Q&A with Annie Li '12

After graduating from WPGA in 2012, Annie Li moved to New York City, where she studied at Parsons the New School for Design, obtaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts. As one of the four recipients of the Hugo Boss Collection Prize in her senior year, Annie was also selected as the winner of the Swarovski Crystal Sponsorship and the Luxottica X Parsons Sunglasses collaboration, in which she launched her own collection of eyewear, and was featured in Vogue Magazine.
Annie discusses her journey from WPGA to NYC, her experience at Parsons, the business of fashion, and what inspires her design aesthetic and collections.
Q. When did you decide to pursue schooling/a career in fashion design?

For as long as I can remember, art has always been a part of my life. When I was little, my mom brought home many fairytale and illustration books filled with outlandish characters. Their colours, shapes and patterns really opened my mind to a creative path. I remember taking career planning in grade 10 [Planning 10], and that’s when I really started to consider fashion design has a career path. It was a perfect combination of fine art and utilitarian functionality.
Q. What was your experience at Parsons like? Was it an easy transition from WPGA and Vancouver, or was there a big learning curve?

Parsons is truly a unique experience that I will never forget. It is different from a traditional college because it doesn’t have acres and acres of green campus. But what it does have is an entire New York City as its playground. It also feels quite surreal at times. I remember one time I was staying up all night trying finish up a collection due the next day, and receiving an email from the professor that Alber Elbaz of Lanvin is going to be the guest critic. Of course this was during finals—everyone was so tired and had messy hair and sweatshirts on. We mustered up our last bit of energy to go home and shower, and came right back for the critique.
Q. Had you taken art and design courses at WPGA? 
Yes, for sure! I took Art class throughout the years and AP Art in grade 12. Other design-related classes included Animation, Woodturning, Yearbook, and Textiles.
Q. Did your style and aesthetic evolve while you were there; if yes, how so?
I think every design school has its own aesthetics, and Parsons definitely has its own distinct style. Coming from high school I had a very limited view of the fashion world, one that’s mostly coming from fashion blogs, magazines and runway shows. But through my peers and professors at Parsons, I really expanded my visual horizon. There were a wealth of inspirations coming from galleries, theatre, performances, technology, politics, religion and history. Fashion is not only about what’s on the surface; it can be a powerful form of expression.  
Q. How did your technical skills change or improve at Parsons?
The technical part was a steep learning curve for me. And it will always be a learning in progress. In the beginning even sewing a straight line was a challenge. But that’s what sophomore year is for: building basic foundation. In junior year, there is more freedom to research and play with various construction techniques. Senior year is dedicated to finding a personal narrative through meticulous research and supporting the narrative with the technical skills learned. The process is extremely self-driven, so expect to problem solve a lot on your own!
Q. Would you recommend the school to a high school student interested in fashion design? 
I would highly recommend Parsons for students interested in pursuing a career in fashion design. It is a rigorous and competitive program made for students who are serious about fashion. And it ranks at the top among other top fashion schools in the world, next to Central Saint Martins and the Antwerp School of Fashion.          
Q. How would you describe your style and collections? What inspires you currently? 
My design philosophy is inspired very much by my emotions and the connections I draw between myself and art. For my thesis collection, titled The Daydreamer, I was inspired by English novelist Frances Burnett’s The Secret Garden. The collection sets out in an escapist dream of the nostalgic old English countryside, where an orphaned little girl finds herself in the middle of a magical garden. It is a journey of self-discovery, and in the little girl I saw bits of myself. In the beginning she was very alone in her daydreams, but gradually she learned how to share her fantasy with others.     
Q. How do you like living in New York? Do you intend to stay in NYC for the foreseeable future?
New York is a great city for young people! It is fast paced, diverse, and never gets old. I think in the foreseeable future I will definitely be staying here to expand my career.
Q. What advice would you give a high school student interested in fashion design? 
I am lucky to have a family who really supported my decision to pursue fashion. And it may not be the case for many high school students. My advice is to believe in yourself and use that passion to create something meaningful. Be open minded, and actively seek the resources that can teach you about design and fashion.  
Q. What is the best part about designing your own collections?
I first choose a mood, an emotion, an event in my life that I am affected by, and from there I begin gathering a library of materials that makes this sensation concrete. And I find that I often look for the symbolic core of these works as the driving force behind my designs. From there I create a setting, a muse and a narrative. As I work on the collection, it becomes a very personal expression. That’s what I think is the best part about designing.

Q. What is one of the biggest challenges about the fashion industry and fashion design?
I talk about this topic a lot with my peers. And we all agree that in recent years there’s been an explosion in the amount of applicants to fashion schools. Each year the number of graduates increases significantly. However, the number of available positions in the industry cannot keep up with the increase in the number of new designers. At the same time, those who want to start their own label are facing big challenges in meeting requirements set by the industry. With high minimums in production and retail, it is hard for young designers to compete with fast fashion giants like Zara, who have been in the industry for a much longer time.
Q. What do you hope to achieve professionally in the next few years?
I am planning to apply for the MA in Fashion to further develop my skills and aesthetics. And after graduation I hope to launch my label and establish myself as an emerging young designer.
Q. Where can we find you on social media?
Right now you can visit my work at my website: www.annielistudio.com, or follow me on Instagram: annieli_official.