Shushu/Tong Has a Fetish for Bows

Shushu/Tong Has a Fetish for Bows

By Kleigh Balugo
Dec 18, 2023

While attending London College of Fashion in 2014, Liushu Lei, or Shushu, and Yutong Jiang founded Shushu/Tong. After working with Simone Rocha and Gareth Pugh, the two set out to redefine womenswear by combining traditional frills and girly motifs with the 21st century woman's attitude for their own label. Shushu/Tong, now based in Shanghai, has quickly become loved among Gen Z for its cutesy yet subversive looks and its signature bows.

This October, Shushu/Tong closed out Shanghai Fashion Week with its Spring 2024 collection titled “The Nude,” drawing inspiration from photographer Helmut Newton’s photo book Big Nudes. The label often reinvents feminine silhouettes, and the collection in particular plays on the juxtaposition of risqué lingerie and office wear, combining both delicate femininity and sophistication. “The collection draws upon the hidden core of female explosiveness, striking a balance between everyday wear and theatricality. It gracefully flows in solemnity and fearlessly reveals the power of sensuality. It explores the edge deeply rooted in every woman's body, unveiling their authentic and, perhaps concealed, strength,” reads the press release.

Nearing its 10-year anniversary, the brand is continuing to push the boundaries of femininity, all while attempting to outlast the ever-changing cycle of TikTok microtrends. Made for the modern woman, Shushu/Tong has quickly made a name for itself. After a prosperous Shanghai Fashion Week, designer and co-founder Shushu talked to PAPER about how Shushu/Tong was created and the inspiration behind their iconic bows.

How did Shushu/Tong get its start?

We were in London College of Fashion, and we tried to apply for a certain type of visa. They required a 6000 word business plan, and I have never written 6000 words, even in Chinese. My friends helped send the structure of a business plan. So that's when we made a pre-collection. We worked on it during our off time, and the brand started to sell, luckily.

Talk about your latest Spring 2024 collection, "The Nude.” What was the inspiration behind that collection?

The inspiration came from the photographer, Helmut Newton, and his photo book Big Nudes. I was so fascinated by this picture he took. It's very powerful, and to me it's kind of unsexy. It's like the bodies are more like sculptures. It's very erotic, but it’s almost like the woman's body is made of marble. For the collection, I wanted to do something to show off the body. And I found this super nice lace fabric that was perfect to do a project like this.

What else inspires your designs?

I’m inspired by this French movie Belle de Jour. Especially the atmosphere from the movie. We actually did the show setting based on that mood. It's a very bourgeois decorative home for the show. The woman in the movie, she's naive, but at the same time, she isn’t. The woman is a sex worker during the daytime, and at home she’s a good wife. She's a middle class girl, looking for something very different and the opposite of her normal life.

What are the hallmarks of Shushu/Tong? What do you want to be known for?

We always have bows. And I have this fetish for bows. For this season, we made a very structured bow. It's almost more 3-D than the normal bows.

Bows are a really big trend right now. How do you put your own twist on it?

This is our 10th year with the brand. So in the beginning, buyers would come into the showroom and say, “I like it so much, but it's too girly!” Even five years ago, everything was way different. We have different ways of using a bow, and we like to emphasize this detail on the clothes. We have been doing this for the last ten years. I didn't invent the bow, and everybody uses it, but I think for most brands, they just touch the element a bit. Not a lot. For us, it's a quite important part. Being Asian in my age (I'm from the ‘90s), we are hugely impacted by Japanese animation culture. You're Asian. You know that right?


Bows are so huge in animation, like the magic captures. So for me, it's something that I have always been so familiar with.

A lot of people say that Shushu/Tong explores the female gaze. Is that something that you set out to do, or did it just happen?

I think it happened organically. Before, I would try on every single piece myself But I’m over 30 now so I cannot fit in them anymore. But my design logic is basically that it's designed for the female version of myself.

The coquette style and “girlhood” has been especially popular on TikTok and with Gen Z. How do you feel about the trends?

I like these trends because obviously they help our business. But you know trends: They come and go. Because it's a trend, I know it won't stay forever. So, I mean, we just keep doing what we love and hope our customers like it too.

Recently, a lot of Asian brands have become popular. Do you hope that the West continues to follow Chinese fashion?

I wish everyone, whoever likes us, will continue to follow us. I mean, no matter if it's the North, South, East, or West.

What plans does Shushu/Tong have for the future?

We don’t have a big vision for the future. We just take it step-by-step, and it really depends on what we have going on at the moment. So for now, because we already have our stores, we want to expand the numbers of stores in China for the next couple of years. And do a better next collection. Always.

Photos courtesy of Shushu/Tong