Lion Dance Costume | Chen Chen & Kai Williams

We have always used textile, but never in its traditional applications. In previous projects, textile has been used to make a bag to restrict the expansion of polyurethane foam, or impregnated with resin to make hard shapes that we could cut with a saw. It seemed obvious to follow a similar path for this project. We started with the intention of making a boat by replacing fibreglass with Canvas and hardening the wool fibres with marine epoxy.

Structurally it worked, but aesthetically it was a failure. The beautifully rich colours of the textile became muddy and uninteresting once the epoxy had soaked in. This was in striking contrast to the frayed edges that were appearing as we cut the textile. As the edges frayed and the individual colours in the weave were revealed, they had an unexpected intensity.

These frayed edges resembled the decorative fringe of a Chinese lion dance costume. We became excited by the idea of creating a performance where the textile could be seen in movement and as part of an artefact.

The production was very labour-intensive: the cape alone is composed of more than 200 panels, each of which took around 25 minutes to produce.

We collaborated with the company Julia Crockett & Group and composer Zane Morris to create an original performance piece based both on interactions with the completed costume and the idea of the traditional lion dance.

Chen Chen & Kai Williams is a New York-based design studio working in furniture, products, interiors and mixed materials. The company was established as an experimental design space in 2011 by Pratt Institute graduates Chen Chen (China, 1985) and Kai Williams (USA, 1984).

Currently operating in the commercial and collectible design markets, Chen Chen & Kai Williams encourages new ways of design thinking. This can be seen in designs ranging from its Stone Fruit planters made in moulds taken from real fruit, to its utilitarian Third Eye Vessels, one of a kind Resin Benches and towering Warp Core floor lights.

Past clients include Études Studio, Baggu and Mission Chinese, while presentations of its work have been held at the Museum of Art and Design, New York, and the Venice Architecture Biennale. The studio also designs products for Tai Ping Carpets, Areaware and Good Thing.