ArtsNovember 8, 2012 at 5:31 am

Artist Profile: Mandi Liu and Adam Warner

Mandi Liu
Year: Class of 2015
Hometown: Parsippany, New Jersey
Major: Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Adam Warner
Year: Class of 2015
Hometown: Coppell, Texas

Street: When someone says engineering, fashion design probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. How’d you guys get involved with design?
Adam Warner: It’s always been a hobby. I was never really just a science and math student in high school, so being in engineering has forced me to look outside of the classroom for creativity. I’ve always been very interested in how reliant humans are on our visual sense, and how it dominants our moods and emotions. Fashion is just applying visual design to the human form, so its principles are very relevant to all of us. I was very interested in high school, and at college there have been the resources to let in grow into a real passion.
Mandi Liu: I had a similar experience, where during high school I became very interested in fashion. I used to dig up old vintage pieces from my mother and re–tailor them to wear every day. I definitely feel as well that Penn has given me the opportunity to further express this creativity, in conjunction with studying chemical engineering.

Street: Do you see a relationship between your academic studies and creative work, or are they pretty separate?
ML: I see my creative work as entirely separate from my academic work. One of the reasons that I got involved with design was the inherent opportunity for me to express myself outside of my academic life. Since my academic life is incredibly demanding, I really look forward to escape, so to speak, from that kind of high–stress environment, to a place where I can let my mind wander and dream.
AW: For me as well, it is hard to find practical overlap between the two, but the motivations for both have the same core. Engineering and designing are often about finding creative solutions. I’m very interested in genetics and the opportunities inherent in the field to improve the human condition. Likewise, fashion is all about improving and altering human perception. In a sense, fashion is the mirror for what we are and the blueprint for what we want to be. Engineering and fashion are often different sides of the same coin.

Street: Who or what are your biggest sources of inspiration?
AW: Inspiration is hard to pin down, because of how fluid it is over time. I’ve always been very superficial in my aesthetics — I’m not the type to find pleasure in ugliness. That being said, I find the most interesting forms are often hidden underneath societal or biologically dictated mores of fear and repulsion. Beetles, insects, bones and snakes, for example, are always inspiring because of the journey you have to take in coming to terms with their own form of beauty.
Designers and icons I always look to include McQueen (Sarah Burton continues to amaze), Altuzarra, Gareth Pugh and Daphne Guinness. I used to be really into Zuhair Murad, but now his influence on me functions as a warning of what not to do. His designs are so beautiful, but feel lifeless. He seems to have noting that he wants to convey. He’s like Transformers 2—they thought they could distill the first movie down into the best moments—the action shots, the comic relief, the kissing scenes, but it ended up an overproduced mess. Fashion can’t be too efficient at beauty. You need a struggle and a narrative.
ML: I love almost all of Jason Wu’s work—to me it’s the definition of youthful, ladylike, polished and yet so modern. It’s what I would buy and wear. Recently I’ve been more obsessed with Italian designers—Bottega Veneta, Valentino—who have designed and redesigned the embodiment of the self–assured and glamorous over–age–30 kind of woman, someone who I would like to be in a couple decades. Some other designers I can think of as well for an older generation—Oscar de la Renta, Stella McCartney, Lanvin. I think their collections reflect updates of classics rather than pure trends. They’re standing on solid ground and building up. I also draw a lot of inspiration from Tom Ford, not just from his work and label, but also his life, the sum of all his achievements. It’s hard to think that in just a lifetime, he’s been an architect, a designer and a filmmaker. He represents to me the endless possibilities, desires, achievements of life. I try to remember that when I’m frustrated and defeated!

Street: What’s been your most challenging project, and what have you been most proud of?
ML: I would say that my most challenging design project has been the DZINE2SHOW work from last spring. It was the first time—for both of us, I think—that we designed and sewed, from start to finish, a six–piece collection. For me, the biggest challenge within that project was a flower–studded chiffon goddess gown. We sewed every single flower by hand!
AW: Completely agree! Mandi has much more technical skill then I do, so I can’t really complain, but trying to cram all that sewing in between classes and exams was an interesting experience.

Street: If you could design an outfit for anyone or anything, what would it be?
AW: I have a major man crush (girl crush?) on Daphne Guinness. Although honestly to me fashion is about creating something new, redefining the human and setting forth a character. In that sense, I don’t really have a desire to design for a person who already exists. I love mythological Apocrypha, especially in the Abrahamic traditions—Lilith is a really intriguing and varied figure in several religions, and one of my dream collections would revolve around fleshing her out.
ML: If I possessed the skill set, I would design the costumes for a period film. I recently saw photos of the latest Anna Karenina adaption by British filmmaker Joe Wright and I have to say that the costumes are absolutely stunning.

Street: How do you see design playing into your future plans?
ML: Fashion will always be truly a hobby to in which to indulge in my free time. I think as an engineer there is a design aspect in a lot of work, and I hope to explore and engage in this engineering aspect of design throughout my career. Creativity is just as important as problem solving. My ultimate goal is to work in clean energy development, and optimization and efficiency design is a huge component.
AW: Although I feel so strongly about the field, it’s difficult to say exactly how it will relate. With my current major, it may end up an important hobby, and I’m totally fine with that. That being said, I completely agree with Mandi in that there’s definite mental overlap between creative design and critical thinking, and I do believe that these seemingly disparate fields have wonderful ways of informing each other.

Street: What do you like to do in your spare time?
AW: Sleep, Reddit, sketch, movies, read.
ML: Cliche, but I love Wes Anderson movies. Adding to my collection of used books.

Street: Little–known interesting fact about you?
ML: I have a little baby sister who is four—15 years younger than me—who is the love of my life.
AW:  I’ll continue with the sibling theme and say I have an awesome older brother in the military. We’re practically opposites, but I love our differences and respect him so much.

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