Butterfly Princess's Guide to Modern Fashion
Interview by Terri Zhang (TZ, English and Mandarin), Tatum Hurley (TH, English), and Brianna He (BH, English and Mandarin)
Images courtesy of Butterfly Princess (HúDiéGōngZhǔ, English and Mandarin)
Talents behind Punkt Magazine images: Bodysuit @marrknull_official, Photography @wwei33, Styling @69.balll, Make up @elamasyip, Hair stylist @lindacheng540, Art direction, @zipengli, Set design @wwei33
SHE WEPT FOR SILLY LITTLE LOVE. SHE WEPT FOR SILLY LITTLE LONELINESS. WHEN SHE HAD BOTTLED ENOUGH TEARS, SHE BLATANTLY FLAUNTED THEM IN HER DESIGN.
BORN AND RAISED IN BEIJING, CHINA, LONDON-BASED FASHION DESIGNER AND CONTENT CREATOR BUTTERFLY PRINCESS WAS NO STRANGER TO THE PUBLIC EYE, AS SHE HAS BEEN INVITED TO COLLABORATE WITH CONVERSE, WINDOWSEN, VOGUEME, AND UNTITLAB. IT WAS HALF PAST NOON ON A THURSDAY, AND SHE HOPPED ON A ZOOM CALL WITH US WHILE ROLLING A CIGARETTE, DISCUSSING HOW SHE REBELS AGAINST THE COLONIAL GAZE IN EAST ASIAN FASHION.
TH: Tell us about yourself.
I'm almost 24 years old now. My hometown is Beijing. I studied New Media Art at the Taipei National University of the Arts for my undergraduate degree. I began working on my brand HúDiéGōngZhǔ two years ago. Now I am studying MA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins.
TZ: How is living in London different from living in China for you as a person and as a designer?
I cannot separate my identity or experience "as a person" from "as a designer." My work and personality as an influencer and designer are all part of who I am; everything comes together. So I think the most significant difference between my experiences at these places is that I had to start anew. Since high school in China, I have already developed my social media presence, although I didn't open the account with the intention of being an influencer or gaining fame – social media was just a way to express my feelings. Back then, I had so many interests (and still do) – photography, painting, 3D animation, and basically anything visual arts based. From high school until I moved to London, I collected a large following within six or seven years.
Interview and Creative work for Converse
But when I came to London, my social media presence reset – I left my following in China. Back in China, I had so many photoshoots, both commercial shooting and editorial ones, interviews, and other projects. When I walked on the street, sometimes people could recognize me. But after coming to London, there was none of that. Ultimately the difficult part for me is the language barrier. I believe people appreciate me because of my confidence, my personality, and how I articulate my words. However, when I use English, I cannot express myself as freely as I can in my mother language, and, as a result, I don't feel that confident.
TZ: You touched a little bit on your lived experiences growing up. What are some lived experiences that shaped your artistic expressions in the various mediums you've explored?
Since I was a baby, I have been adoring painting — a passion for art from the bottom of my heart.
TZ: So you've just been letting your passions guide you.
Right. I feel uncomfortable if I don't do this kind of thing. It feels wrong not to. It's a part of who I am. But I feel the passion dissipating recently. 因为越长大，热情就会越少。 [The older I get, the less I feel the passion.]
TZ: Is there any other reason you feel like your passion is decreasing apart from aging?
诱惑。 [Temptation.] I think it's because there are much easier ways to get attention, money, and everything else you want. 你的创作回报是很慢的，也不一定是大家都会喜欢、认可的。但是世界上同时有很多其他简单的事情，比如你就随着音乐随便扭两下、跳个舞，大家就会很喜欢。这个是现在流行的东西，你很难不被他影响。你就会想做一些简单但是大家喜欢的东西，而不再去深入地研究一些事情，或做一些需要投入大量时间精力的事。我觉得是这个原因。[Rewards for your creativity is slow and unpredictable. Meanwhile, other more rewarding types of content require little effort, such as dancing to music (on TikTok). It's difficult seeing other people creating incredibly simple trendy items receiving all that attention while you're trying to dedicate to something that speaks to personal interest and something you are proud of. I think that's the reason why.]
Butterfly Princess Featured in Punky Magazine Issue 6 - The Present/Future Issue
TZ: You're saying there is less positive reinforcement due to how social media currently works. It operates around tittytainment – low-cost, physical, and psychological means that provides instant gratification and a numbing effect that demobilizes human brains, like TikTok. So there are fewer rewards for complicated or sophisticated creative endeavours. Now, people making basic dance moves can gain tons of views. So as artists, there is less incentive to produce more sophisticated work.
BH: It's a comparatively short-term reward versus long-term rewards. People might not respond well to curated creations because of how modern trends flow. Especially right now, because there are so many micro trends floating around. It's difficult because the rewards are comparatively instant when you feed into that.
TH: I definitely feel all that. It discourages artists from fully expressing themselves in ways that may not be seen because what is being seen is often surface level.
BH: You also talked about how you have a lot of passion for the arts and involved yourself in many visual arts. Out of all the ways of expression you could've chosen to pursue, what made you choose fashion?
I started this two years ago, but since my earliest memories, my personality was very 爱臭美 [smug.] I love to show and express my beauty ostentatiously. When I was maybe five years old, my family always stayed in the living room watching TV. But instead of sitting and watching with them, I would stand in front of the TV and tell them, "look at me, don't look at the TV."
I think this part of my personality drew me towards fashion –– the two are fundamentally alike. I don't want to only work behind the scenes. I want to show myself. I love fashion because it is both. Being a model doesn't satisfy me because they don't have power or control. I want to have the ability to create. I'm creative and want to express that through my works, but I also want to be the star. I want everything, and fashion fulfills that hunger for me. You can complete fashion by yourself. You cannot make a movie with only one person, but making clothes is a different story.
TZ: How did you decide on the aesthetic of your brand?
I think all my inspiration is from my childhood memories and daily life experiences. You mention the 1990s to 2000s when describing my brand in the interview guideline, right?
Maybe there is no 90's element in my aesthetic because poor areas are slow in responding to trends. I was born in 1998, so the 2000s were much more defining for me.
TZ: Got it. And why is the brand named after "butterfly"?
Ah, my name. I gave myself this name. It means Princess Butterfly. Four years ago, I started a magazine. It wasn't a real magazine; it was a dating magazine for people to meet one another. I asked participants to give me their pictures and information, and I would post them in the magazine so other people could get to know them and find new friends. I thought I needed to create a new identity and name to run this magazine as the editor. So I just picked a random name, 蝴蝶公主 [Butterfly Princess.]
She on her Dating Magazine
I don't like butterflies as an animal. I like people's opinion of butterflies –– colourful, fleeting, untouchable. 公主 [Princess] was selected because I found it a bit interesting and every girl's dream. So I've just used this name up until now. My brand is part of me, so it's also my name now.
TZ: You have a precise approach to 2000s fashion. The way you assemble the brand's name and select aesthetics for your brands are very fresh compared to other brands that are trying to emulate the same energy. How do you see your aesthetic differing from those brands?
Hmm … I think I used a lot of ugly elements – elements that are considered “local." "Local" has negative connotations in Chinese; it's 土 [rustic and countrified]. The opposite of "local" in Chinese dialectical discourses is "Western," making the Eastern aesthetic the equivalence of 土 [rustic and countrified.] 就是一些人们不愿意正视的、一些不愿意承认是我们一部分的文化——就是大家平时觉得很丑的东西，但是它就是存在于日常生活中的部分。我觉得这是让我们不同的地方 [Elements that the Chinese are unwilling to confront and acknowledge as part of our culture. Elements that are considered ugly but are largely prevalent and quotidian. I feel that is what sets my brands apart from the rest.]
TZ: What are some sources of your inspiration?
I remember being inspired by a poster on the wall in my childhood home. 风景画 [A landscape poster.] 它是经过photoshop处理的假的山水——有荷花、梅花、桃花......等于把一年四季的花都放在一个图像里。但是我小时候不知道那个是假的嘛，不知道还有PS这种东西。我长大了才想到，“喔，原来这个东西它是不真实的。”我最经典的旗袍就是用山水画这个元素。[All the scenery was photoshopped, where they put flowers that bloom in different seasons in one poster. But I didn't know it was fake, nor did I know that Photoshop existed. I realized that it was unreal until I reflected on it after I grew up. My signature Qipao then borrowed that photoshopped scenery.]
TZ: In your designs, we also see other elements and themes, such as love and sexual liberty and freedom. What are some inspirations behind those elements or themes?
It's inspired by my personal life experience. Because I am a girl, 我会收到各种各样的评价，也会看到各种各样的新闻，比如哪个女生怎么样了。这些亲身经历和社会事件给我带来的感触，慢慢地汇聚成一些词语。我最近想做一件衣服，用“性感无罪”这四个字 [Growing up as a woman in China, I received various remarks and read various news about women's experiences, which are quite impactful and have slowly become sources of inspiration for my works. Recently I wanted to make a garment with four Chinese characters "Sexy is not guilty."]
Sexy not Guilty Bra Top
TH: Rebelling against outdated perspectives. She is showing us, "This is where shit's going. I'm gonna go here, and people will follow."
BH: It's a creative form of protest. The fact that her style is also from that same era augments the message. It's bringing us a snippet of every part of that period.
还有就是一些我个人的情绪。比方说“我爱你”的项链，还有两个耳环，一个是“孤单”，一个是“寂寞”，连起来就是“孤单寂寞我爱你。”可能是之前单身的时候，很想要寻求一段关系。很想要爱，也想被爱。经常会哭，很寂寞。大概就是把这种感觉很直接地表达出来。[Other themes come from personal emotions. For example, the "I love you" necklace, along with an earring set saying "solitary" and "lonely," conveys one message, "Solitary, lonely, and I love you." When I was not in a relationship, I was longing for one. I want to love and be loved. I felt lonely and wept. I bluntly expressed these feelings.
Solitary, Lonely, and I Love You Accessory Set
TH: I noticed some digital media on your Instagram account –– a robot body type of thing. Did you create that yourself? If so, what are your processes?
I did it by myself. I studied this in the past –– in New Media Arts.
TH: That's where the fashion industry is going nowadays because of the ever-evolving digital world that we have now. It's cool to see that you're putting your own spin on that and recreating things that are representative of you. What was the inspiration behind that whole concept, and how long have you been creating art in that way?
当时挺流行，那我也做做看——当时也挺无聊的，也是疫情的时候，没什么事干。而且我觉得做这些事情是想要证明自己：我有这个能力，我有这个技术。让别人看到我还会这个，我还会那个，是一种炫耀的心态。（笑）[It was quite popular at that time, so I participated in it. Part of it also came from boredom during the quarantine when I had nothing else to do. Another part of it was to prove that I have the ability and the skillset for this style of work. I want to flaunt it.]
TZ: Are you interested in continuing digital fashion, or is that just a one-time thing?
Actually, I would not say I like digital fashion that much.
TZ: Me neither, but keep going. [Laugh]
It's very popular in China. Metaverse.
I think it's stupid because it's just Photoshop, and most are done poorly. 我觉得这个东西吧，如果做的好的话，是好的。但是大家做的都不太好，然后又把自己吹的很厉害，有装逼的嫌疑。而且我觉得真正的虚拟时尚，它应该不仅仅是P一个图这么简单的事情，不是说把两个照片合在一起的事儿。它怎么着应该是3D立体的，然后又你应该是进入了一个真正的虚拟世界之后，这个事情才可以成立的。但是目前这个形式，我是觉得很没意思的。[I think if it were done well, it's good. But right now, people are good at failing it while flaunting it. The real virtual fashion should be more than Photoshopping two elements together. It should be based on complete immersion in a three-dimensional, digital world. For now, it's tedious.]
我对它未来的发展是很期待的，但是未来需要大量的技术支撑，就不是我能够想象得到、做得到的范围了。就比方说你进入了一个游戏之后，你要在游戏里有一个适配的身体，然后再去穿这些衣服。[I am positive about its future, but it requires a level of technical support that I am unable to provide or imagine. It could look like entering a game with a simulated body and then putting on those garments.]
Butterfly Princess in YVMIN Digital Accessories
TZ: Similar concepts were also executed in the early 2000s. My mom used to travel to tourist destinations, and local people would offer to take photos of her and photoshop her onto a random horse. If it were happening now, they would make the horse chrome and metallic.
TH: What is your favourite piece that you brought into U3?
Hmm. I think, for now, it is the "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" top.
TH: What was the process of creating the piece?
I just sketched it and then presented it to the tailor. I cannot do this [motions pushing fabric through a sewing machine]. 就是我没有一些缝纫的技术，我只可以画图. [I don't have the sewing skills. I can only sketch.]
TH: What's your inspiration behind the piece? Was that from the whole, "I want to be loved, but I don't feel loved, so I always feel sort of broken."
Yes. Similar to that. My heart is broken, but I'm trying to mend it.
TH: What is the material of the piece?
漆皮 [Patent leather.]
TZ: Where do you envision your brand going next? Especially now in this TikTok-dominated era when you feel you lack the incentive to create more art?
我现在想着说先把他的质量在做的好一些。因为我觉得我现在一个比较尴尬的境地是，我既想要有一些很新奇，很表达（自我）的东西，但同时又要有人买它。所以就卡在这，很尴尬。你既卖的不好，又没有很好的表达自己，两头都不行。我之后想把他分开一点，就可能像那些很成熟的牌子一样，有高定，也有成衣。[I want to improve the quality. Right now, I'm in an awkward situation where I want novel and expressive works, but they need to be marketable enough. I felt pulled apart and ended up neither expressing myself nor being commercially successful. I feel like separating the two into an haute couture collection and a ready-to-wear collection, like those relatively established brands.]
Butterfly Princess in Voguing Shanghai Ballroom
TH: You mentioned a few times that you love painting. Would you ever consider screen-printing your painting onto a garment? Have you ever thought about meshing the different art forms that you're passionate about?
[Laugh] I'm not really into painting as much now. For me, it's more about skill, and I think painting is really, really hard because you have to create the image from a completely empty space. You need to do everything. So for me, painting was just a skill to have. With what I've learned from painting, I'm able to properly create my sketches and express my ideas. This is how I've been using my painting background for fashion.
TZ: Do you have any last words you want to say –– in whatever language?
Hmm [Pauses] … Thank you.