The Designer Making Garments Inspired by Octopuses and Centipedes

Terrence Zhou, the Queens-based founder of the clothing brand Bad Binch TongTong, isn’t interested in producing a simple pair of pants. “It can start to get a little boring,” says the 27-year-old designer, who has centered his two-year-old label around a single, fundamental query: that of how a garment should relate to the human form. Take his Octopus dress, as it’s become known, constructed from spandex and neoprene, and worn by the singer Lizzo last fall. Stretchy, black and subdued on top, the piece divides at the thigh into eight stubby appendages that taper to curlicue points and skim the floor, a mix of Ursula from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and a Louise Bourgeois sculpture. (“It’s very easy to wear,” he says.)

Many of Zhou’s fantastical, hyper-voluminous creations, usually fabricated from athleisure-inspired materials, almost always in black, recall organic forms. Along with the Octopus dress, there’s also the Mermaid Hoop, a strapless ruched design with a flying saucer-like disk below the knee. For his roughly 50-piece New York Fashion Week debut this past September, he sent ballooning interpretations of butterflies, centipedes and spiders down the runway. “I ask myself a lot of contrarian questions,” he says. “If tailoring to the body can show curves, can something with volume also show curves?”

Born in Wuhan, China, Zhou studied math at Wabash College in Indiana before transferring to the Parsons School of Design, from which he graduated in 2020 with a degree in fashion. His early success is at least partly because of his native facility with digital media: He’s pro-metaverse, pro-meme and pro-social media, where he nurtures what he calls his “little cults.” (In addition to custom pieces for celebrities, he currently sells most of his ready-to-wear through his website and in select retail stores.) But beyond follower counts, Zhou also seems to grasp the deeper creative potential of the internet. While we often think of our on- and offline identities as anchoring opposite ends of an authenticity axis, Zhou wonders if unencumbered self-expression can deliver us to a place of deeper truth. “People have these needs,” he says. “It’s just that reality doesn’t allow for them.”

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