There was a moment that Danshan, the London Fashion Week Men’s regular founded by Danxia Liu and Shan Peng Wong in 2016, wasn’t going to become a menswear label. “Shan and I were flatmates when we studied at Central Saint Martins,” Dan, who grew up in China before moving to London for university, explains. “We both studied womenswear, and had no experience of menswear. After graduating, we realised that menswear was the direction we wanted to go in.”
Four years on and Danshan is now an established brand that prides itself on offering clothing which aims to change the way in which men approach getting dressed. “A discussion on masculinity is how Danshan came to be the brand it is today,” explains Dan. “We wanted to see change, so we decided to give it a go.”
Tired of seeing the same technical fabrics, wool knits and rigid constructions that hung on the racks at every menswear store they went in, Dan and Shan wanted to create clothes which embraced an oft overlooked side of masculinity - the softer side. “When we started in late 2016 there were a lot of conversations surrounding masculinity to coincide with the Me Too movement” continues Dan.
“We wanted to give masculinity more space to breathe, and make sure there is room for it to be recognised as vulnerable and sensitive.”
Influenced heavily by the boundary-breaking collections of the late Alexander McQueen (Danshan’s London studio actually sits in McQueen’s charitable arts foundation in Northeast London), Dries van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, Danshan’s seasonal collections elegantly embody their shared vision. Satins, silks and tulles tend to dominate fabric-wise, while heavy draping, unlined shoulders and billowing shapes form the structural touchstones.
“We found that the very basic elements in fashion were not open enough, clothing didn’t have that movement and we wanted the textures to be more delicate, to give a sense of touch and tactility, that could influence a more gentle mental state.” Shan explains. “The message that we’re trying to portray isn’t a visual one. We want our consumers to wear our silk shirts and be more aware of themselves, mentally and physically, without limit or judgement.”
And, with support from Nike, who in the past has sponsored a number of the brand’s shows, and GQ China, which invited them to show their first collection in Shanghai, the reception to the brand’s unique vision has been roundly positive. Additionally, a career highlight for Dan and Shan came last June when they were invited to be a guest designer at Pitti Uomo, alongside Craig Green. “When we started, streetwear was so dominant, but people received our message well. In 2020, with the whole world crumbling and the dynamic changing, we’ve found that people are even more open-minded. Pop culture icons are more gender fluid, and conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ rights and other movements have created an atmosphere that feels like it’s time for menswear to finally evolve.”
When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, Danshan took some time to reflect on what they wanted to achieve going forward, and though business is undoubtedly hard, the future is looking bright. Next on the cards is an e-commerce site, an artisanal project that the pair are remaining tight-lipped about and, of course, more seasonal collections that we reckon Harry Styles will absolutely want a piece of. Watch this space for more.
Zak Maui, British GQ