by Stella Hughes
4 min
Dingyun Zhang ©

If constraints breed creativity, then 2021 was the year creativity made a comeback. With fresh projects born from the seemingly endless time in lockdown able to be produced and shown this year, we saw a whole host of new talent rise through the ranks and produce some amazing work. From photographers to artists and designers, the work coming out of the creative scene continued to push boundaries and mark new territory. 

Whilst we saw new art forms prevail in the form of NFTs (Collins’ word of the year for 2021), creatives who embarked on innovative collaborations and projects continued to connect to their audiences, as well as growing them. We’re taking a closer look at three of the creatives who had a huge 2021.



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Ding (@dingyun_zhang)

You’d be hard pressed to find many emerging designers who had a bigger year than Dingyun Zhang. Graduating from Central Saint Martins only last year, the designer is known for his larger-than-life puffer jackets, which have led to a partnership and collection with Moncler, a job at YEEZY, and a cult following in the fashion and creative communities. His designs are instantly recognisable, once you know what to look for: puffers manipulated into unusual silhouettes, often adorned with the signature aesthetic of a YEEZY Foam Runner when shown live. This pairing is no coincidence, either – Zhang is Kanye’s worst kept secret, with the musician expressing that he wanted to keep the designer a secret in a recent interview. 

Zhang is also drawn to utility and futurism in his designs. His graduate collection, shown in February 2020, featured futuristic outerwear which included puffer jackets, trousers and camouflage prints. This year, his collection with Moncler was inspired by the deep sea, and saw the designer experiment further with abstract silhouettes and material manipulation to produce pieces that Vogue described as resembling “alien survival gear”.



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Zhong Lin (@zhonglin_)

Another creative who has enjoyed a wildly successful year is Zhong Lin – a self-taught photographer and artist quickly rising in the ranks of the fashion industry. Starting the year with an ongoing project titled ‘365’ in which she took a portrait for every day of the year, Lin’s mantra is “No Limits, no boundaries, and no definition.” This certainly shines through in her portfolio, too, which consists of surreal yet polished fashion portraits which push the boundaries of creativity in lockdown.

Later in the year, Zhong Lin shot the cover of the inaugural issue of Perfect Magazine, as well as producing a body of work from Taipei for the publication. She even inspired a whole collection, collaborating with designer and artist Robert Wun on his AW21 collection dubbed ‘Armour’. Her images have captivated audiences, perhaps in their inherent quality of feeling visceral: colours are brighter, textures are deeper and narratives evident.


Artist and CULTED favourite Shaq has also had a major 2021, and his ever-evolving career is nothing short of impressive. The South-London born, multi-disciplinary creative has navigated between fashion and art throughout his career, exploring the intersection of the two subcultures and ultimately finding them to be interlinked. 

Having grown up as distinctly fashion-forward before landing a styling role at PAQ, this year he also delved deeper into artistry. Back in November, he told us that “Fashion is something that I’ve loved since birth. There’s 3 main things I love: fashion, music and art – I know it sounds so generic but I genuinely, deeply, care about those things… now though, I just come to my studio, listen to my music and paint, freely. I feel like the stories that I am telling through my art are pure and honest.”

Never one to be put into a box, Shaq has also collaborated with Gucci for a beauty-based writing project as well as writing a poem for Bentley in what constituted a pinch-me moment for the London-based creative.

in other news