How emerging designer Han Wen found inspiration at a barbershop

AP Art may be just another graduation requirement to some, but for designer Han Wen it was the first time he really got to experiment with his love for fashion. Wen grew up in China with little exposure to the arts, and originally thought he’d follow his parents’ wishes and pursue a more traditional career. “I realized that if I pursued something like finance or law, I could probably do it for a little bit, but not my whole life,” he admits. “Design has always been my passion.”

Wen says it was common for children growing up in China to watch American television shows to learn English—it will come as no shock that his program of choice was Project Runway—and was able to use this knowledge firsthand when he moved to Pennsylvania for high school.

He applied and was accepted to Parsons in New York City and upon his college graduation, he was recognized by the CFDA as one of 12 2016 Design Graduates and was invited to the organization’s annual award ceremony. Things continued to grow from there when he presented his thesis collection during London Fashion Week, and in 2016 launched his eponymous label.  

Wen’s designs play with structure and proportion, using fabric manipulation to create interesting silhouettes, while details like metal rings, silky ruffles, and graphics add luxurious texture. We asked Wen about some of his firsts, because for this young designer, this is just the beginning.


AUSTEN TOSONE: What was the inspiration for your spring/summer 2018 collection, “Her”?

HAN WEN: I met this girl who worked at a barbershop when I was getting my hair cut. I found out that she was the owner of the shop. We spoke after [my hair cut], and she told me that she inherited the barbershop from her parents. When she was young, her parents raised her as a boy because they thought it would make more sense when she took over the business. She started out as a tomboy but as she got older she began to experience fashion for herself and her style became more feminine, mixed in with the masculine elements from her childhood style. She was my muse for the collection.

TOSONE: What was the first garment you ever made?

WEN: I attended a summer program at Parsons in high school, so I could see what the school was like before I applied there. I made a black dress with a low v-neck. It was a very sexy take on the classic LBD.

TOSONE: What was the first place that you traveled to?

WEN: Japan. It was the first place I went to outside of China.

TOSONE: Who was the first person who believed in your work?

WEN: I had a teacher during my junior year who really believed I could become a fashion designer. He was a great resource when I was in school and helped me with projects. Even in my senior year when I was working on my thesis, I’d still sometimes talk to him or email him questions.

TOSONE: What was the first film that you saw that you really loved?

WEN: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [2000]. My parents took me to the theater to see it and I was amazed.

TOSONE: How about the first rule that you remember breaking?

WEN: I think it was clubbing. My parents were always very strict and didn’t want me to go out to clubs, but I broke that rule.

TOSONE: What was your first heartbreak?

WEN: First heartbreak, first heartbreak … I don’t know. I guess I haven’t like experienced a serious heartbreak before.

TOSONE: What was the first fashion show that you ever saw?

WEN: The first fashion show that I saw was an Anna Sui’s show. I interned for the brand during my sophomore year and I got to help out with the show.

TOSONE: Last one, when was the first time you got starstruck?

WEN: It was during the CFDA Awards. When I finished school, I was lucky enough to attend the event as a Parsons graduate. I saw Beyoncé that day and I really freaked out. She’s so beautiful and thin and tall in person!