The designer’s SS23 collection goes beyond the bounds of the body, making the runway a basin for centipedes, mermaids, and deep sea beasts

Terrence Zhou, a young designer from Wuhan in China, would henceforth like to be known as a “bad binch”. It’s a point that becomes apparent when he selects his debut fashion show – which just took place in New York – as the most remarkable collection in the entire history of fashion. “In my world, there is only me and no others,” he tells us. Needless to say, if he was to wear one designer for the rest of his life, it would be Bad Binch TONGTONG, his own brand. And, when describing the genesis behind his SS23 collection, he is quick to note a singular source of inspiration: himself. 

Having moved to the US at the tender age of 17 to study mathematics and engineering, Zhou soon transferred to Parsons School of Art and Design, where he built a design studio based on the tenets of “hilarity and farce”. There, condom dresses consume the body in spherical sculptures, tentacles, and siren tails, while models bob up and down in hooped columns like kitsch dashboard ornaments. Taking himself away from the slam of New York Fashion Week, Zhou showcased his first official collection off-schedule at the Richard Taittinger Gallery, blending the URL and IRL in a series of interactive installations. Staged in collaboration with Cider, three rooms were dedicated to his designs – referred to as the Sea Witch, the Queen of Bugs, and Mrs Geometry. 

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Models were transformed into enormous fluoro butterflies, velveteen mermaids, rubber ring arachnids, centipedes, and gargantuan, conjoined cells – an idea perhaps taken from late nights spent “watching videos explains the science of the universe.” The whole thing is meant to “control the viewer by offering an expression of unapologetic beauty through exaggerated forms,” he says. “For me, this collection is an autobiographical experience, and it is now an archive that documents the most vulnerable, hilarious, and personal moments of my life, allowing for both a metaphorical and literal embodiment of self and how people appear in society.” Those kinds of fascinations were further articulated by choreographer Stefanie Nelson, who took Zhou’s absurd shapes way beyond the body in a carousel of languid routines. 

“Bad Binches are kids, adults, and people of all different genders and body types,” the designer says, with wheelchair users and children zooming through the showspace. Though his own wardrobe rarely stretches beyond tank tops and shorts – “I usually buy the same style and same colour, so I don’t have to spend time thinking about what I should wear for that day” – Zhou’s practice calls on his scientific background, and non-conventional models, to prod at the limits of what is considered clothing, lauding the fantastical over anything remotely wearable. “I never think of fashion as having too much power, it’s a medium or a tool,” he concludes. “It’s not about projecting a feeling onto others, but creating something that feels authentic, and enables people to express themselves.”