Cynthia Chang started making sculptures in college at RISD, often as ornaments for her performance work. After graduating, she shifted her focus to wearable items, using her knowledge of sculptural objects and material manipulation. She launched her label Something Happening in 2014, with a couple of signature pieces and club-inspired one-offs and she showed her first full collection “Big Babies” during this this season’s NYFW.
With her bold and playful designs, Chang works against current trends of normcore and all-black-everything in order to evoke a sense of joy—as she sees it, in NYC, it’s easy to become slack in your personal style when all-black looks dominate your daily landscape. She believes that making more deliberate–and bolder–decisions about the way you dress can empower your daily life, self image, and mental health. Sometimes silliness is the best medicine, and Chang definitely embodies this spirit in her work. Below, she answers a few questions about her life, art, and label.
Your studies were originally rooted in sculpture, but I know you are also a performance artist. Does performing influence the way you design?
Yes, of course! My on-going performance project and persona, Boiled Wool, can be very somber and slow, so I started to think of ways in which my costumes could generate more visual interest and drama. Movement should always be considered when it comes to creating clothing. I would never want my clothes to be restrictive. I want them to embellish the actions of their wearers, who I think of as movers and shakers(both figuratively and literally.) I love using textiles and techniques that activate with the human body, I love love love fringe, anything that hangs off the garment can do so much to emphasize the simplest gesture.
Can you talk a little about how being a queer person of color intersects with the art and designs that you make?
There wasn’t anyone in the media that I identified with growing up as an Asian American queer girl, I think this is something that has made me feel invisible and unvaluable to society. The media tells us that Asian women are quiet and meek, but my default decibel level is louder than most. I can’t help yelling most of the time and I’m not a subtle person. My clothes are colorful and bright, my sculptures big, my performances sometimes sexually explicit and vulnerable. Making loud and colorful clothes is my way of elbowing my way into society and creating a space for myself. I’m exposing my own narrative and trying to draw attention to it simply because there wasn’t a narrative that existed for me to identify with when I was younger.
In past conversations, we’ve talked about your struggle with chronic illness and mental health. How have these issues influenced your brand’s voice and your life philosophy? Is the playful mentality of your brand a reflection of your healing?
I was diagnosed with Lupus last April and have struggled with depression since I was a teen. Because of that I do everything that I can to amuse myself. Sometimes we’re just dealt unideal circumstances, as frivolous as it may seem, dressing myself in colors, patterns, and textures is something that puts a lil’ pep in my step. If you feel bad, putting on something you feel good in is one thing you can do for yourself. I would say that the playful aesthetic of Something Happening is almost selfish, I am making the clothes that I want to see other people in. I would love to live in a world where people are rushing to work in belly shirts with pom poms swaying every which way. It makes me happy to see people enjoying what they’re wearing and if I can help them do that through my designs, even better.
You use a lot of materials in your clothing and jewelry that I’d never expect to see in wearable garments. Can you tell us about your choice of materials and what they mean to you?
I like surprises! Because I didn’t study apparel, it doesn’t occur to me that something isn’t supposed to be clothing or jewelry. Most of my materials come from the dollar store, the art supply store, and the hardware store. Often I am inventing my own techniques or patchworking fabrics and other materials together to make something new because I feel like it makes the garment that much more special. Though sometimes I think I just like making more work for myself, it’s the Capricorn in me. There are a lot of pieces in the collection that are very labor intensive, but made out of inexpensive materials. It speaks to accessibility in a way, I’m not hiding anything or using anything particularly high end, if you want to recreate these pieces at home you should be able to and in fact, I want you to do that. Fun looks for all!
This is a guest post by Tayler Smith.
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