Almost every piece that Wuhan-born, New York-based fashion designer Terrence Zhou releases becomes an Internet moment. As the name of his two-year-old fashion label, Bad Binch Tong Tong—a clever combination of his name and a moniker given to him by school friends—suggests, the Parson’s alumnus’s creations are outré, larger than life and perhaps most importantly, a testament to designing for form over function. “Fashion is usually seen as something that people wear and that is functional. A lot of the time, I find excitement in creating things that people think might be impossible to put on,” he shares.
Case in point? Zhou’s balloon gown which has been worn by the likes of Rina Sawayama and Christina Aguilera. Even more show-stopping is his newly launched octopus dress that brings to mind Disney villainess, Ursula, offset with the label’s equally attention-grabbing accessories such as a silver spider ring. And Zhou’s penchant for maximum impact doesn’t end in the physical realm, either. In the digital fashion sphere, fans can own iridescent mermaid tails and test drive his bold looks online, too. Here, the designer lets us in on his foray into NFTs, staying true to one’s self as well as what’s next.
What were you like growing up?
I grew up in Wuhan, China. I came to the US when I was 17 to pursue a bachelor of science degree. After two years, I transferred to Parsons to study fashion. I graduated in 2020 during the height of the pandemic and then I launched my brand in the same year. I guess growing up I was bold and fearless. I still have that. I always listen to my own intuition.
What are some of your earliest memories of fashion?
As a kid, I did not spend a lot of money on fashion. I still don’t spend a lot of money on fashion. I do love the creation part, though. I remember I had plenty of ambitious projects in mind and that I wanted to make a swing that hung off a tree. My uncle was really good at physics and mathematics and so I’d talk to him to realise these ideas. This part of my life has had a huge impact on me.
Your brand is called Bad Binch Tong Tong. What does that mean?
My real name is Tong. When I was in school, I used to get into fights with people and I was seen as a bad, rebellious student. I also used to say things that could be interpreted as being sassy, aggressive, but kind of funny at the same time, so some of my friends started calling me a “bad b****”. The word ‘binch’ is a play on that. My brand name came down to choosing between Bad Binch Tong Tong or Terrence Zhou. And anybody can be Terrence Zhou.
It’s clear you have a multidisciplinary approach to design.
‘Multidisciplinary’ is a word I use for people looking to understand what I do. The underlying message is that I love to try different things. I like to design with impossibilities in mind and I’m constantly challenging what is functional and wearable. It’s like a philosophy of life, like studying mathematics. For me, mathematics is a system and it’s how I cope with life and problems when they come. For example, when it comes to inverse functions, like y equals one over x, I find it very interesting because the curve always approaches the x-axis and y-axis, but they never touch. To me, that particular element is so romantic and has been translated into my design language.
“I like to design with impossibilities in mind and I’m constantly challenging what is functional and wearable.”
How would you describe Bad Binch Tong Tong’s new pieces? What can one expect?
The world of fashion has become more immersive and [things are happening in] real time, so I have never designed by collections. When I design something new, I release it immediately.
Do you feel your lived experience as an Asian designer informs your work in any way?
China has a long history of art and culture. I’m never directly inspired by my identity, rather, I feel that the cultural aspect is already entrenched in my DNA when I make my decisions. For example, in Western culture, sadness is seen as something to be avoided. In Chinese culture, sadness is celebrated; it is seen as the highest of emotions. And when I feel those emotions, I turn them into the power of creation. I always want people to see my work first and then realise that I’m a Chinese designer.
You have also dabbled in the NFT space. Tell us more.
I am a huge believer of storytelling and becoming more and more immersive. Fashion as a physical medium has many limitations. Now, fashion has benefited from how NFTs have been set up and people are developing an ecosystem for the arts. People want to express themselves online and that is a huge part of our lives now. We’re looking for authenticity online. My NFT collection has launched on Dematerialised, which is one of the biggest Web3 fashion marketplaces, in collaboration with Xtended Identity. For me, NFTs are a game changer to build our own fashion community and re-establish the concept of ownership.
Who would you love to dress next?
I’ve dressed Karlie Kloss, Olivia Rodrigo, Camila Cabello and Asian supermodels like Ju Xiaowen and Liu Wen. I have also dressed Kirsten Dunst and Christina Aguilera. I don’t have any plans of who’s next, but if there’s one person, I would say that’s Kim Kardashian (laughs). I love Kim so much. I have watched all her interviews and I love her whole family, basically.
Photography Don Brodie
Styling Taylor Kim
Hair Rei Kawauchi
Make-up Aimi Osada
Casting director Larissa Gunn
Photographer’s assistant Theo Samuels
Production assistant Aaron Ortiz
Model Jiashan Liu/Identity