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Kai Ting Chen: Embracing Vulnerability Through Fashion


Aine Lagan

New York is a fashion metropolis. There’s a new trend or established designer around every corner, brought together from all over the world by New York’s innate creative appeal. Kai Ting Chen is an international designer who is now calling New York home.

Her designs stand out for their simplicity, speaking volume in the finer details. Each collection is inspired by Chen’s lived experience. There’s an uncurrent of exploring psychological issues in contemporary society through the art of fashion. You’ll find contemporary designs that make you pause and reflect on a deeper meaning.

Chen’s award nominated ‘Fit & Vulnerability’ collection was born out of vulnerability brought forth by family tragedy and the shared human trauma of the pandemic. She doesn’t just want you to wear her designs, Chen wants you to feel in them.

Few designers can master the art of transforming fashion into a philosophical discussion, forcing us to come face to face with some of humanity’s greatest challenges. Chen’s inspiration has ranged from her personal experiences to decades-old conflicts that have left their mark on society.

We’re tracing Kai Ting Chen’s career so far from her collaborative work in Taiwan to her Arts Thread Design nominated collection.

Who is Kai Ting Chen?

Kai Ting Chen is a Taiwanese Fashion Designer based in New York. She’s an alumnus of FIT and has built a distinctive aesthetic through unexpected shapes and draping techniques that add a human element with playful textiles. These designs break the stereotype norm and call on us to look beyond the expected.

While Chen is a New York-based designer, her career has been international. She represented an SS19 collection at London Fashion Week and was a winner for the FJU Talents Prize.

Her career has already been highlighted by award nominations, including being nominated for the ArtsThread design award for her latest collection.

Kai Ting Chen
Kai Ting Chen – Fashion Designer

Exploring Psychology Through Fashion

Every designer has a mission they seek to achieve through their designs. Some chose to celebrate the female form while others explore the concept of self-expression. Kai Ting Chen seeks to do something new in the fashion industry. Exploring psychology through everyday garments.

Chen draws on her personal experience as inspiration for her designs, posing psychological and philosophical questions to her audience through each garment. Her latest collection is a reflection on the vulnerability she experienced during a family crisis and the collective trauma we went through as a society during the pandemic.

This approach sets Chen apart from her peers, allowing her to scrap fashion back to its deepest layers. Her use of fabrics and texture break down traditional silhouettes, the same way philosophical concepts challenge us to see the world with new eyes.

Kai Ting Chen

Revisiting History through Streetwear

It’s an approach that was apparent in Chen’s acclaimed SS19 collection which was inspired by the legendary ‘City of Life and Death’ movie. This collection was presented at London Fashion Week and lays the foundation for Chen’s philosophical approach to fashion.

Her designs for this collection reflect on the struggles faced by Japanese soldiers by deconstructing traditional military uniforms using historical newspaper prints recounting the events of the Nanking 1937 War. It forces us to face the reminder of the cruelty of war and to treasure the peace and unity that has been hard fought for.

Kai Ting Chen
SS19 Collection

The garments in this collection are designed to force you to look at the finer details. Your eyes are drawn to the ink-stained newspaper textiles that highlight the horrors of the 1937 Nanking massacre, showcasing tragedy through the visual of a contemporary silhouette. The avant-garde draping and imperfect edges gave the garments a tone of austerity that befitted the inspiration behind the capsule collection.

This overt philosophical overtone is one that only some designs can convincedly capture. Chen masters this art by presenting silhouettes that appear familiar at first glance until you examine them closer. Her draping technique is highlighted within this collection with outerwear that utilises oversized silhouettes for dramatic effect.

Kai Ting Chen
SS19 Collection

Award Nominated ‘Fit & Vulnerability’ Collection

It’s not unusual to hear fashion being referred to as ‘armour’. The clothes we wear every day prepare us for the trials and tribulations that wait outside our doorsteps. Kai Ting Chen’s latest collection doesn’t hide these fears behind layers of fabric. Instead, her collection approaches a life of living with vulnerabilities and embracing a peaceful coexistence.

The ‘Fit & Vulnerability’ collection has a distinctive Asian streetwear feel with a New York sensibility that calls on us to be true to who we are. It’s the DNA behind the collection that’s inspired by Taleb’s ‘Antifragile’ book and strives to inspire each of us to accept our vulnerabilities and more importantly to transcend the concept of vulnerable or strong.

Vulnerability is something Chen knows all too well. A family accident inspired her to look for ways to transform negative experiences into positive power. She breaks vulnerability down as a four-stage process, translating it into reality by piecing together each outfit.

Kai Ting Chen

The designs at the heart of these garments are reproduced prints of Chen’s grandmother’s radiographs. It captures Chen’s philosophy of taking a negative experience and turning it into something that challenges the way we see the world.

The storyline of the four stages of birth, wrecking, mind-changing, and integrity are blended through the monochrome colour scheme of this collection. This collection also pays homage to the journey we all experienced during COVID-19.

Kai Ting Chen

Chen’s experience of the pandemic has forced her to become more aware of her personal and design identity and embrace the differences that make us all individuals.

Fit & Vulnerability is nominated for an ArtsThread Design award in the specialism of design research and apparel. Her designs are true to who she is, interweaving the story of her life alongside socio-political events that pose questions about the type of society we want to live in.

Kai Ting Chen
‘Fit & Vulnerability’ Collection
‘Fit & Vulnerability’ Collection

Bringing Human Emotion into Fashion

Bringing human emotion into fashion is what Kai Ting Chen does best. Her latest collection dares us to embrace our vulnerability through the simplicity of ready-to-wear. As oriental fashion infuses itself into mainstream trends, Kai Ting Chen is a name you should get used to hearing.

Published on November, 12, 2022

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