With a LVMH Prize shortlist nomination and Rihanna's seal of approval, Snow Xue Gao is on a trajectory most emerging designers would kill for. But the path was an accidental one. 'When I met fashion, it was not a romantic story,' says the Beijing-born designer from her studio in New York.
It is, however, a story of fate. When she enrolled in the Beijing Institute of Style Technology, she thought she would be making art, not garments that would later win her the 2017 Swarovski award for new talent.
'I didn’t even know who Coco Chanel was,' she confesses.
It turns out the art course she thought she had enrolled in was, in fact, a fashion one. She loved it so much she went on to enrol in an MA course at New York's Parsons School of Design where she studied with Shelley Fox, ex-tutor at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins. In typical CSM fashion, Snow says Fox really knew how to push her students to achieve their best.
An anti-conformist at heart, Snow didn’t think there were any fashion houses in New York that applied to her taste and craft. 'I did think about whether I should go work with a good company in New York,' she says, 'but I didn’t think there were any that matched me. I would need to fit into the kind of design they wanted.'
So she started her own eponymous label.
There she met her fashion hero, Haider Ackermann, who gave her some career-changing advice.
'"Focus on the tailoring, focus on your identity. You have to let your audience take time to remember you,'” Ackermann told her. Since then, she's been picked up internationally by a dozen international stockists, including London's Boutique 1. Oh, and did we mention Rihanna?
For her Autumn/Winter 18 collection, she took over Manhattan’s largest Chinese restaurant, Jing Fong, which has a rich history that spans over three decades — an idea that the owners initially rejected. But Snow won them over by insisting that she wanted to 'leave it as it is, a Chinese restaurant.'
She was drawn to Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love and his use of lighting, which played out in her clever mash-up of men's suiting and traditional qipao pajamas. 'There is a vintage Chinese feeling in his movies, which I played with in the clothes,' said Snow.
The owners loved the collection so much, Snow is now designing the uniforms for the Jing Fong restaurant staff of over 100 employees. 'Nobody has really thought to design a uniform for a Chinese restaurant,' said Snow.
Snow Xue Gao is stocked in London at .