irreverent street-style, baroque outfits, gaming culture, Tibetan tunics and “South Park”—of which Zhe is a big fan.

For the second time, Shangguan has developed his collection with an exciting name in the Chinese creative scene—artist Tianzhuo Chen, who is known for combining religious language with pop culture. Both Chen and Zhe seem to share the idea that creativity is meant to tease people’s minds, and ultimately please its maker. On the collaborative process, Zhe says, “We are very good friends and Tianzhuo made the prints for my collection and the stage props for the show. We usually agree on the direction, then we work apart to finally combine our ideas together.”

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Zhe tells us that there is an ever-evolving (albeit unnecessary) Chinese identity in the world fashion scene, stating, “It’s exciting that more and more interesting designers are making their appearance in the domestic fashion world, showcasing their wonderful works while Chinese consumers are getting more mature and internationalized. But national identity is not a must, since basically fashion is meant to be fun—there’s no need to be serious.”

SANKUANZ creations can be found at LA’s Opening Ceremony, Just One Eye and H-Lorenzo and at NYC’s Opening Ceremony. Their other international stockists are also listed online.

Images courtesy of SANKUANZ