If you haven’t heard of ORIENS, get to know. The New York based brand and brainchild of Shirley Tang – current Parsons student – is known for its galactic looks that have already been worn by big names in the music and fashion world. Designing around key themes of futurism, movement, and physical space, ORIENS designs highlight and center the body. Whether that’s through cut-outs, layering or considered silhouettes, Tang has created a successful brand that speaks to the design desires of Gen Z, all before graduating.
Often starting her creative process within the notes app, Tang first designs through spontaneous imagery, eventually leading to the development of a signature aesthetic with ORIENS. Despite challenges involving finals, and a lost hard drive, we were able to catch Shirley and quiz her on all things ORIENS – creative process, design inspiration, and her dream collaborations.
Hey Shirley! You describe ORIENS as a ‘space future body experiment’ – can you speak more about this?
“Space Future Body Experiment” are in a way pillars for my current design practice. My ideas about design started taking form in a significant way after exploring the history and core principles of Futurism – characterized by the form of movement and light, undefined but in pursuit of the future with ideas of dystopia and utopia, looking introspectively of past and present to define a vision forward.
It felt fitting that it was a constant practice of experimentation and trials, yet was clearly definitive in its aesthetic, which to me was a beautiful framework to situate my work, especially in its early stages of evolution. I particularly loved the intersection of technology and biology, how the defining aspects of futurism are rooted in organic forms and extrapolations, and there is this fascination of how our bodies can evolve to integrate into these artificial forms. I think there is a really intriguing sensuality in that yearning, where bodies become groundworks for arching lines that echo its organic nature but pushes it to a space beyond, to become sculpture, machine, artworks. Bodies become the site of synergy between these two contradictory ideas to become more than itself.
Were you always interested in designing? Or was this something you honed at Parsons?
Design was something I always pursued to some degree, even though earlier in my life I was set on a path that was much more academic. I studied at higher levels of Literature and classical music, and at one point I was convinced that I want to eventually pursue Law. I was also in an Arts focussed program in high school, where subjects like English and languages were geared towards creative facets, and I think it made me realize that the elements I loved most from these other fields were the varying forms and translations that symbols and ideas can take.
I never stopped making and sewing through these other explorations, and it became a much stronger pull of a direction when I was deciding my Undergrad major. It’s something I know clearly that I am strongly and internally motivated by, and therefore something I did best in. I would say Parsons helped me find my own way of practice and gave me exposure to fashion references and theories that I had never explored prior, but I see it as a framework of guidance more than a driving force, and I think one’s interest and path should very much be independent and internally driven.
From that, how has ORIENS developed at college and beyond?
I’m actually still in my third year at Parsons— ORIENS was started post Junior Year during the pandemic, as a way to continue the momentum of my explorations that were beginning to take form. Returning has definitely been an interesting adjustment after working in such a secluded, internal way at home, where I really relied on and trusted a sense of spontaneity in ideas and was driven purely by the desire to physically realize them. I’m taking the opportunity now to delve deeper into research, creating a more meticulous process in my construction and fittings, and expanding the methods and processes to my work. I think at one point I feared that there would be a divergence between the two bodies of work, but through the experience I’m learning that the core principles of ORIENS are in the end embodied within me, and despite the new works pushing into a more complex space, they are very much a natural and unified forward evolution.
Your pieces possess a tension between being complex and intricate designs and still being functional and wearable. Can you talk a bit about this central concern?
This is something incredibly important to me within my design processes. I love complexity and intricacy, but I also believe that garments should be central to the form they take on, which is the body. It’s a form with its own needs and restrictions, especially as it comes in interaction with the world. It is in thinking of this interactive element, both garment to body, and body to world, that intricacy and complexity need to be mediated with utility, to be meaningful and thoughtful in their integration into a piece. Intricacy, sensuality, all these adornments to the body need to feel meaningful in their addition, in honorance of the form it takes.
Can you guide us through your creative process?
My creative process still very much comes from spontaneous visuals. They come to me in parts, whether line forms or parts of a garment, which I sketch up in my phone’s notes. There are probably almost 100 pages of them, many of them so messy that they are barely coherent especially as time passes and I lose sight of what that original flash of an image looked like in my head, but the ones that remain striking get refined through extrapolations, iterations and refinements to arrive at their final form.
Sometimes aspects get changed in the process of making, to accommodate fit or function, but that’s a necessary mediation between an intangible idea and physical reality. I also believe very strongly in creating a space around you that reflects your design facets – our brains work in such complex and intricate ways, where information is constantly being digested and processed from the physical and technological spaces we interact with, that an alignment with your surroundings, whether personal physical space, visuals, ideologies or people, is incredibly important to the process and output of your ideas.
I read that your designs are inspired by the future, and the female body, which I think definitely filter through to your work. With this in mind, what are your favourite designs to make and wear?
My personal favourite for wearing on the everyday is the Orbit Set. It encompasses all these elements you mentioned— being visually evocative as futurist, interacting closely with the body underneath without sacrificing comfort— while remaining simple and effortless. Its revealing of the body is unexpected yet sensual, toeing the line between comfort and body consciousness.
The absolute piece I’ve made though is the Eros Corset. It feels like a culmination of the aspects I’m exploring, body reflective, sculptural, intricate, and a kind of personal breakthrough into exploring new colors and textures, and seeing it and wearing it is often a transformative experience. But I’m even more excited for the new designs I’m working on. That’s how it should be, right? That the best is yet to come, and the future promises brighter things in our momentum forwards.
Your work has been worn by a host of celebrities including Kali Uchis – talk to me about this project!
Kali Uchis was one of the first celebrities that I received styling requests from, and I’m so grateful for that experience, especially how kind and thoughtful the stylists were on the two occasions. Kendall styled the stunning Wonderland spread, and we had gone on to create a custom look for her as well. Ale brought in my pieces for Kali and Rico Nasty’s music video for “Aqui Yo Mando ”, who was also the one that made my very first feature on SZA happen. It was such a wonderful introduction to this sometimes hectic world, and I really would not have that first experience any other way and hold so much gratitude for them.
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From that, do you have a dream collaboration (either person or brand)?
There are so many artists that I would love to create with. Someone who comes to mind immediately is Nusi — an incredible artist and friend. We spoke a lot in the relative naissance of our practices, and I remember the feeling of connection and synergy in having my ideas affirmed in a similar yearning for sensuality, lines and body, and I would love to work together in some capacity in the future.
In interdisciplinary spaces, Anna Uddenburg’s sculptures explore such an interesting idea of female sexuality in an interactive, evocative and meaningful form, and I would be honored to work with them.
I would love to continue to work with more musicians as well— I especially love that they have their own individual characters, visions, worlds and artistries. Some of the many people would be FKA Twigs, whose music and visual worldmaking is absolutely phenomenal. And of course Grimes, whose music is a studio playlist constant, hopefully in a space future fantasy.
What’s next for ORIENS?
I’m excited to grow and evolve with it as I approach my thesis, and further the vision I have for it into a more complex and refined form, hopefully spanning more than just textile garments to explore the range of forms adorning the body can take. I’m thinking of it as a more complete and elevated culmination of my current practice that will be kind of a milestone mark upon my graduation.
A really exciting part of starting ORIENS has been connecting, albeit often virtually, with so many interesting artists practicing in all kinds of fields, fashion or otherwise, and I look forward to exploring these connections deeper and creating beautiful things in tangent. There are also some exciting possibilities on the horizon for the future of our first collection Collection 001, which I can’t wait to explore.