Feiyang Qiao: Shanghai Plastic Love
THE LUCRATIVE MARRIAGE INDUSTRY IN CHINA,
MATCHMAKING AND RIGID HETERONORMATIVE WEDDING ATTIRE
photographer: Hailun Ma
model: Hang Zhao, Yan Gao
stylist: Erduo Lin, Bin Han
editor: Haitong Zheng
date: Jun 26, 2019
PRIDE MONTH FEATURED INTERVIEW SERIES
Feiyang Qiao, also known as Q Train Express, is a fashion designer and recent Parsons School of Design graduate. Her work has been featured on Vogue and exhibited in Neiman Marcus at Hudson Yards. Feiyang is originally from Shanghai, China. Her graduating thesis collection “Shanghai Plastic Love” challenges the lucrative marriage industry in China,the culture of matchmaking and the emphasis on rigid heteronormative wedding attire, even for LGBTQ people. Besides her thesis collection,Feiyang also shared with us her experience and thoughts on marriage as part of the LGBTQ community and the ways her identity has evolved between Shanghai and New York.
So your name is Feiyang but you go by Q Train Express, can you tell us a little bit more about
My last name starts with Q and I take the Q train express to school every day. If I see the express I’ll be so happy because I can skip many local stops, you know. That’s basically why. I want it to be related to New York as well as my experience as a student here I guess.
What are some sources for your inspiration, for the collection that you did?
Basically, my grandma. It all started when she kept asking me to find a boyfriend and telling me her criteria for an ideal boyfriend. The way she saw marriage or a romantic relationship became a big part of my inspiration. Also, there’s a thing, regarding the LGBTQ, that I’ve been avoiding in my design. In Parsons, a lot of people always talk about how they’re isolated or how it is being gays for them in general, but I’ve been avoiding that kind of topic throughout the first three years. Even in my thesis, it’s not the major topic, but I tried to push myself to explore it a little bit. I just don’t think it’s so special to mention about and we are just normal people. Marriage is not only for gay couples or LGBT community but also for everyone. It’s a topic that can be vague or be narrowed down.
...ARRANGED MARRIAGE IS DEFINITELY AN EFFICIENT APPROACH ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU LIVE IN SUCH A POPULATED COUNTRY LIKE CHINA.
Compare to living in NYC, what is your experience living in China in terms of romantic relationships and marriage?
My grandma started to ask me questions related to marriage just like every other grandma. I thought my family was open, not that conservative because my dad went abroad to study in Japan. He works in the creative field, so he is not that serious about lots of things, including my marriage. Also because I came to America when I was around 15, I don't think I should go through the same process, like having an ad in the marriage market or meeting with my grandma’s friend’s grandson, to have this dating night kinda thing. To see my wedding is basically my grandma’s biggest dream right now. But still, I really don’t know if I’m gonna accomplish her dream or no. I’m still, you know struggling with it.
Do you think you are going to disappoint her？
What’s your perspective on Chinese arranged marriage?
I don’t really get it. I mean there are good outcomes from some cases, but people miss the romantic experience in the process. But sometimes it does work better. I mean a lot of times people choose each other based on their background, like social status, income, interests, etc. , because they're so many people in China. I grew up in Shanghai, and I was infused with lots of westernized knowledge while growing up. But a lot of people told me “you can’t reject arranged marriage just because of that.'' There's a whole other world outside of the big city, and there’s a huge difference. That’s why I think arranged marriage is definitely an efficient approach especially when you live in such a populated country like China.
PEOPLE JUST THINK YOU'RE NOTHING DIFFERENT, NOR COOLER THAN
Are you critiquing marriage through your collection, or just critiquing the perception that we have of a perfect marriage?
Well the title for my collection is “Shanghai Plastic Love”, so in the bigger picture, regardless whether it is about the LGBTQ community, people are putting up this wedding ceremony, spending all their money, to build up this almost unrealistic, fairy-tale like wedding, in order to ensure your marriage in the future. People have to do it this way to prove to their parents or their grandparents that they are gonna be a happy couple forever, so I take it as almost ironic. I understand it’s everyone’s big day so people want to be the superstars on their wedding day. But spending money like that, renting a castle somewhere in Europe, it’s really not the only way to prove that.
What would you wear to your wedding? If you get married someday.
Maybe like some Met Gala outfits haha. I don’t want to wear something boring and stereotypical like tuxedo or gown, specifying my gender role on my wedding day.
Sometimes people try to fit in this one existing image or stereotype. What do you think about that in terms of the LGBTQ community here in New York? Or anything about it that you really appreciate and wanna share?
Well, in fashion school, most of the people are gays, right? And a lot of gay people, in general, are doing better in creative fields, such as fashion and art, which is also one kind of stereotype that we assign to ourselves. So I’m actually OK with some of these images that are imposed on us.
When comparing the LGBTQ community in NYC and to the LGBTQ community in Shanghai, do you see any similarities or differences?
To be honest, I feel like, in Shanghai, it’s what people are chasing after actually. People think you’re cool as part of that [the LGBTQ] community. But in New York, you’re more blended into society. My point is, you’re so different in Shanghai, in a cool way. Sometimes I even think some people wanna be like that, but they can’t. People kinda just put LGBTQ community with the same tag as the avant-garde generation. Here in New York, I feel like you get involved in society more. People just think you’re nothing different, nor cooler than anyone else.
Do those differences play any part in your thesis?
Yes. I found it really interesting when people were all hype about the legalization of same-sex marriage, either in China or here. However, no one cares about the more realistic stuff like wedding ceremonies. I either see a gay couple both wearing black tuxedoes, or one of them wearing a gown. I think it’s really weird. It’s like you’re specifying your gender role, and I don’t see the point. Maybe some of them want it this way, but this really black and white, tuxedo and gown thing is just a stereotypical image from straight couples. I don’t know why no one is breaking this norm. That’s why I decided to design something different specifically for the wedding ceremony.
You talked a little bit about this: you said your identity in the U.S is a little bit different from in China as people see you differently as part of the LGBTQ community. After living in New York for 4 years, do you feel your identity ever changed when you go back to China?
I have to say, in cities like Shanghai or Chengdu, people no longer think it’s any problem. However, I went to a high school in Ohio, where I really did feel the isolation. I needed to wear a skirt as a uniform to school. Otherwise, in summer you have to wear a pair of pants and a blazer because girls were not allowed to wear shorts. I was also on the tennis team during high school and you had to wear a uniform. It’s like this cute little skirt. I have to say, I was at that time suffering haha. Because you’re a girl, you have to wear these certain clothes. Sometimes, I feel like in the U.S it’s worse than in Shanghai in terms of expressing my identity, so I just covered it up. That’s why I came to New York and chose fashion. I think it’s time for me to release. I remember posting pictures of my fashion practice on Instagram, and a lot of my high school friends were just confused about these “bizarre” images. So I definitely feel more comfortable in Shanghai than in Ohio.
We heard a lot about the “double life” some LGBTQ people live inside and outside their families, especially from Asian countries. Have you ever encountered a similar experience?
Actually, my mom knows about my girlfriend and she found her to be very positive and caring. So I don’t think I’m living the double life that much. My tattoos get me into more trouble, to be honest, haha. I need to cover it up when I’m in Shanghai because some people will see you as a gangster. I’m not living with my grandma and she doesn’t know I have so many tattoos. I always wear long sleeves when I meet with her. I also have hair shorter than my dad’s, she’s gonna be so mad and that’s part of my double life.
About coming out to your parents, did you tell them or was it more of a gradual process?
I think my mom was trying to dig that out because I dress like this at home and my hair is like this at home (she was wearing a dark t-shirt and loose cargo pants, with shaved pink hair). They definitely had a feeling but they never asked me. However, I really wanted to tell them and have them in my life more so that when we’re home, with my girlfriend, we really feel like a family together. So I just told my mom about my girlfriend.
IT'S ALSO A SATIRE ON HOW TODAY'S WEDDINGS ARE ALWAYS EXPENSIVE AND HIGH COUTURE.
Can you tell us more about your thesis collection?
My thesis all started from this note my grandma wrote to me. It’s her criteria for a good boyfriend. She wrote about his financial status, personalities, family background and so on. Besides, there are a lot of wedding companies in Shanghai, where they offer different types of wedding packages and I found it to be so fascinating. For example, with a certain amount of money, you get certain hotels, wedding photos taken by a certain studio. Basically, your social status is defined by what package you get. I think the whole wedding package thing is very artificial and you can see in my collection I used artificial material such as plastic. Another thing I looked into is the Shanghai Marriage Market. It’s crazy and I was surprised by how many foreigners are aware of this. Also, there are numbers of dating websites and even dating schools where they teach you how to approach men/women, and to ask for their phone numbers. There are also different prices. How much you spend defines what kind of date you get. There’s a Chinese artist called Yingguang Guo who recorded her own experience at the Shanghai Marriage Market with a hidden camera. Those parents who walked by and asked about her age, just told her you’re too old because she was around 35 at the time. And they told her, oh you don’t have an apartment in Shanghai and things like that. They judge people by their apartments. I think it's more important to get to know the person. I also look at dating TV shows, which are getting more and more ridiculous. It’s not whoever is looking for a date decide whom they wanna match with, it’s their parents. In one of the shows, they put three boys and three girls in an apartment and asks them to live together for three months. The TV hosts are just watching them and analyzing the relationships. It’s like putting people’s relationship on TV for entertainment.
I did a lot of research on Chinese marriage in the 70s and 80s, where people actually got necessities for building families instead of random gifts. For example in the 70s, newly married couples were given a bicycle, a watch, a radio, and a sewing machine and that makes sense, right? Now people pay $4k for each wedding table and usually 50-100 tables in total at their wedding ceremonies, which are super overpriced. People are always more than willing to pay more to prove their love and wealth.
For materials, I used Chinese bed sheets and in some older ads. They claimed that these bed sheets could last for more than twenty years. I feel like there are memories and emotions in them; compared to the older generations, now we just click and order on Taobao. I also, as mentioned, used a lot of plastic because they give this artificial feeling. It’s also a satire on how today’s weddings are always expensive and high couture. I bought a lot of these [materials] from dollar shops in Chinatown to build up that materiality. I also looked at Michael Wolf’s photography, where he captured some moments in Hong Kong with a lot of colors that give an artificial feeling. I used that color palette for my thesis. For my look book, I made this calendar and put the editorial photos into this old-fashioned album, which links back to my family. When my parents got married, they had similar photos.
Moving forward, what are your plans after graduation?
I’m just going to get some working experience in New York. I’m planning to go back. I really like the idea of a buyer store with their own brands in it, like Opening Ceremony, I think it has huge potential in the Chinese market now. I like a lot of young designers, like Xander Zhou, but it’s very hard to find those pieces. You can’t really buy their stuff anywhere in China. I think starting a buyer store is a good idea. Because of Taobao, a lot of brands are falling apart, but buyer stores still can help to build up a sense of fashion.