Angel Chen Fall 2021 Ready-to-Wear Collection


At Angel Chen’s runway show in Shanghai, models crept out of a black-painted bamboo thicket. When we speak over Zoom shortly after, she smiles at the scene, describing them as “little creatures.” Covered in shaggy neon shearlings and voluminous down-filled coats, Chen’s models do have the appearance of superhuman life forms. Toeing that line between fantastical and practical is one of her strengths as a designer, and while customers might not wear two shearling bulb hats one atop the other the way Chen styled them on the runway, it’s hard not to appreciate her willingness to push herself to seek out new silhouettes and shapes.

As muse this season, the inimitable Chinese American actress Anna May Wong helped push Chen into new dimensions. While fashion has flirted with Wong’s life and glamour in the past, Chen refuses to see the actress as the elegant, aloof figure she is often thought to be by Western eyes. “She was fierce,” Chen says. “Like a dragon.” Wong’s 1931 film Daughter of the Dragon was a special point of reference, with stills from the movie laser-printed on denim. Bridging Chinese and Western culture has always been at the heart of Chen’s work, but it takes on a special significance now as hate crimes against Asian Americans are at a high. By showing Wong’s strength, Chen shows her own: As a designer she is also fierce, innovative, and boundary breaking.

This season, she has worked to perfect the multipurpose garments she introduced about a year ago when she styled a jacket flipped upside down on her runway. Her Canada Goose collaboration for spring 2021 continued the idea, and now for fall 2021 she has built a vertical switch into every garment. A bomber jacket with neon yellow ruffles at its hem flips to become a cute cropped version with the ruffle framing the model’s face. A cloud-like puffa turns upside down with a giant fold-over collar. The most wearable version might be a cargo jacket with two dual collars, dual pockets, and dual snaps that can be rotated on a 180-degree angle so seamlessly, you can’t even tell which way is “right.” Are customers wearing Chen’s pieces upside down? “Not really,” she says, but with her many new innovations, it’s hard to imagine they won’t try.

That multifunctional spirit carries throughout the entire collection. Hand-crocheted tops in acid green with small flowers and woolen fringe are pulled down and layered over skirts. A full-skirt dress in “wet dye” tie-dye—made from the same technique as Raf Simons’s first couture dresses for Dior—are made from memory nylon so the wearer can fluff out the skirt or crunch it into small pleats. After laser printing images of Wong and dragons onto denim, Chen and her team hand-bleached each piece to create an abstract print. It will pose a small problem at production; her entire studio was covered with bleach experiments for weeks before reaching the final product. But there is no question Chen will make sure the production run retains every bit of specialness as her show pieces. She’s a designer that leaves no seam unconsidered—hers are neon green this season, some even with dragons from her hometown temple embroidered in.

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