View my line up at 2018 Penn Student Film Festival here.
View my line up at WM Global Film Festival here.
I shot this short documentary on the Christmas of 2017, when I spent my Christmas Eve with the nomads in the mountain of southern Iran.
I caught up with the choker designer Cui Xu on her inspirations on the new design before #NYFW2018. I discovered many of herpersonal lessons only to share with you.
Zhu: Who is the ideal Cuixu customer?
Cui Xu: It does not matter if the customer is a girl, a boy, young or old. I hope the customer is a devil-may-care person, who breaks through the social customs and constraints. He or she can find beauty in ordinary things. I used to love this video game called Life Quote (?), where my friend and I collecedt items and build houses. My friend loved building big houses, but I just drove a little boat in the limitless blue ocean for 20 minutes. Eventually, I found a temple in a desolate island. I was more than exhilarated! My friend was like, now you found this temple, so what? But I mean, for me, this is the whole point of the game.
Zhu: Will you focus on chokers, or will you look to expand?
Cui Xu: I would love to do more fashion accessories especially shoes and bags, but for now I want to focus on chokers. People can see my talents from the chokers. Doing chokers is testing water for me since they are smaller and easier to make.
Zhu: What is Cui Xu (not your brand Cuixu)’s1 year and 3-year plan?
Cui Xu: In 1 year, I want to diversify my designs and proliferate our products. I also look to meet more friends and networks, within the industry or outside of the industry. I welcome cross-industry co-operation. I don’t know what will happen yet, but I am definitely open for it. (Zhu: Cui Xu is a multi-talented designer. She has directed films on Cuixu’s mini-film on Moonscooper). In 3 years, I want to be more established in the industry and be known for my design. I want to balance the commercial elements and creativity. I don’t want my design to be too commercialised, as I want to preserve the spirit of my brand.
Zhu: You have co-operated with Calvin Luo, who excels at creating unisex garments, in NYFW Spring Season 2018. What is your take on gender fluidity?
Cui Xu: Gender neutralisation in fashion is a big trend. But I do fashion accessories, which are not defined by genders by nature. I won’t accentuate the neutralisation of my pieces. My products are fully accessible when my customers want them. When I was in high school, I was already quite fashionable. Sometimes female garments could not satisfy my needs for aesthetics, so I just hopped on the small size of male clothes. As long you are happy, everything happens organically.
Zhu: What do you think of the recent #metoo movement or Women’s March? How will you help the people who love your brand gain confidence?
Cui Xu: I am supportive. As a female designer, I am happy to see that the status of female at home and at work elevates through these movements. But I am not necessarily a feminist. I hope genders will not confine our takes in social roles. For example, although I am opening my business now, I won’t think of me fighting like a man. I work hard as a human being. To help my customers gain confidence, I want my brand to be a system. It is not like you wear a pair of shoes or carry a bag you will be more confident. It is the spirit of my brand that will make my customers resonate that power.
Zhu: You have also co-operated with another Chinese brand, Lanyu, in the last NYFW season. Lanyu has intentionally incorporated Chinese elements into their work. How about you?
Cui Xu: Lanyu comes from generations of Chinese silk family. It is understandable that Chinese elements form a big part of Lanyu’s DNA. I admire it and agree with it. However, I grew up with less salient national identity. I studied in Europe; now I am doing Cuixu in the US. Cuixu is a US-registered international brand, only that the designer is Chinese. What belongs to a nation also belongs to the world. For sure Chinese identiy have subtly inspired me. For example, the new piece Moonscooper was inspired by an old Chinese tale. In the tale, someone tried to steal the moon by scooping the shadow of the moon on a lake. In Moonscooper, I have a moon, and the symbol of luck, the Star of David. I want my customers to simply enjoy my design first, then want to know about the culture behind. They give my design they confidence vote. Because they do not like me as a result of the culture, they want to know more about the culture due to my design.
Zhu: Why did you choose to start from New York?
Cui Xu: Let me give you two anecdotes. The first one happened when I was still studying in Italy. I had a roommate, who is a very friendly guy. But when I asked him, where are you from? He raised his head, filled with prides, said, I am a New Yorker. That impression stuck in my head for a long time. I was wondering, what is the place that made my friend so full of confidence when he talked about the city? I could see lights elicited from his body. I pigeonholed this question for a while. After working in Shanghai for 2 years, I wanted my own brand. I saw a documentary that interviewed people on the street of New York. One scene swung to an old man in a café. The staff asked him what did he think of New York. He said, in New York you can pick up opportunities on the street. Even as he sat in a café for 45 minutes, someone would come up talk to him and give him chances. I am a big believeer in luck and opportunities. That is why I am here. It is funny that no friends or relatives have made that influence on me; I picked the route myself, and out of the influence from two strangers: my distant roommate in Italy and this old guy on the street of New York. Maybe it is destiny.
Zhu: What are your hobbies? Where you get your inspirations from?
Cui Xu: First, my work is my top hobby and my passion. Second, I enjoy Nature. I love going into the wildness. Third, I love fishing. My grandpa loves fishing and he takes me around when I was little. Gradually I got this habit with me. I also like playing basketball; I have signed up the basketball school team in high school. I have both quieter hobbies and active likes. As for inspirations, they come from life in various forms. Say if I talk with you, I capture something, I may ave a kaleidoscope of imaginations from there. I carry a notebook with me and capture those thoughts. Geniuses can be easily lost in the glimpse of eye, so it is very important to write them down. I do this ritually every night before sleep. And my favourite designer is Martin Margiela, the iconoclastic founder of Maison Margiela that shook the fashion world with his deformed garments.
Zhu: What will do if you were not a designer?
Cui Xu: Well designer is probably the best occupation I can have. I have done a few personality tests, and designing is my best match. If I were not a designer, I would have been a geologist. I really admire those Nat Geo professionals. Inside my bone, I am an adventurous person.
Zhu: Where did you get inspirations for your new bag?
Cui Xu: For example, the Moonscooper bag takes on the old tale of China with Star of David. So for me, the bag takes on the poetic parts onto a practical bag. To open the bag, you have to glide the handle to open the bag, like extending your arm to scoop the moon. In addition, it adds interactions with customers. Creating interactive products is very important to me. Interaction enlivens the products. Products are not just functionality.
Zhu: What’s the rest on the agenda for this incoming NYFW FS 18?
Cui Xu: For this season, we are still in the final testing phase of our new products. Many influencers have showed great interests for our new bags. We will continue to finish the short commercials on the new product, a fairy story about Moonscooper. I screen wrote for the video.
Press Release is here: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/decipher-cui-xu-braveheart-free-225000876.html
The first app. Steve Jobs installed onto Apple Store, the classic of yoga and eastern spiritual piece had been a long-lasting inspiration for generations. I met Alexander, the CEO of a mindfulness site, at the airport of Moscow while transferring, and assimilated this note. It is more a book for souls rather than a religious preach. I found the book partially due to my yoga practice, for which I spent years perfecting the physical moves yet I yearned for correspondence on minds. The book described many vivid recounts of his experiences, which feel like a fantasy movie, so I don’t really take that seriously from my mortal eyes. Highly recommended, for any one that feels like you are drifting apart with no ends. The true path has an answer, regardless of religions. The book is a good been of the eastern wealth of India to the West and to anyone that belittles the state of India.
2. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche
When I was a little girl, I had dreamed of the Tibetan life and always wondered about it. Its culture and myths influenced my thinking and style greatly. I wrote an article reflecting on its history here. Death is an inalienable right and the ultimate eventuality we all will face. But do you know how to properly die? Most people don’t. Dying takes etiquette, like many of other things. The book reflected me back to the moments of my dear grandpa’s pass-away and the death-dealing of myself. Highly recommended, to the deprivation of death-thinking among our materialistic worlds, both for the East and the West.
3. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman
A period of knowledge-search into psychology happened later at HQ 2017, as two of my old business partners both studied psychology. Our mind can be very tricky, as the Nobel winner stated in Thinking Fast and Slow, which also happened to be the masterpiece of behavioural economics. I learned that impulsive thinking can impact us in many ways. A good read and you will think differently afterwards.
Champagne Supernovas, Maureen Callahan
Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, Dana Thomas
The Little Dictionary of Fashion, Christian Dior (Alternative read if you have time since it’s more like a textbook than some exciting read)
D.V., Diana Vreeland (Alternative read if you have time since it’s more like a KKW-led glamorous world and the literature mights of DV can be improved)
Travels with Charley: In Search of America, John Steinbeck
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf *** Highly Recommended, masterpiece, great literature expression, amazing central point, making me ponder on many issues: feminism, female rights, inequality, rights. history. A short read but dense wisdom.
L’étranger, Albert Camus
Histoires Passionnee de la France, Jean Sévilia
Les Belles Images, Simone de Beauvoir
L’Amant, Marguerite Duras
Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Ideas and Opinions, Albert Einstein (I enjoy Einstein’s thinking and his philosophy and views on society, Economics, and humanitarian causes influenced my day-in and day-out. Highly recommended to give Einstein a read.)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King
Death, the eventuality of all men, is an unalienable right. To die properly and in lasting calmness, is fundamental to our living, yet gravely deprived in the modern reality.
Above words condensed from the Tibetan milk I have been fed, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
The book illustrated points that put me in tears, often retraced of how my beloved grandfather died and the events led up to his demise. My grandpa had pleaded to “die in peace, please give me no tears”, yet sorrows still prevailed and the family held a crowded enterrement in 2012, which could have been disturbing to the dead.
Do you know how to die?
Before my grandpa passed away, he had already foreseen his fate and quietly arranged his last words in an autobiography. The dying, called forth by the lingering clouds of the mortal worlds, had sensibilities 7x more acute than us normal dummies. Imagine you are the person to leave the world, do you want your family to cry their guts out and make you regretful of letting them alone? Or do you want to go in harmony when you know your family can be fine without you?
We often say rest in peace, yet what is the peace. The author, Rinpoche, suggested the death to happen at home instead of the hospital. For any man would long for the warmth of home. The nurse in the hospital might graduate from Cambridge, yet when she faced the question of a dying old, who was choking himself to death and had tears in his eyes, “Will God forgive me?” She was so scared to answer and had to see this man straggle off his last breath.
Will God forgive?
Yes, for divinity is forgiveness. But forgive, only if we can let ourselves go, by living in a purposeful and fulfilled life.
What is life?
My mere mortal self could not give the answer a full glint. Yet I had sought into books, such as 7 Years in Tibet and Dusts All Settled (尘埃落定). Two books varied in large difference, for the former has recounted the poverty and spiritual loyalty of the old Tibetan society from a Western perspective during World War II. The latter, which gained fame in China, described the life of the rich Tibetans away from capital Lhasa. Nonetheless, a hierarchical Tibetan society opened its full flung: youths died early, boys sent to religious schools, royals bullied their power, divinity preserved and people were parochially happy. Day after day, they fixed the same cog on the same carpenter machine and never asked, “why did the someone dictate my life and death, and why am I born in this world?”
The purpose was simple: fix this cog and God will save your soul.
Maybe it is the old Tibetans lovely naïve, or maybe it is the materialistic waves that washed our spirits. Truth lied in the middle.
While I continued to ponder on what is life, I found out that the respected Rinpoche, the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, was accused of raping women en guise de spiritual cause in 2007. In the powerful Tibetan faith, one can indeed find the true end via intercourse. It is an open secret that the top religious heads had many scandals. Maybe all is “empty” in the eyes of the wise, or may be the seduction of minds after the Tibetan world had been opened up to many more choices.
I will leave the debates to your fine judgement, along with the question of whether Tibet was “invaded” or “liberated”. I have never been to Tibet, despite it had long been my virgin dream. I scouted so many jewelleries from this remote land, that when I strolled down on roads, people often asked, “Young lady, are you a Tibetan?”
I would have smirked and said yes, since I had assimilated many of its history and stories; but I thought over it, and decided to be truthful, “I wish, but no.”
For Tibet had been this maiden myth of western and eastern attentions, the old and the new, the exotic fantasy and religious purity. Will life go on like a wheel, I would love its beauty continue to grow, like a dying man resting in his last glimpse to the sky, no fear of death, but only a calmed heart, to the vivid glory of having once been alive.
*7 Year in Tibet is also famous for its Brad Pitt-starred film, which captured the sceneries and cultural images of the Tibetan society. Long film, but good watch if you are curious to visualise the place. Tibet nowadays is not very open to Westerners under Chinese watch. As a Chinese, I can go as I wish, but I had the impression that Westerners will need to submit a proposal of visiting Tibet. Fact not checked, please double check with the permission online.
Like many other societies, China had sailed fast; like the palms of Jykell and Hyde, good and bad.
I started my grand trip of Eastern 3 cities: Shenzhen, Shanghai, & Hong Kong this Thanksgiving break. The opinions might not be the most comprehensive, yet may the attempt snatch some tinkering.
Upon landing, I wheeled into Hong Kong on a modern Tesla – from Uber. The journey licked into a ramen dinner with Wins. Wins and I met 6 years away. He is the young generation of Hong Konger, caught in between the fierce verbal shootoffs between mainland and this assimilated little islet. Years passed, he still works at the insurance field, but he added on resume another skill – experiencing ramen, although a Japanese thing.
In short, I stumbled into the underground restaurant with my 50-kilo suitcase bomb. I said, “Wins, I am going to make videos now. Can you tell me of your life and your ramen endeavour in 1 min?”
“Wow, hold on Zhu.” Wins preserved his Hong Kong gentleman manner. He said, “Okay, this is called Dried Noodles, which you dip on sauces and eat without soup.”
The dried noodles extended their moonlight-kissed arms, and my foodelicious lust quickly burned. I grabbed one of the noodles and stuffed a spoon into my mouth, yum yum, a bit heavy.
“I think it is too salty.” Wins called out, “I tried many noodle shops in Japan including this one; this chef tossed in too many salts.”
I agreed. Wins is not the most expressive extrovert in the world, yet he is vocal. Wins said, “The best of Hong Kong is its lack of culture. Because it does not have a culture, it takes on all others. British, Chinese, French… But like now, I am afraid it will become Chinese.”
I said “me too”, despite my passport said I am Chinese. I had grown up next to Hong Kong, and saw its boom-n-bust. Cannot judge it, because history rarely allows commentaries from the depowered.
From one traditional trade port, I swung my feet into the other – the mainland crown jewel Shanghai. Like Hong Kong, it preserved the East-West blend since it was once a 6-country concession: British, French… Yet unlike Hong Kong, Shanghai is Chinese.
Since a little girl, I also wildly tittered my toes in Shanghai and wanderlusted on the financial shore. Now more skyscrapers mushroomed, and local taxi drivers continued to cry, “The Didi car-sharing eroded our lives. There are so many rich men, but not a little taximan.”
“Why don’t you drive Didi?” I asked.
“I am old now. I was once a trademan by the port and had money. But I gambled. Now the rich men from outside of Shanghai occupied the space. Poor us Shanghaineses.”
He insisted on counting me his past glories. I listened. In a way, it reminded me of the horsemen during Paris Belle Epoch, whose jobs fled because of their inability to suit auto demands.
Nevertheless, I posted Shanghai observation on YouTube. During the trip, I caught up with my childhood friend, film director Yuan. He said his life changed when I ching-chinged him a cocktail at Four Seasons a few years ago. He had never been exposed to an exorbitant lifestyle, and he carved my teaching by heart – escaping school and making money since. Now he drove a new car and paid my dinner. He asked, “Zhu, there are four blood-sucking fields: film, finance, medicare, and food. why did you sweep yourself out of your old and start making no-margin videos?”
I said a stupid ox had struck my head and let me choose again.
No, I said, “They are all the same. I do what I love.”
With the fortitude of will to chase dreams, I crippled back to Shenzhen, the ultra-field of innovation. A friend detailed me his pursuit on battery big data, which he described as, “I shan’t say, cos you won’t understand. It is in the future, you can’t see now.”
I said, “Tell me.”
So he made some cocktails and told me how human society is behind time: you don’t know when your car battery will die? The future system records everything, including your battery. So you can swap your thing in and out as you go with the people nearby as data is transparent. Bye Felicia to the opaque high margin.
I said, “Bravo man.”
The days of Start-up Grind and Tencent Alibaba events yielded down to the inability of me finding wifi in China. In Shenzhen, you pay out of your electronic pocket and tap into any transportation system using your phone. Your national ID, which I left in Manhattan, spoke on the stand. The Chinese phone number, which I never had, welcomed me to the automation world. The lack of all above made my days tough as a stray dog.
I remembered I walked pass some job-seeking stations. Economy is growing under the drive of e-commerce giant, and many lowly jobs are in need. I counted the wages on the logistics delivery man or the guard man in cities, “RMB 100,000”, an equivalence of $12,000 (=€15,000) per year. I thought of how much Yuan spend in one night, or how valuable my friend’s battery company could be in the Capitalist world, I gradually understood.
As my wifi search finally drove me crazy and I had to leave China to the free world, my dad said, “What is going wrong with you? I have wifi and it looks great.”
He does not use gmail of course. I thought of how the friend said, “It’s out there, it’s just you did not see.”
Similar to our worlds? Ain’t inequality, the sheer comparison of modern innovation and lacklustre slowness of human behaviours prevalent in all of our worlds?
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Jack sat across me with a timid smile. He might have talked too much. But I smiled and gave him thumb up.
He and his girlfriend Anne had seen this homeless guy that laid flat on the street one winter day. The guy had glimmering eyes; a thousand stars were in that dose. Jack and Anne shook his shoulder and asked him how he was. An empty alcohol bottle slipped off the guys’ jacket. Jack took off his jacket and gave it to the guy.
Jack said, “There are so many people that just walk pass the homeless in New York. But we can do more. Homeless people are humans as well. Maybe they are just in a low point now, but it doesn’t mean they won’t come up again.”
His described many things, from his ancestors’ immigration from Europe, his surfing in Florida, his arrival to New York, etc. My untrained brain capacity missed many of them, but I remembered what he said.
He pointed to a pile of clothes behind him, “Actually I am going to donate those clothes to some homeless people today. Our sports team had extra clothes. They were throwing them away. I said, don’t throw them away. These clothes can help other people’s lives!”
I shot the small 3-5 mins film “Real People’s New York” because I wanted to show my audience a real New York. The New York stripped of the rise-up fantasy. The New York that looks different from the Vogue cover story. I said, “We don’t live like that.”
Most people in New York wake up by alarms in the mornings, go to work, come home to supermarkets or food deliveries, hang with friends, and sleep, and repeat. I found the prettiest in the regular life, and the arts in the days without fabrication.
Pete, a Queens aboriginal, said he would choose to live in Queens over Manhattan even I were to magically give him 500 million dollars.
“Everybody can take something from Manhattan. But she does not belong to anyone.”
Through my shoot, I found different answers. New York, the most powerful, the most fragile, the richest, the poorest. Billionaires co-exist with beggars, although they do not interact. But, do they not?
The fine line between rag-to-rich can be the abyss of you before alarm and after. It can also be just a cold call away.
“Oh, I worked in finance – investment banks. Now I want to learn programming and move into FinTech.”
In the many events in the city, the above line would certainly zigzag its way. It seemed the old finance city had lost its lustre, and everyone in the industry belonged elsewhere.
In the most recent event I attended, we occupied a space that oversaw the millions of stars in the city.
There are many elder guys, carrying the intangible power from experience that could shake the earth in one tap. I found myself, a young woman in New York, still have years to catch.
People decided to get drinks around. I told them I lived nearby if we couldn’t find a place.
“After the after party!”
There are so many things that happen after the after party. You don’t see the process. You only see the result.
The best thing about dreaming is the process, you look up to the sky, because one day when you reach the star, you toss it and chase for the next.
See “REAL PEOPLE’S NEW YORK“, the authentic arts of Manhattan life,
11/19, available on Youtube: ZHUORUI FU.