The Future of Nostalgia – Claudia Li x Comvita
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. And with it inevitably comes the juxtaposition of the past and present. For fashion designer Claudia Li, her eponymous brand’s latest Fall Winter 2022 collection titled “Once upon a time…” is a poignant trip down memory lane, drawing on her Chinese heritage, memories of ancient Chinese fairy tales told to her by her Grandmother as a child, and the lush vivid colour narratives of Zhang Yi Mo films. “That’s one of the main ideas behind everything I do – the constant juxtaposition of the opposites. And in this case, the past and the present,” says Li. “With this collection, you can feel the heritage and traditions, but at the same time, it’s modernised in a way that you can still have a connection to it without knowing the story behind it.”
Her latest collection has also had the occasion to be a creative meeting of minds with visionaries from the world of bees and Mānuka honey, Comvita, with the synergy felt between the two seemingly divergent brands being very much a case of an identity with legacy and heritage translating into a modern age. Of the partnership, Li says, “The importance of heritage was what brought us together for New York Fashion Week, where Comvita was our main sponsor. Their brand ethos suited the idea behind this collection perfectly since it was based on my Grandmother’s bedtime stories and my perspective on my Chinese heritage.”
On the New York Fashion Week catwalk, the intersection between the two influential brands manifested itself in a series of luxe crocheted honey jar carriers, continuing Li’s prevalent use of paracords in her collections with a reinterpretation of traditional Chinese Knots symbolising good luck and prosperity. Furthermore, the lush Pink Chrysanthemum print featured in her fashion collection served as inspiration for a special Claudia Li x Comvita custom print, showcasing the Mānuka flower set against a vermillion background. This exclusive design was applied to the packaging design for Comvita’s Mānuka honey and an eye-catching Comvita beekeeper suit – an adroit celebration also, of empowering women in the workplace through fashion.
“I thought about how one would travel with the honey jar. Instead of just putting it inside a bag, can we make a bag that’s made just for honey jars?” explains Li. “The packaging design was a really fun thing to work on for me. I did a lot of research on honey packaging. From my research, I noticed that most of them have prints designed based on the packaging itself. So I wanted to create a print that can be used for both packaging and fashion.”
Using the same technique as her latest collection’s prints for Comvita’s exclusive design, the similarities between her meticulous creative process and the natural inner workings at the core of Comvita’s legacy, beginning with bees in search of the tiny delicate pink and white flowers brimming with the nectar of the indigenous Mānuka tree, were not lost on Li. Of the design process, she explains, “The print for Comvita is made with the same technique as this latest collection’s prints. We arranged and photographed real-life Chrysanthemums in different colours, then carved out each individual flower and rearranged them again to make the final print…” Li continues, “I felt that the process of making this print is very similar to the process of honey-making, from flower to hive to honey; it is done with so much care and detail. So I decided to use the same method for Comvita’s packaging design with Mānuka flowers. I wanted people to feel joyous and special when holding this limited edition honey.”
There is obviously a huge emotional element to Li’s work as well, which goes back to an enduring memory of fashion, growing up and seeing “the most unique expression” on her mum’s face as she revelled in dressing up to attend art auctions and gallery openings. “It made her happy rather than an obligation to dress up. I think that was baked into the way I think about clothing as a child,” reflects Li. “To me, fashion is something that makes me happy, that I have fun with… Not only did I want to feel like that, I wanted to see that same expression my Mum had dressing up, on other people’s faces.”
Just a glance at the celebratory floral design holding court on the collaborative packaging and the striking bee keeper suit is enough to sense yet another shared sentiment underscoring the “why” behind what these two international brands do. A case of the expression of emotion simultaneously fuelling creativity and joy. As Comvita shares the wonders of pure New Zealand Mānuka Honey with the world, in the words of Li, “That’s why I love fashion – it is subjective and an expression of the wearer; it belongs to them… I love what I do, and it makes me so happy.”