The Wick - Interview Artist and designer Meihui Liu The Wick - Interview Artist and designer Meihui Liu
Monday Muse

Interview Artist and designer Meihui Liu

Meihui Liu
28 March 2022
Meihui Liu
28 March 2022
Utter the name Meihui Liu in a mile radius of East London and you are sure to get an enthusiastic response. The artist, fashion designer and art world connector is a local fixture, and many a young designer or makeup artist will gladly say that they owe their career to her support. Taiwan-born Liu came to London in the late 1990s after studying fashion and made more than just a home here: she created a community.

Liu began her own label in 2000, launching Victim on Fashion Street after running a stall on the famous Portobello Market and in Spitalfields. Yet most will know her from ‘Secret Rendez-Vous’, the monthly party-cum-fashion-show that platformed up and coming hairdressers, stylists, make-up artists, graphic designers, photographers, musicians, DJs, and artists, catching stars like Alex Box and Patrick Wolf at the start of their careers, with the unwavering support of scene stalwarts such as Diane Pernet. Once established as a creative incubator in London, the party went global to Paris, Shanghai, Taipei, and Cadiz in Spain.

With practice in bringing together the eccentric stallholders of Notting Hill to the nightclubs of East London for ‘Secret Rendez-Vous’, it was a natural progression once she landed in Spitalfields to connect the local artists from all walks of life, from Gilbert & George to Philip Colbert and Pandemonia. It’s this innate talent for connection that caught the eye of Oscar-winning artist and director Tim Yip, who recruited her as creative producer and partner along with photographer Maryam Eisler on his new art film Love Infinity.

With Love Infinity part one debuting on MUBI last week and the second part set for release this Thursday, we caught up with Liu to discuss her inspirations, thoughts on wearable art and the transformative power of dressing up.

THE WICK:   Talk us through a typical Monday.

Meihui Liu:   Mondays are relaxing for me. I’ll go to one of my favourite cafes near my house in East London, by myself, and I’ll plan for the week and decide who I will see. I will always try to catch up with several of my friends and fellow artists on a weekly basis, whether that’s over coffee or a meal out. It’s important to feel connected to your friends regularly – all my projects, from Secret Rendezvous to Love Infinity, are a celebration of friendship.

TW:   Who is your personal Monday Muse?

ML:   My Monday Muse is fashion icon Anna Piaggi. She inspired me with her unique style and was the reason that I decided to create my own fashion brand: she embodied the idea that every day is for dressing up. Before I came to the UK I was based in Taiwan and I only ever wore designer clothes, focusing mainly on the labels, but coming to London and to Paris showed me that I wanted to be unique in how I expressed myself. I was one of the Victims that I named my shop after! I was a fashion Victim to the big designers. Seeing Anna be so fully herself showed me that I wanted to create something one of a kind, to be different like her.

TW:   Where does your love of fashion come from?

ML:   Growing up in Taiwan I always looked up to this popstar – he was like a Taiwanese version of David Bowie or Prince, and I’d admired him since I was little. I can see now how much that has inspired my fashion. I’m also really inspired by the aesthetics of Italian films from the 1970s, and of course the 1980s – I feel heavily influenced by the music of the time, like Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, and all of the New Romantics. That’s why I came to the UK: the music, and of course the fashion.

When I came to London it really opened my mind to thinking about looking different, upcycling and recycling pieces. I realised that all the vintage pieces that I was wearing in the market were more interesting to people around me than the expensive designer clothes.

A sense of place is very important to me. I started my fashion brand at a stall in Portobello Market then moved to Camden and on to Spitalfields and the East End. That whole journey across London has affected me a lot – the way I see fashion is that I always follow the music. When you follow young musicians you’ll find the good parties, and when you follow the good parties, you’ll find the right people.

TW:   You have been credited with shaping the innovative East London fashion scene with your monthly Secret Rendezvous parties. How do you think that scene has changed today?

ML:   I set up the monthly party almost by accident in 1999 when I moved from Portobello to the heart of Brick Lane. I first met Gilbert & George when I moved East, then discovered all these established artists that were here when I first moved to East London, and they became like mentors to me. Through them I started to meet all the young local musicians, then met loads of young designers from Central St Martins, and people who had stalls in the market. Everyone was juggling multiple jobs, one to pay the rent and the other in our free time to satisfy our creative spirits. In 1999 East London was a relatively affordable place to live and party in.

“Dressing up is a psychological transformation. I really believe that when you dress a certain way, it can change how you think and feel.”

ML:   If a friend needed a model for a photo shoot or a singer for a band, I’d find someone somewhere who seemed right. Our group kept getting bigger and bigger and somehow, before I realised it, I was organising a monthly party that people were calling ‘Secret Rendez-Vous’. It was an occasion for all of us to get together, dress up, show off whatever we were doing or making. We were inspiring each other, and East London made us feel like anything was possible.

My party was kind of underground, but not in the way people think, not like a nightclub. It was a space for young talent to get together, to meet and to collaborate. Everyone started from the bottom together, organically, and we all grew together. I’m not sure if you’d find that anymore.

TW:   As a producer on Oscar-winning artist Tim Yip’s new art film, Love Infinity, you have brought together iconic London characters from the worlds of fashion, art and music. How did you go about selecting and bringing together these iconic individuals?

ML:   I was the outsider, coming across first from Taiwan then from West London to East, so I have always been very passionate about bringing people together. When we started, we were all young and free, but all those people who came to the parties in the early 2000s are central to London culture now.

When Tim met all of them, he was fascinated, so it was perfect collaborating with him as I had 20 years of content and connections, but he has this incredible eye that turned all of that into storytelling and into a documentary that would never have been made by anyone from London. It’s that eye of the outsider.

TW:   The film takes the form of a semi-documentary, with many of these artists’ real lives and their created works intertwining in fascinating ways. How do you approach this distinction between life and art?

ML:   Dressing up is a psychological transformation. I really believe that when you dress a certain way, it can change how you think and feel. In Love Infinity, we focus on so many characters that live as their art, like Pandemonia and Anthromorph, but there are many more out there that people don’t even know about. They live their lives in worlds of their own creation, and I love that. I have never cared about who’s famous or not in the art world, for me I love the passion and the spirit that leads someone to create another dimension for themselves. Everyone has the potential to become an icon.

TW:   Your brand Victim Fashion St started as a market stall on Portobello before moving to Spitalfields Market. What is it that draws you to these London hubs of creativity?

ML:   In 1998 Portobello was the most exciting colourful scene, and it’s where I started my upcycled fashion brand. People were open minded and excited about my unique fashion at the market – I love the atmosphere and the experience of a market, and I love the energy and the young clients of Portobello and Camden Town for that. In 1999 my Japanese friend told me to try Old Spitalfields Market, because it was a new cool market and it was cheap rent, just £20 per stall back then. I went one Sunday, and I didn’t sell much at all because East London had a very different fashion style, but I loved the cool vibrant energy, the young musicians, and the established artists like Gilbert & George. I was incredibly lucky that I found a very cheap and beautiful flat off Brick Lane, right next to Gilbert & George’s new foundation. They have been such huge supporters of me and of Secret Rendezvous when I started it in the 2000s, and I owe much to them and the godmother of East London, Sandra Esquilant, the landlady of The Golden Heart.

TW:   Thinking of fashion as wearable art, what are some of the pieces in your wardrobe that you would consider worthy of being featured in an exhibition?

ML:   My Vintage Union Jack pieces. Vintage textiles and Victorian lace are my signatures, but my Union Jack pieces are made with antique flags, and they’ve travelled round the world and even been exhibited. Some people buy them just to collect them.

TW:   Desert island quarantine. Which album, book and artwork do you take with you?

ML:   I’d bring an album by Depeche Mode, the Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and for an artwork I’d bring a drawing from my daughter. That covers the 1920s, the 1980s and the new generation – I’d be set.

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