I view old or worn garments as primary evidence of time and experience. By deconstructing them and studying the pieces’ details, cutting styles, and shapes carefully, I have learned to identify the provenance of detached clothing components. A complicated lining structure and perfectly shaped sleeve indicate suits, which are very much about fitted cuts and tailoring. Ribbed elastic cuffs and puffy contours are the mark of bomber jackets, while cotton loopback jersey is used in sweatshirts and waterproof materials are the hallmark of field jackets. I see clothing parts and characteristics as mechanical components, but the fragments hold beauty—as much as when they’re joined together. A sleeve is a product in its own right.
Throughout this process, I kept those pieces of worn clothes and collected more, developing a “component library.” I saw a kind of beauty in the disjoining of what is complete and the joining of what is incomplete. I envisioned purposefully disjoined garments that would express a versatility with elegance—allowing their wearers to imagine what things could fill or join them.
This collection focused on a garment’s changeable components by assembling individual pieces that took inspiration from instructional diagrams and my “component library.” Special fabrics were employed for their durability and industrial aesthetic. For one piece, I visualized a classic, durable coat that feels like sleeping in bedsheets—the kind that have become softer after years of use and frequent washing. I washed and dyed the fabrics to create a comfortable and nostalgic feel. To more fully understand the shapes of older garments, I made frequent visits to secondhand stores and hardware shops selling utility clothing. Many older garments are deformed to some degree due to longtime wear, particularly those made of cotton. I found that some old pants maintain a leg-like shape if they are not washed or ironed, much the same as a motorcyclist’s riding pants. This discovery led me to use rubber-coated fabrics in order to maintain and emphasize shape. This material, both an aesthetic and functional choice, is created by a process I call “pre-stretching” that involves stretching fabric and then coating it with rubber. Once the rubber dries, a shape is retained, as though by hairspray or fixative.
I recognize now that an early source of inspiration was my father, who teaches engineering at a university. As a kid, I built toy prototypes under my father’s guidance, precipitating my lifelong interest in engineering and design. Curious about how machines function, my father and I would disassemble and reassemble lawnmowers, mixers, and typewriters, sometimes replacing a machine’s component in order to change its function. While feeding my flourishing curiosity, these DIY experiences also allowed me to think and imagine in a creative manner. The logic underlying these mechanical structures, I found, can produce similarly interesting outcomes if applied to fashion design. Much like engineering, clothes are constructed via the cutting and joining of individual pieces. Taking them apart, joining different pieces, and repurposing others create an abundance of looks that emphasize the beauty of the fragment as much as the whole.
Ran Bi is a fashion designer based in Shanghai, China.
Maharam is pleased to have provided material support for Ran Bi's Parsons School of Design MFA thesis in Fashion Design and Society.