Beyond using them in all of his designs, Zhang Chi sometimes wears real gas masks. He thought it would be pushing it a bit too far – too demanding of attention – if he wore one to a party, but he does sometimes when he walks around the street. Of course that’s the whole point. You need a gas mask when walking around the streets of Beijing. Zhang Chi is about as Beijing as they come, from the way he talks to his craze for automobiles. Lamborghini has sponsored his fashion shows, Land Rover gives him a free lime green vehicle to scoot around town in, and Lexus just sponsored his trip to New York Fashion Week. Love of cards aside, he knows very well that his hometown may be the most dystopian major capital. From the constant and overpowering smog to the ever-widening wealth disparity, Zhang Chi acknowledges the dark side of China’s Imperial City in his work.
The prints for most of his sweatshirts and tees center around a gas mask. It is always surrounded by a lush array of flowers, dollar signs, gold ingots, and a huge range of other ornamentation, each representing some aspect of society in contemporary Beijing. Despite all of the flaws he sees around him, Zhang Chi remains a great partisan of the city and is happy that his work reflects it both in its themes and in its construction, which all occurs in factories on the outskirts of the city. The spirit of the city is, in his words, niubi, which could be translated as “fucking awesome”. This spirit suffuses his work, which acknowledges to be over-the-top, just like his fashion shows. The avenue of are long and wide and the city goes on forever. It is also the former seat of the emperors and the current seat of the most powerful, wealthy government officials in the world. There is a sort of humorous, in-your-face attitude that is niubi and also very Zhang Chi. Well, plenty of foreigners have probably tried to describe niubi on their blogs before. I doubt my attempt ranks very high. His wife Chichi even wears a mask in her facebook photo.