What defines our humanity? What separates us from other creatures? Is it our ability to feel? Is it our potential to make, and learn from, mistakes?
In Shanghai, Xander Zhou welcomed guests to what he called a “Pro A.I.Volution” Intergalactic Expo. Researchers traveled from galaxies all across the cosmos to witness the unveiling of something many suspected already existed: humans that have evolved in tandem with the rest of us, but exceptionally faster. These humanoids look—for the most part—just like us, but they have evolved by way of absorbing AI (Artificial Intelligence) and IA (Intelligence Amplification). They’re superhuman and super-intelligent.
Based in Beijing, Zhou started his menswear label in 2007, and has made a name for himself with his commitment to recontextualizing the future. Trained first in industrial design, he has a unique knack for invention, and his work challenges the notions of what menswear can—and will—look like. He’s a key figure in the Chinese fashion landscape for his ability not only to create, but to connect and build community.
In case it hasn’t caught on yet, “evolution” is the operative word for Zhou. The clothes in his spring 2019 lineup had extra sets of arms, which this time around evolved into “humanoids” with multi-jointed mechano-anatomical (trust me, that’s a word) tails extending from their spines. What Zhou is particularly skilled at is making extremely wearable, if positively weird, menswear. Below the surface of the many peculiarities that add texture to his lineup and story lie many covetable pieces.
The navy coat in look 53, cut in bonded double-faced gabardine with laser-cut detailing, was the lightest and most aerodynamic piece of outerwear in Shanghai this week (second place goes to the designer’s bombers with removable sleeves). With its hidden buttons, Zhou’s slim, late 2000s suit silhouette is flattering, and his separates, with their aircraft assembly-like rivets, will conquer both the menswear minimalist and his Gorpcore counterpart. Coolest were the double and triple layer bombers (“built in reverse order!”) with either a shirt and a tank top or just the latter on top of the jacket shell, and the matching trousers ornamented with boxer shorts (which are definitely having a moment, in case you missed it.)
Zhou’s eye for fabrics is most noticeable in his cashmere and silk blend knits, sometimes worn draped over the shoulders, and other pieces with six-petal zipped collars peeling away from the body like those monsters in Stranger Things. “My biggest sci-fi nightmare,” Zhou joked, adding, “to me, fashion is second skin.”
Are we entering a post-human era? Will humanity come to an end because of our greatest innovations? For Zhou, AI is less about fear and more about discovery. “Humans make AI, and we make it intelligent,” said the designer. “We can use it to become smarter and keep our humanity.” Not to let our egos—perhaps the most human of traits—speak for us, but we can choose to remain in control. Some of Zhou’s humanoids carried phones with the words “I love you” on their screens. “That’s the thing about them, they want to feel like we do, they want to love like we do.”