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Autumn /Winter 2023

In AW23, Louis Shengtao Chen depicts the subtle journey of a maturing youth, faced with expectations and norms, blurring the oddities of fantasy with reality. The title derives from photographer Jim Goldberg’s multi-media documentarian project “Raised by Wolves” (1995). In a study of identity, Louis tangos between contrasts of naivety and maturity, explores the playful balance of age-inappropriate dressing, and a play between sophistication and rebellion.

In Jim Goldberg’s photo-journalism project, the American photographer spent 6 years documenting the lives of teenage runaways who live on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. He interviews his adolescent subjects, their social workers and to capture brief moments of their displaced and misunderstood youth. The project revealing the myriad traps which are set by vices, violence and exploitation, as well as the ultimate longing for happiness.

Through the fragmented moments of their lives, a series of videos zoom into few of the characters. They are fundamentally raised by the unspoken rules of reality. Such beautiful youth living life with such humorous mock, taking nothing seriously. The boys and girls, fragile as feathers but having to carry the heavy stones reality throws at them. They come from all walks of life in a lonely night. Girls who ran away from home, they put on dresses they find on the street, acting in sophisticated tenures to make fun of life and blossom for the night. They self-empower, and become whoever they wish, even just for a brief moment of fantasy, to turn the brutality of life into mockery. Fun, laughter, self-appreciation and validation, giving them a path of escapism, away from the trouble, far from the pain.

There is beauty, warmth and hope in the ephemeral. Louis Shengtao Chen looks at escapism from his own kaleidoscope. Finding a moment of “sanity” in dreams, a moment of “ecstasy” in realism: A seemingly naive sweater is lined with a Cruella-like faux fur; an ankle long velvet dress with the ends burned until there is only the synthetics left, appearing in a ash-blue texture; a twistable bow on a pullover is seemingly innocent, but its ends crawls in tension and seduction.

Darker, almost thick colour palette stands in contrast with hues of light and sparkly blue. The extreme and fringed denim that runs in the collection pays tribute to those personalities in Goldberg’s books, living on the street and distressing in their own rebellion, also an homage to the Hippie scene from Girls Interrupted. Fringe of mohair, denim, wool knit in all length and materials, the technique itself tells the story, and the treatment of fabric to turn something into distress, draws us further into the story. The techniques and fabrications are ways Louis views, reviews and challenges life itself, to find spontaneity in juxtaposition.

Who is the Louis Shengtao Chen woman? She’s an adolescent lawyer, a teen boss, a young runaway bride, living by the rules of the rebel rules of the street. She is also Louis himself, delicate souls underneath buzzing and wild facades. They break norms, they challenge and mock formality, they live free in a world full of boundaries and expectations, and they unleash their dreams and fantasies along the way.

She wanders the wild wild world, raised by no one but life. She overcomes the fear, and playfully twists her reality.