Shawna Wu is no stranger to stepping out of her comfort zone. For the New York-based Taiwanese textile artist, employing experimental approaches to Chinese decorative knotting has long been her way of redefining the boundaries of ritual and tradition. Best known for her butterfly-knot harnesses and upcycled lace ensembles, Wu’s sensual body of work has been well-loved by the likes of Charli XCX, Lil Miquela, and Summer Walker.
At the heart of Wu’s practice, is an exploration of the radical amidst tradition. The recurring use of butterfly knots in her pieces was in part inspired by the queer and trans love story of Butterfly Lovers, a Chinese legend that dates back to the Jin dynasty. Laboriously handmade with deadstock and repurposed materials, there is a meditative quality to Wu’s woven, wearable pieces.
As Vogue Singapore’s artist-in-residence, she has ventured into a more sculptural domain—creating a three-dimensional, puffed-cord bralette that weaves together techniques and materials that are new to her practice. In her celebration of ritualistic textile-making techniques, Wu fashions a new world through her work—one that aptly sits out of her comfort zone.
Tell us a little more about how you approached this piece for Vogue Singapore.
The piece is an updated iteration of my Butterfly Knot Harness Bralette, made differently with a puffed cord instead of the original cord I typically use in my harnesses. I’ve been thinking of experimenting with a thicker, puffed cord for a long time, and this is the first time I’m doing it. The testing process has been ongoing for a while, and I thought this was a great opportunity to finally try it out. I’m interested in the process of continuing something that is age-old and has a legacy to it, but continuously changing as we speak.
“My fashion pieces have always veered towards being more object-like, because making ready-to-wear clothes isn’t the most intuitive to me”
Your wearable pieces often use natural, deadstock or up-cycled materials, such as lace, silk and organic fibres. How does the materiality of this sculptural object differ from your previous wearable work?
My previous bralettes were made of traditional polyester knot material, the kind you would see everywhere in Chinese knots. For this one, the exterior is made of a deadstock cotton satin weave, and the interior is made of the stuffing you find in coats and jackets. Both materials were sourced from the Yongle Fabric Market in Taipei. In a way, this object is still quite garment-like because I’m no longer using the cord used in traditional Chinese knotting.
What has your experience been like, venturing from garments to art objects?
I have been thinking about venturing into home goods. Traditional Chinese knots already are objects in their own right. My fashion pieces have always veered towards being more object-like, because making ready-to-wear clothes isn’t the most intuitive to me. I’ve always been very object-based in my approach, by making my garments more like art objects than conventional clothing. The techniques I use, too, depart from the usual techniques used in fashion design, such as cutting and sewing—instead, my pieces are entirely knotted from scratch.
One of the most alluring features of your work is the amount of time and level of care that goes into your pieces—both elements which are largely lost in the wider fashion industry. As we continue to have conversations that reimagine better realities, what does a new world in fashion mean to you?
I think a new world lies in the unfamiliar. Every time you encounter something unknown, there’s usually some fear, confusion, or unfamiliarity that takes you out of your comfort zone. But I think that’s the whole point—I’ve always been interested in the in-between objects that can’t be easily read. A new world is where you can make your own forms, and they’re unfamiliar and never-before-seen—because why not?