Designers Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang just debuted a collection inspired by 70s manga series Aim for the Ace!

Kinderwhore is dead? Long live kinderwhore. The subversive, Lolita-esque aesthetic popularised by the likes of Babes in Toyland, Jack Off Jill, and kinderwhore queen Courtney Love in the early 90s is alive and kicking in the year of our lord 2021, though in the hands of many designers, the look’s had something of an upgrade. But come on, it’s been 30 years – of course she was going to grow up at some point.

Cut to Shanghai-based label SHUSHU/TONG, whose cutesy-with-an-edge creations are setting the runway – and likely your social media timeline – alight. Founded in 2015 by longtime friends Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang, who left London behind to return to China soon after finishing their fashion studies, the label’s Victoriana-tinged prom dresses, prim shirting, and vertiginous platforms have found fans in Gen Zers around the world.

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With the two designers cutting their teeth during stints working with Gareth Pugh and Simone Rocha, like those that taught them the ropes as they got their foot into fashion, SHUSHU/TONG’s collections balance romanticism, darkness, and light to a perfect degree. It’s clothing for the girl who skipped lessons to hang out smoking behind the bikesheds, but somehow still managed to score straight As, with past offerings drawing inspiration from classic anime characters, the brilliantly bitchy cast of cult Winona Ryder movie Heathers, and more.

“When we’re designing, we usually have a specific person in mind,” explains Lei. “She’s strong, brave, and has a free spirit.” Most recently, the designers looked to Oka Hiromi of Aim for the Ace!, in which the titular character embarks on a mission to become a professional tennis player – though not without a host of struggles and challenges along the way.

Unsurprisingly, then, this season’s offering – presented at the first IRL Shanghai Fashion Week since the pandemic swept the world – was heavily inspired by the tennis court. The models, dressed in a series of looks underpinned by SHUSHU/TONG’s signature subversion, zipped across a Pepto Bismol pink pitch court in balloon-sleeved jackets festooned with bows, matching shorts that showed flashes of bum cheek, and starchy, stiff white shirts tucked neatly into satin minis. 

Space Age-y flourishes came via halter-neck string dresses exploded under the breast into expansive trapezes, while classic tennis polos were finished with layers and layers of tulle skirting. As has become standard, the looks were topped off with delicate, glittering jewellery that dripped from models’ necks and ears, and SHUSHU/TONG’s signature hardcore, no-nonsense footwear, including heavy-soled Mary-Janes, stacked loafers, and more.

“When we’re designing, we usually have a specific person in mind. She’s strong, brave, and has a free spirit” – Liushu Lei 

It was a spirited comeback post-COVID from one of the most vibrant, unconventional brands coming out of China, and marks a gearshift moment for the designers in terms of the development of its fabrication – with many looks utilising materials usually woven through sportswear offerings. After a period of uncertainty and turmoil, the designers are excited to push forward and into their next chapter. “We used lockdown to consider different ways of developing what we’re doing,” says Lei. “The last year didn’t slow down for us at all – if anything, the pace has gotten faster as we explore new things. But right now, we’re just happy to be back.”