Credit: Margaret Zhang

“My career growth has been really organic, and in many ways, unpredictable” says Margaret Zhang, reflecting on the brief and brilliant career that (at a glance) has seen her write, shoot, style and direct her way into the upper echelons of the global fashion industry. “I wouldn’t necessarily do anything differently in a strategic sense,” she continues, “I would tell myself to take more time off and pace myself a bit more [but] let’s be real – that probably wouldn’t happen.”

Should such a thing exist, the 23-year-old has fast shaped a new paradigm for how the much-maligned millennial generation can break new ground in the industry, not by waiting for permission but by operating with the fearlessness and agility with which we’ve become accustomed. It’s a trait also shared by Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, the man at the epicentre of the gilded youthquake currently shaking fashion to its core, and embodied most keenly in his Autumn/Winter 2016-17 collection, Rhizomatic Scores.

The collection took its cues from the principle of ‘rhizomatic thinking’, the belief (borrowed from botany) that to effect change we have be adaptable, disruptive and unafraid to develop in a disorderly manner – growth brought about by feeding on the connections we make with disparate elements, not through being spoon fed. It’s as apt a metaphor for Zhang’s nontraditional career as for Michele’s singular vision for the storied Italian house, both of which came together in a spectacular fashion (pun intended) in June this year at the label’s historic Cruise 2017 show staged in the cloisters of London’s iconic Westminster Abbey.

It was in town during this pre-Brexit celebration of the country’s rich cultural heritage that Zhang and recurrent Michele muse, Australian model Madison Stubbington, hit the streets of London town to put Rhizomatic Scores through its paces as the apogee of luxury fashion in the street style age. 

Having appeared in each of Michele’s womenswear shows and with two campaigns for the label under her monogrammed belt, Stubbington is arguably the perfect subject for such an exercise. In Zhang’s capable hands (behind and in front of the lens), mundane street scenes become sublime; lavish interiors and ornate embellishments redolent of the Renaissance are brought screaming into the present; and Michele’s proposition for a new way of thinking is made strikingly clear.

Below, Zhang exclusively shares the fruits of her labour along with insights into her creative process, life and career.

Credit: Margaret Zhang

Credit: Margaret Zhang

Gucci is currently dictating the new norm for prints and clashing pattern dressing. What is your best (how-to) advice for someone a little conservative who’s dipping their toe into this adventurous trend? Printed separates, rather than a head-to-toe look, is always a good place to start, or layering heavily printed pieces under more neutral outerwear, to subdue the overall effect to meet your personal level of pattern tolerance.

You often style, model and shoot the same image. How is this possible? What are your best tips for someone else attempting the same? I shoot in bursts on a self-timer and manual focus. In reality, it’s fairly comical to behold – me running back and forth between my tripod and a mark on the ground. On top of the usual rules of shooting – lighting is priority, move on if you don’t have the shot in 20 minutes, et cetera – you just need some patience, particularly with focus and visualising composition before you get in shot.

Credit: Margaret Zhang

Credit: Margaret Zhang

How do you intend to meld together your love for fashion, the law and creativity in the future? I use my business and law education on a daily basis – contracts, media law and marketing are all super relevant in my consulting work, without having to outsource. As a photographer and strategic consultant, I do find that the evolving social media landscape has rendered localised intellectual property [IP] law pretty irrelevant. There’s a heightened need for global regulation of copyright and IP, so I would love to explore the policy side of that some day.

What’s the greatest life lesson you’ve learned in your professional pursuits so far? Just focus on your own work, and how you can continue to learn from other people and expand your skillset.

Credit: Margaret Zhang

Credit: Margaret Zhang

What’s your greatest indulgence, away from fashion? Ballet and music are my first great loves, so I always come back to those as a source of inspiration and recuperation away from the fashion world.

What would you do differently if you were starting out in your career again? My career growth has been really organic and, in many ways, unpredictable, so I wouldn’t necessarily do anything differently in a strategic sense. I tell myself that I would take more time off and pace myself a bit more, [but] let’s be real – that probably wouldn’t happen.

Credit: Margaret Zhang

Credit: Margaret Zhang

What were your 3 favourite looks from the Gucci Resort collection and why? The Chinoiserie print and stained-glass flower print gowns, and the baby pink Victorian are favourites. They’re such a far cry from the minimalism we’ve been so accustomed to in editorial and advertising over the past couple of years, and all three have very different cultural touchstones.

Credit: Margaret Zhang

Credit: Margaret Zhang

Photographer/Stylist: Margaret Zhang
Producer: Samantha Bennetts
Model: Madison Stubbington and Margaret Zhang at IMG
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Margaret Zhang for Gucci