Fashion Forward: Jiaqi Kou

Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD) MFA Student and Fashion Designer Jiaqi Kou

After earning an undergraduate degree in fashion design in her native China, Jiaqi Kou decided to pursue an advanced degree at CCAD two years ago, attracted by the college’s Master of Fine Arts program that drew students from a variety of practices. “I wanted to learn new things and be exposed to a new environment. I think the diversity of this program attracted me the most. We have lots of different major students studying in the same (MFA) program,” she says.

Now an MFA candidate, Kou, 24, will join with 17 senior Fashion Design students in debuting her clothing designs Friday, May 13, at the annual CCAD Senior Fashion Show. Here, Kou discusses her approach to design, her studies at CCAD and the inspiration behind her new collection. Be sure to read on below, and don’t miss previous entries in this multiweek series featuring some of the outstanding student designers whose work will hit the runway later this month.

Her education

Kou came to CCAD with experience in the foundations of fashion design, but she broadened and deepened her knowledge while in the MFA program with classes in silk-screening, graphic design, textiles and more. The skills she gained in her first year at CCAD helped her approach her second year with a clearer picture of what kind of design she wanted to pursue. This academic year has seen her spending time with her fellow MFA students in a graduate seminar, as well as in Fashion Design Department Chair Suzanne Cotton’s collection class with senior Fashion Design students. Although she’s shown her designs before, Kou says the Senior Fashion show, her first featuring ready-to-wear designs “is a more accurate portrait” of who she is as a designer. 

Her inspiration

Kou’s Senior Fashion Show collection, “Move Along Move Upon," refers to her journey as a designer and her experiences with mentors, teachers and fellow designers, as well as a prompt to her customers to contemplate “What kind of things are you following?” Her pieces were inspired by the traditional clothing of the Naxi minority in southern China, as well as the garments of Chinese workers in the 1920s. The collection features four looks and uses cotton, linen and wool — including fabric pieces woven and dyed by Kou herself. “I hand-wove yarn and wool roving together to make a top — I learned this technique from the textile class I took in my first year,” she says. “The dye, I learned from my surface design class in the first semester I was here, so all of the techniques and classes I took helped me a lot in my collection.” 

The collection’s color palette — black, white, blue — reflects traditional colors used by the Naxi people, whose clothing uses special construction — including, for women, a leather cape they wear on their backs to hold their babies and protect themselves from cold weather. Kou also took inspiration from factory workers’ clothing, particularly how the function of the garments affected their construction. “All of this inspiration led me to think about how the functional purpose works in the construction of a garment, and at the same time, I used some natural fabric and natural dyes to translate this kind of pureness and simplicity of the people,” Kou says.

Her customers

Kou’s collection is designed to be adjustable for each wearer, with buttons, gathering and straps used as both decorative and functional elements. “I was just fascinated with construction and its involvement in the way people put (clothing) on their bodies,” she says. Kou says the clothing should let wearers express themselves — not conventional standards of beauty. “I want to design for a woman who lives with confidence and who is searching for designs that are unique for them and showing their personality — and (are) comfortable to wear,” she says.

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Join CCAD for the hottest runway event in Columbus. The CCAD Senior Fashion Show gets underway Friday, May 13. Click here for more information.