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Experimental Complexity

by Art U News

Jing Zhao created the textiles and designs for her senior collection to make a bold statement about coffee addiction

By Nina Tabios

Jing Zhao, a student from the Academy of Art University, has a very strict sleep schedule. Five hours, she said, from the Textile Lab at 625 Polk just before spring break. Five hours of rest, the remaining 19 are dedicated to finishing up her senior collection debuting at the spring Graduation Fashion Show on May 11.

“Finishing things early is always better. And If you were to get a break, you can’t move forward,” the fashion design student sighed. On top of her runway collection, Zhao also juggles three other design projects for her classes. “It’s a lot of work. But that’s senior year.”


Zhao dyed, burned, washed and manipulated denim to create a moody, dimensional effect. Photo by Nina Tabios.

Coffee is her cure of choice for any kind of sleep deprivation, and it also happens to be the inspiration for her senior collection entitled “Caffeine Addict.” Drawing direct inspiration from all things coffee (think filters, bean bags) Zhao takes on her own innocent addiction to the black brew through experimental yet sophisticated womenswear characterized by its refined, multi-layered looks.

“I wanted to express this story in a more active way, to show addiction isn’t a good thing,” Zhao explained. “It’s like a conflict. Sometimes these things are good because we need these things to feel better during the day time; sometimes it’s bad when we need to rely on it. I think doing deconstruction [on the garments] can show how these kinds of issues are very complicated.”

The complexity of each look goes right down to the fabric. She realized creating her own textiles “would show my story more obviously.”

Photo by Randy Brooke for Getty Images.
Photo by Randy Brooke for Getty Images.

Using the playful qualities of denim, Zhao manipulated, burned, destroyed and treated the material to match the complicated, conflicting qualities of her designs. Each of the six garments in the collection will feature at least three different coffee-focused patterns.

“I think fabrics are the most important part of the garment, for clothing in general actually,” Zhao said. “Because what you mostly see in a garment is the fabric. Not everyone knows the construction of the garment but everyone can see your fabric. That’s a big part of the design.”

Zhao’s “Caffeine Addict” collection aims to be as bold as the drink it is influenced by. By having to put in “twice as much work,” said Assistant Director of Textiles Rhona MacKenzie, “Zhao has proven her strengths within fashion’s key facets: design, construction, and textiles.

Jing Zhao made her blue denim textiles look as if they are stained with coffee; sewn into bags, they are to be symbolic of people’s dependency. Photo by Nina Tabios.
Photo by Randy Brooke for Getty Images.
The blue garment (on the left) was Zhao’s prototype look that she presented to directors to approve her concept. Photo by Nina Tabios.

“She has put in a lot of hours on her project [and]has really impressed with her physical stamina during printing and her hard work and dedication have paid off.”

With 16 days away from her deadline, Zhao has one full outfit completed and is working on the second. As she sews on the buttons onto a denim skirt, Zhao remarked, “It’s like I’m doing a collaboration with myself.”

Watch the livestream of the 2019 Graduation Fashion Show on Saturday, May 11, at 12 p.m. PST at academyart.edu/runway.

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