Mengying Li recently graduated from her MA Fashion Design Technology Menswear. After going through the process of creating her final collection, titled Sound of Happiness, she fell in love with research and is now planning to further her studies at LCF to become a doctor in fashion. In this interview she tells us more about her innovative research topic, her experience of moving from her tometown in China to live and study in London, and her plans of balancing a future career as a lecturer and as a menswear designer.
How did you get into fashion?
It was a bit by accident, really. When I was in high school I was studying arts and I loved drawing, so I wanted to do a course in graphic design or illustration at university. But in the end, I thought fashion was more interesting because it involves a longer process where I can use many different skills.
Why did you decide to study at LCF?
I knew LCF one of the best universities in the world to study menswear. It's very well renowned in China as well, so I had no doubt — I wanted to apply for the MA in it.
You’re originally from China. How was it moving to a different country?
In the beginning it was a little bit difficult because I had to study in another language, and also adapt to another culture, which is something you need to try and get familiar with from the first days.
London can be a daunting city for some people. What's your experience of living in the capital?
I love this city so much! It has so many exhibitions and concerts, I can go to see movies, operas, musicals… It’s so much better than my hometown in China, because my city doesn’t have such a big culture life as in London. That is the reason why I want to stay here for a bit longer.
Was studying in another language difficult for you?
I used to get very nervous when I had tutorials, so I would write down a whole page with everything I wanted to say to my lecturers. But after a few weeks I noticed that I had started progressing on my English, and that made me feel more confident to express my ideas. My course leader was very familiar with Asian cultures, so I think he can understand us, and it made it easier for me and the other Chinese students in my course.
How was your relationship with the other students?
I’ve made really good friends here, and for me that has been one of the best and most special things of my time at LCF.
Before I came to London, I was a bit nervous because I thought it would be very difficult for me to make friends, but I have to say everyone in my class were really nice, so there was nothing to be afraid of.
What did you think about your course? Was it what you expected?
It is very different to what I did in my BA. I like how this MA is organised in a way so we can focus on different parts of the design process, working on one big project during a whole year. It helped me to learn how to start with my own idea and work through it until I see the final outcome. I have improved my design ability, and it taught me how to dive deep into one concept.
Which part did you enjoy the most?
Research. In fashion we’re always focused on the outcome, and not so much how to do the research. The research methods unit in this course made me realise how important it is to know how to do you research in order to create something unique.
If you only focus on the outcome you will always be influenced by other people’s work, but the research makes your project unique.
Is this the reason why you want to do a PhD?
Yes. I’m in the process of applying for the research department.
Before we jump into your plans for the PhD, let's talk about your masters final project. Where did you get the inspiration for your collection Sound of Happiness?
My inspiration comes from the sound. I collected a series of sounds myself, recording sounds around me and doing some experiments with different materials to then translate them into visuals. During my research process, I read a lot about the science of acoustics and I tried to understand how I could apply those elements into the design. I’ve chosen different materials according to how they behave in relation to the sound, whether they absorb or reflect sounds.
Did you get this idea from other designers?
I can’t say I’m a pioneer, but I think this is quite a new concept that not many people have heard before. Even my tutor was a bit surprised when I explained my idea. At the beginning I was very nervous to start my research about something that has so many scientific references, so I had to really concentrate to understand what I was reading.
How did you find the process?
It was very challenging, I cried a lot! But thanks to my friends, who were always there supporting me, and we were helping each other, I found the motivation to continue.
How does it feel now that your course has finished and your project has come to life?
I feel very relieved, it’s been a really tough year. I’m happy with the final result, but it’s not perfect. There’s always going to be something, even small details, that you think you could have done better.
Even though the process was really hard, the first time I saw my designs on a catwalk I felt very proud of myself, so it was all worth it. It was an amazing feeling!
Now you want to further your studies as a researcher at LCF. Can you tell us a bit more about your plans for your doctorate?
I want to continue exploring the area that I researched for my MA final collection. I know that the concept of visualising sound is not new, it has been done in exhibitions before, but the idea of connecting the sound to the garments it’s quite innovative.
I would like to go back home in China and become a fashion lecturer there. I love the academic environment, so I would really like to apply for a job in a university. But I would still like to continue my work as a designer.
What do your classmates say when you mention you want to do a PhD?
Don’t study a PhD! Go home and get some rest! But my parents are very happy that I want to do a PhD, so that’s very important for me. I really want to be a teacher and help future students to learn what I’ve learned.
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