Like many designers, Long Xu is an aesthete. He finds his muses in well-trodden territory, like the intoxicating glamour of the Studio 54 era. But he also draws from more high brow and somewhat esoteric sources, such as the work of German artist Imi Knoebel. The dual inspirations of the minimalist painter-slash-sculptor and the glitz of New York City nightlife play nicely together in the garments for Xu’s brand Loring New York, which debuted its first in-person show since launching four years ago at this past September’s New York Fashion Week. As the 14 looks of his Spring/Summer ’23 collection descended the runway, Xu was moved by the surreality of the moment. Crafting his recent digital releases had been almost like dreaming, envisioning the perfect pieces for dancing a night away while the world was struggling to come to grips with the pandemic. But approaching this season, with his garments set to walk on an actual physical runway before an in-person audience, the fantasy became real.
“For this collection, we take a more evening and cocktail direction because after two years of ups and downs, people are getting back to normal, and they want to go out to events and hang out with friends,” Xu explains. “During the pandemic, [those collections were built around] the hope that we want to go back to have fun and nightlife. For this season, that time finally came that we can go back out there.”
Xu’s lines generally borrow from the motifs or styles of specific artists to serve as themes. Loring’s Spring/Summer ’22 pieces were focused on florals, for which he looked to Henri Matisse and Robert Mapplethorpe. And in the designer’s latest collection, Knoebel’s abstract works cohere onto sumptuous going out clothes. Under the artist’s influence, Xu opts for mostly solid colors. But it’s the geometry of Knoebel’s designs that come through most clearly when looking at the pieces. Xu says that he began experimenting with shapes and colors through drawing and finding the potential to bring them into reality. “That’s how I started my collection,” he explains. “Just drawing colorful shapes on top of 2D models on my iPad, drawing different shapes in different colors and figuring out a way to make those shapes into a 3D form.”
He describes a straightforward enough approach, but the results are magic: Balloons of crimson and curls of sapphire extending from his sketch models’ wrists look like illustrations of comic book heroes in Xu’s drawings, but on the runway, they take the shape of elegant gloves that stretch past the wearer’s fingertips. An asymmetrical skirt form leans to one side at the waist, an imperfect sloping shape reminiscent of a pointing thumb in two dimensions which becomes the most interesting, sculptural quality of the look when realized.
Combining handicraft with modern art is Loring’s core concept. Bamboo weaving from China, wrap dresses and color palettes from Africa, and minimalistic art design from Germany all speak to Xu. He applies traditional techniques from various cultures throughout the globe, such as patchwork details, hand crochet, and quilting, to create his very contemporary style. The quintessential Loring girl, according to Xu, embodies both aspects of the brand’s ethos. “She has her own voice, and she appreciates culture and tradition, [but she] also lives a high-paced modern lifestyle,” he says.
With his latest creations, Xu is a bit more daring than he’s been in previous lines. He’s starting to feel more confident pushing past his comfort zone. “We wanted to have the in-person experience to have more powerful pieces,” he says. “We tried so many techniques and fabrics: We had jersey pieces, the recycled denim patchwork collection, more structured sculpture of outfits. We wanted to keep going into the future.”
Xu earned his master’s degree from Parsons’ Fashion Design and Society program in 2015, working with fellow emerging designer Snow Xue Gao as well as taking various freelance projects after graduation until the timing felt right to venture out on his own. Launching his line was always the goal, but it was love that helped him to finally feel secure in taking that step.
“While I was working, on the one hand I wanted to get to know the industry better, to get more experience,” he says. “After a couple years, I felt ready. Also because I got married, it felt more stable to start my own career. If you want to ask what [was] the final push, it was that. My husband is really supportive, and he’s the one who actually really wanted me to just try my best to achieve my dream.”
Xu’s network of support extends past his husband; his mom has always been a fan. Growing up in Chongqing, China, he discovered a love of fashion design in high school through magazines (“Isn’t it a cliché? But I just love reading fashion magazines so much.”) and knew it was his calling. His mother has been cheering him on ever since. “My mom is, I think, is the most supportive Asian mom,” he says with a laugh. “Even though there’s a kind of stereotype for Asian moms that’s ‘super controlling of their kids,’ trying to make their life better in their way. But my mom is more like, ‘If you want to do it, I will support you as long as you want to continue doing this.’” Putting out collection after collection through a global pandemic and now having shown his designs at New York Fashion Week, it’s safe to say the motivation is there. Though she couldn’t make it out to his show, Xu says, his mother, as his biggest fan, runs anything he posts in English through Google translate and reposts onto her own social channels.
The name for his label came as Xu sought to translate his own name into American English. Preparing for the move to New York, he was looking for something similar to his given name, Long, and landed on Loring, which he found through some Google searching. Decided on his new persona, he registered an email account under Loring and only realized later the lack of necessity for an English name: Long could still be Long in the United States; he didn’t need to compromise. “I don’t know where I got that idea [that] everyone has an English name,” he says. The would-be identity was reduced to an email address until colleagues took notice and Loring became a sort of inside joke. Those in on it suggested using his email alter ego for the label as he organized to launch his own brand. It worked as a kind of symbol tying together his lives in China and America and was personal enough to Xu, but also strategic: It’s him, but it’s not him. The legal battles of cosmetics entrepreneur Bobbi Brown and the dearly departed artist formerly known as Prince were not tribulations Xu wanted any part of, so it was extra protection to preserve his identity.
Navigating the world of fashion design as a newcomer has meant wearing the hats of both artist and businessperson, something Xu acknowledges as his biggest challenge thus far. “I will say definitely running a brand as a business is very different from just designing collections,” he admits. “That’s a lot for me to learn still.” Like any practice, he’s figuring it out as he goes.
In sketching out new collections, zeroing in on particular artists, like Knoebel, has been a guiding light. The designer likes to listen to interviews and play video clips or even just sound bites that touch on his selected artists’ processes or concepts while drawing. Often, he’s only passively paying attention to the various media he’s dug up; steeping himself in it all is enough: “I enjoy the environment of it. That makes me focus.”
Xu plans to continue this strategy of studying specific artists intensely, taking their work in and seeing what it shakes loose within his imagination. Piecing together a sense of himself from his various muses has been a grounding — and fruitful — method.
“I’m trying to develop more and deeper, and also trying to find more of my identity through their inspirations as well,” Xu says. As he gains traction with pieces walking in New York Fashion Week and out into the nightlife events of the “post-pandemic” world, it’s more and more likely with each collection Xu releases that the bright hues and bold geometry of Loring finds its way onto the moodboards of kids flipping through fashion magazines now, pulling from the artists of today to construct their own identities.