This Backless Qi Pao Puts the Pao in Qi Pao

Womenswear designer Kim Shu has said that she doesn’t want her creations to be “limited,” and her bold and vibrant designs can attest to such pursuit of creative boundlessness. 

Her unconventional works of art first made their impression at the VFiles Runway for Autumn/Winter NYFW back in 2016. It did not take long for the rest of the fashion world to take notice.

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SS20 🙏

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Shui’s namesake label has attracted the likes of celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, Cardi B and Solange Knowles, further boosting her popularity, according to Elle.

Her work has since been featured in Vogue, The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, W, Interview and Vogue Italia. This year, the talented 28-year-old also made the Forbes Under 30 list in Art & Style.

Known for mixing fabrics and colors, Shui attributes her designs’ aesthetics to the diverse cultures she has been exposed to.

“I was always around diverse cultures and different things,” she said in an interview last year. “It was kind of a mishmash of cultures, and I think my design developed that way too; it’s bringing together all of these different aesthetics and places subconsciously.”

Shui, who was born in the U.S., and raised in Rome, Italy, is proud of her Chinese roots and would often incorporate design inspirations from her cultural background.

However, her unique design choices have sparked controversy in the past as non-Chinese women who wore her garments were accused of cultural appropriation.

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@gigihadid in a full KS look ✨ open knit dye pants and cut out top

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“I want everyone to wear it,” Shui tells Forbes. “It’s not making fun of anyone. It’s more appreciation than anything else. One of the most important things for me has been bringing people of different backgrounds together.”

One item that has recently raised eyebrows on social media is the Backless Qi Pao, Shui’s most daring version of the traditional Chinese body-hugging dress from Shanghai which became popular from the 1920s to the 1940s.

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Ultimate babe @swan_sam opening SS20 in our backless lace up qi pao

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Unveiled during Shui’s Spring 2020 show opener, the backless lace up Qi Pao features strings crisscrossing down its wearer’s back with the model’s behind entirely exposed.

“I like incorporating a Qi Pao element,” Shui was quoted as saying. “And I thought, why not just be a little extra? Make it a statement from the back.”

In an interview with Fashionista, Shui describes the collection the backless Qi Pao belonged to as “slutty.”

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SS20

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“This collection is straight-up whore,” she noted, adding that the season must be “sluttier for the summertime.”

Addressing previous allegations of cultural appropriation, Shui is reminded of a White person who was criticized online for wearing a qipao-inspired dress.

“I even got a comment saying it was cultural appropriation when an Asian girl was wearing it; I was like, ‘Do they know I’m Chinese?’ It’s a celebration — not a costume or mockery. People are not trying to appropriate something, they appreciate the style. I’ll always label a dress like ‘Qipao dress’ or ‘Cheongsam dress,’ because I’ve seen Reformation label it ‘mock-neck dress.’ I try to combat that.”

“Now everyone is just scared on Instagram,” she explained. “I think it’s just too negative and it’s extremely policing. It’s ruining lives. It could be a platform to uplift people.”

NextShark has reached out to Kim Shui Studio for comment.

Featured Image via Instagram / kimshuistudio

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