Melbourne graduate Odile Zheng has crafted a dreamlike dystopia


A dream come true.

It’s not often that a fully formed creative idea comes to you in a dream, but that’s exactly what happened to Odile Zheng, a Melbourne-based fashion designer and recent graduate of RMIT University.

His collection Escape is the conceptualization of a dream, bringing to life the dark, dystopian world she dreamed of as a child. But instead of evoking the fear and loneliness that usually accompanies this nightmare, there’s something ethereal, otherworldly and alluring about the collection.

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Escape plays with the dramatic tension, intrigue and surrealism of dreams, while celebrating the catharsis and emotional release of waking up. Although she was inspired by other creatives around her, Odile was mainly inspired by her own internal experiences to bring this collection to life.

Despite the challenges of not being able access to its campus during the pandemic, she was able to count on the support of RMIT teaching staff and produce a refined and carefully curated collection. Experimenting with a variety of techniques, her designs are all handmade, locally sourced and will be made to order.

fashion magazine is delighted to support the National Graduate Showcase presented by Samsung Galaxy to celebrate Australia’s top-ranked emerging talent in fashion. A select number of leading fashion graduates from across the country will display their visionary collections in a digital presentation, showcasing cutting-edge design and innovation.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be profiling each designer through a series of interviews. The next is Odile.

Hi Odile! Thank you for introducing yourself to our readers.

Hello, my name is Odile. I recently graduated with a BFA in Fashion Design (Honours) from RMIT. I was born in China and came to Australia when I was 18 and now I’m 26. Eight years in Melbourne [has been] a lot of pleasure… [I’ve] made some good friends along the way.

Tell us about your collection

My collection is very emotional. It is about compression and relaxation. You will see lots of techniques like shrinking, pleating, shirring, knitting and more. I had the honor of working with local knitter Kate Jeffery to create two beautiful knit pieces. [The] Escape collection has a dystopian world as its backdrop, which was inspired by a dream I had two years ago. In this dream, I was a little boy with superpowers that [could] transform the imagination [in]to reality.

However, a secret organization found me and took me away from my parents, making me work for them every day with all [the] other children who [had] superpowers… I died three times in the dream but I never stopped trying, I was trying to find my own freedom. The [was] so much tension in the dream, the world was dark and twisted but i finally ran away.

COVID-19 reminded me of that dream again. You will see a lot of face coverings[s] and hoodies from the collection in response to the escape. The key message of this collection isn’t negative – it’s about courage, peace and never giving up.

When did you know you wanted to get into fashion and textile design?

When I was in the business classroom at the University of Melbourne seven years ago. [I] fair [felt] like I don’t belong there…the feeling of belonging is so weird.

What were the main points of inspiration for your collection, and for you more broadly as a designer?

It all started with strong emotions, then looking for a technician to visualize it. It’s the same creative process [as] when I do contemporary abstract art. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s about letting go, so [putting everything back] together, and (according to my abstract art teacher), a feeling in the stomach.

Tell us about the experience of building your collection of graduates.

It was really hard, we [couldn’t] attend campus for half of the course and were unable to access all equipment and vendors. I struggled a lot in the beginning but it all fell into place in the end I guess it was all part [of] creation. I heard recently that creativity comes from deadlines… I have to say that my design teacher Blake Barns and [the] the rest of the teaching team has really given me a lot of support and inspiration along the way. I appreciate them very, very much.

You noted that your experience working in streetwear has given you a better understanding of what works best for the streetwear consumer. Can you tell us about your experience in streetwear and how it influenced your designs?

I [have] worked at the Subtype store [in] Melbourne for over three years now. We have amazing sneakers and international streetwear brands. I’ve always been in contact with clients, then I got into e-commerce styling and now I’m interning in the design team with a fantastic designer, Dara.

I saw how people buy and the choice[s] they did along the way. The experience made me understand [that] not all good designs always sell[s] less is more… looking at different body types trying on clothes has helped me understand the relationship between clothes and the body in the everyday scenario of real life. Additionally, I learned about pricing, branding, marketing, distribution and business models in fashion.

Your collection plays with tension; it’s about compressing and releasing. What motivated this direction?

The deletion I have [had] towards my feelings for many years pushed me in this direction. COVID-19 forced them all out…I felt so much better after building this collection, she [was] like an art therapy trip for me.

What role does sustainability play in your design practice? And other ethical considerations?

Everything in the collection is handmade and people are paid ethically. All suppliers source locally.

Who do you think is the most exciting in Australian fashion right now?

All the young designers are coming in, launching their brands and having their own unique expressions.

What about the Australian fashion industry that needs to change?

Let’s conquer international markets.

Dream Australian collaborators?

PAM They are iconic of the Melbourne streetwear scene.

What’s next for you?

[I’ll] try to get a job in the industry to understand how [it] works at a professional level, and do my custom label on the side. If nothing goes as planned, I will submit my application for my master’s degree [at the] London University of the Arts.

Some of Odile’s answers have been edited for clarity.

To find out more about the 2022 PayPal Melbourne Fashion Festival programme, visit here.


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