The Cure: An interview with Mithridate designer Demon Zhang
Culture — 17.03.20
Demon Zhang is a creative force to be reckoned with. After spending her formative years as a future designer in London’s Central Saint Martins – fashion’s melting pot and the birthplace to globally recognised names such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and John Galliano – she followed in their footsteps and established her own independent brand back home in China.
Her designs explore the balance between intricate craftsmanship and the accessibility of ready-to-wear. Her eponymous brand, Mithridate, is full of mystery and magic. Named after the King who discovered a cure to fight all poisons, Zhang wants to provide a cure for women who are continually exploring their identity through fashion.
After a mesmerizingly grand debut performance event earlier this year during LFW AW20, which took place at the Medieval & Renaissance Gallery of the V&A where the creative inception of her collection took place, Demon managed to find a few moments to chat to Teeth Editor Desislava Todorova about her creative process.
How did you decide to become a fashion designer?
DZ: When I was in junior high, I liked to draw mangas and cosplay, and I often made costumes and props myself. I love the whole process of combining painting and producing. And then it spiralled out of control until now (laughing). To be honest, I just genuinely like it. Can’t define a particular reason. I just love making clothes and that’s what I want to make.
Why did you pick London for your studies and how did it shape your vision?
DZ: At that time, I was young and I had no idea where to study. It’s just a subconscious feeling that London is the capital of the UK with its famous museums and galleries, like the British Museum. I was sure I could get endless inspiration from all the amazing famous paintings there and I’d get to paint whatever I want. In fact, in my first month at school, I was crying all the time because I felt unprepared for the amount of drawing I had to do. I felt that I was too naive before I went to school. Well, that’s another story…
During my time at CSM, every day felt like a door to a new world was being opened. The study and understanding of art began to set a framework. The biggest thing about studying in London is that you aren’t forced to accept concepts. Teachers and schools put more emphasis on diversity and the coexistence of many kinds of arts; they lead the students to understand the beauty of each individual style of art. This was a very important process of inspirational symbiosis and cultivation for me to be exposed to so much art. I was taught to accept and tolerate all artistic things yet also to remain in my own l preference and expression of style.
What is your design process? How do you start making a collection and what triggers your creative inspiration?
DZ: The design process is actually different from season to season. For example, this time I started with a drawing. The first thing which inspired me was the mural in one of the galleries at the V&A, the marble surfaces and some art exhibits which I remember seeing around. Then I begin to create the artwork, make the fabric, choose the color, and then design the specific style. This feels almost like storytelling or a novel, or a movie. Not every beginning starts with “a long time ago…”, sometimes a small detail from the description of the scene or portrait can initiate a whole universe of characters and eventually tell a story.
There are so many things that inspire me. I’m easily distracted by external influences (I was often criticised for lack of concentration when I was a child), and I often have a lot of ideas and thoughts in my head. My biggest challenge is how to record and keep ideas in my mind in time, and how to recover them. I always think it’s a pity that I can’t put these ideas back together due to my limited capability (we’re only humans at the end, right?). I hope I can work harder to make myself stronger and more efficient and be able to present the inspiration from my head at the right time of creation.
What’s the defining element in your aesthetics?
DZ: The best way to describe it is: Luxurious Pragmatism. Although the real feeling I’ll have when I create is “A conflict between the classic and the modern, like a crossroad.” (laughter)
What fears did you have when you started your own brand?
DZ: Well…This is a profound question, but I don’t think fear is something I need to think about at this stage. What I need to focus on is to stay brave.
Tell us a little bit more about the AW20 collection which was shown at the V&A during LFW?
DZ: The prints are all inspired by the V&A’s marble architectural surfaces and medieval murals and artefacts in the museum collection. I also added my own understanding and made a printing.
What is your message for young female creatives being a successful and independent designer yourself?
DZ: Gender has nothing to do with creativity or ability. Choose what you want to do and make an effort to achieve it. Nothing is easy in the world. If you can achieve it easily, it is just within your capability. Build an effective team and work together, unity is power. Keep taking on new challenges, never give up easily, one more step and you might succeed.
What’s next for you? What is your next big project/collaboration?
DZ: Next up will be the SS21 collection at London Fashion Week in September. Of course, during this period, I will also do some new styling designs with my performing artist friends.