Xiao Wen Ju
As Babyghost, the New York City-based label started by Qiaoran Huang & Joshua Hupper in 2010, prepared for their Spring Summer 2016 presentation showing tonight during New York Fashion Week, Models.com talked all things Babyghost with its co-founders from “Chinese cool” to Xiao Wen Ju– the face of the brand, muse and close friend. A very animated Xiao happened to be there to playfully show off a few of the pieces.
How did you guys meet?
Josh: We met at a party in Brooklyn when Qiaoran was interning for Diane von Furstenberg and I was working as an assistant at Thakoon. I think three or so months later I ended up working for Natahan Jenden, who is the creative director for Diane von Furstenberg. She was assisting Nathan by that point. I met her when she was 22 or 23, which was an amazing experience but I’m not sure many interns get thrown into a place where he was so busy doing Diane’s show that we were essentially with our friends from 9 in the morning to 6 or 7 at night by ourselves. It was like the kids running the school and then our boss would come in form 6 to midnight or 1 o’clock and then we would work with the creative director. I have maybe some bad habits that you form working for people – whereas she sees everything with like these really – it’s really difficult to argue with her, because what she likes doesn’t come from thinking that’s what she should like, where I can sometimes get caught up, “oh so and so did this”, where she’s just like, “oh I like that” and generally you can’t argue with people like that. [to Qiaoran] You have the eyes of innocence.
How did you come up with the name?
Qiaoran: We didn’t take too long of a time to decide it. Literally we just decided the name over a dinner at a small restaurant. So at that point we just decided Babyghost is a really cool name. As the years passed by we got into the contrasting between the two names–baby and ghost.
Were you both already on the same wavelength?
Qiaoran: I think the reason we could start a company together is because Josh and I have a really similar aesthetic. This brand is all about what we like and what we would wear, and also what our friends around us would wear. This brand is all about our life and the things around us.
Are their more Chinese influences or more New York, or both?
Josh: It’s a tick tock, when we are here we do a lot for research because getting research materials in China can be a little more difficult. Sometimes we go to Tokyo to research something and then when we are in China we usually start with fabric buying in the first week. Then we strap ourselves to the beast and work in the factory pretty much until the end. By the time we get there, it has evolved from where it started in New York. Just being in Shanghai and around Chinese people, I interpret it one way and she another. She’s American–she has a green card, but she’s also Chinese. She has a totally different perspective on the same things I do.
Qiaoran: I moved here when I was 22. So also I’m really traditional in my heart. I think those different cultural backgrounds – there’s substance there that’s interesting. Right now we use the internet everyday so we get inspiration online. People who live all over the world, they’re all doing the same thing. Where you live has become less important these days …
Josh: It’s interesting that when we are working over there anything that’s in our Instagram feed is people that are up all night, so you can see a whole different crowd. And Instagram is illegal in China so just accessing it requires what’s called a VPN. It’s like working with weights on when you’re there.
Qiaoran: Cool kids in China use it because you have to use VPN to get it.
Josh: There is such a thing as Chinese cool…I mean how many years has it been since the revolution? Was it in the 70s? But it’s a relatively new market of people that are so starving to take part in fashion…
Qiaoran: My generation, our generation, is really different from our parents’ because they grew up during a cultural revolution, so they didn’t have fashion when they were young, but we do. When we look at their old photos it’s very interesting, it’s really different. I think this generation has more supermodels and also a lot young Chinese designers. I think this is really exciting, we’re very excited about it.
Do you feel like your voice was starting to become more defined?
Josh: I think our design ambition in the beginning was difficult because, especially from first to third collections, we had only just started working in China. We bought a lot of our fabric in bulk from factories so it was kind of fun. At Diane they have this saying about turnings a sows ear into a silk purse and taking something that is kind of interesting and pretty but not necessarily expensive and turning it into something that looks expensive. Comme de Garçons does that or Thakoon is really really good at that. Learning how to use a little bit of expensive fabric, combining it with something maybe cheaper that doesn’t feel cheaper and creating something, you end up accidentally creating something new mostly out of necessity. So trip after trip we gained more access to fabric from Korea to Japan so then it started meeting up with what vision we had.
Xiao’s involvement – When did she come around and to what effect?
Qiaoran: The first time she came to NY for castings one of my friend who is a make up artist showed me her picture and he was like, “Oh my god, you have to look at this girl, you will love her.” I don’t know how to say it in English, but she’s a muse. When I look at her she is exactly the girl we like. I just knew her name was Ju Xiao Wen and one time me and Josh were walking around Soho and she had just finished working and was wearing a red jacket walking down the street. Literally you feel like there’s a glow on her. And Josh is like, “Look at this girl! Who is that?!” I was like, “Xiao Wen!” I sprinted over and I quickly introduced myself. The three of us all grew together. It’s like a big family that all grew together. We got influenced from her and this is why we really enjoy when she’s styling our line because there’s no other person who will understand us this much.
Josh: I think the reason she fits the brand so much, and is what makes her powerful as a person, interestingly, is she looks extremely young in a way and she’s extremely aware of that, so people generally maybe assume that she’s silly or kind of naive. She’s the opposite, she’s extremely calculated, which maybe is the wrong word, because she’s a kind person–but really sharp. And Babyghost, it’s funny, because a lot of the clothes are really unassuming, but a lot of it is fairly simple unless you actually look closely. We have a lot of friends and they all look amazing in the clothing, but obviously she’s sort of the benchmark of the brand because of the whole Babyghost.
It all comes together. My last question is about this new collection and the direction you guys wanted to take it…
Josh: This one’s a little bit less convoluted than fall–I think it was Ran’s idea to visit shops like the Gap and Old Navy and UniQlo to look at product assortment and look at key pieces and basic pieces to say, “Okay, if tomorrow they said you can do a store, how would you do the Gap, the Old Navy?” Which sounds weird, but through that filter we managed to simplify and pare down and do things that were more classic like the trench coat and less patching. For us making an effort to make more timeless pieces, there’s still a bunch of crazy stuff in it, but I think we were saying kind of like Francisco Costa for the Gap. There’s a real Calvin simplicity to it we hadn’t been able to achieve before. And more and more we don’t have to rely on really loud prints which was basically how we started the brand. This ones been fun. All a little too easy…
Josh: Usually we’d be going crazy.