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In Conversation: Chris Ran Lin

While Australia is revered for its production of wool, the country’s moderate climate means that, for the most part, its designers are more innovative with the use of cool wool and lightweight blends than chunky knits and heavy winter coats. In contrast, the designs of Melbourne fashion graduate Chris Ran Lin are particularly unique, offering as he does some of the most elaborate knitwear and wool tailoring in the global men’s fashion market.

Earlier this week, Ran Lin presented his masters graduate collection as part of a showcase hosted by RMIT University, which was recently named as one of the top ten fashion schools in the world by the Business of Fashion. The designer was one of three included in the presentation, a small cohort given it’s the first time that an Australian institution has offered a masters degree in design, rather than theory, further establishing RMIT as a destination for fashion education.

Here, Ran Lin speaks with Merino about his designs and plans to grow his namesake business.

You're one of the first students in Australia to complete a masters degree in fashion design. What was the benefit of this additional year of tertiary study following your honours degree?

It was a great experience to be one of the first masters fashion design students in Australia because of the freedom of the learning format. I think this additional year really allowed me to refine my design practice and also give myself a bit more time to find and establish my design identity. It was a year for me to be confident with my own voice in design.

Explain to me the premise of your work – what is it you set out to create in each collection? 

I always feel my work has a sense of contradictory conflict. On the one hand I am interested in the simple, clean lines of men’s tailoring, and yet on the other I enjoy creating texture and intricate shapes in knitwear. This balance between knitted and woven allows me to build a full collection.

Your knitwear pieces are extraordinary in their shapes – what sort of techniques do you use to achieve this? 

I work very close with a yarn supplier in Melbourne, which allows me to test out different ranges of yarns and fibres when beginning with a new technique. The nature and beauty of knitwear is that it creates an amazing shape by itself. What I need to understand then is how different knit structures work together and react to the manufacturing process, but I find that it’s best to follow the natural character of the material to build up the shapes in my garments.

What inspires the design of each collection, particularly that shown as part of your masters graduation? 

Techniques and textile developments are the beginning point for each season. This latest collection, titled AXES, began as an investigation into the relevance and practicality of knitwear design within contemporary menswear. Through both research into machine and traditional hand knit applications, I was able to interrogate how knit structures could potentially act as material expressions. I was initially looking into developing a system of codes for the knit machine, which resulted in developing a system of loops that generated a lighter knit structure, the antithesis of my previous work which had explored heavy weight knitwear and how it can grow forms off the body. I wanted to again play with the body as a foundation for a knit structure but wanted to create a more subtle play with base forms. Looking at how minute variations in tensions and weights softly affected the loops’ roll and how placement of these tensions on the body affected the overall form was key. 

You mentioned earlier about combining traditional tailoring with the more elaborate knitwear pieces. How do you find the balance between the two?

The experiment is really the biggest part of my design practice. As a designer, I always question each collection in the traditional sense: are there enough tops, jackets, bottoms and knits? Is the idea coming through each design? What is missing in the collection? I try to stay in a creative mindset and merge this with the more commercial aspects necessary for the collection.

What do you hope to do with your brand now that you’ve graduated?

I think right now is the time for menswear design. I hope I can use my designs as my voice to speak to the world about what Australian menswear is and can be. Australia is still a very small market compared to the northern hemisphere, and right now building a stockist base is the most important and difficult task. Looking abroad for opportunities is something I want to do, too. 

Mitchell Oakley Smith is The Woolmark Company’s Global Content & Creative Manager. His writing has appeared in Architectural Digest, Belle, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview, The Australian and Vogue, and he is the author of five books on art, fashion and design.