The Coquette-Core Label Reimagining Power Dressing

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style points

Style Points is a weekly column about how fashion intersects with the wider world.

On the spring 2024 runways, you famously couldn’t go five feet without running into a ruffle, rosette, or bow. Now, the style is devouring TikTok too, with ribbons adorning everything from TV remotes to chicken tenders.

Fashion’s wave of sweetness may be cresting, but Shushu/Tong has been riding it for almost a decade. Founded by London College of Fashion classmates Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang—the brand name comes from their combined nicknames—the Shanghai-based label draws from anime culture and other shows the two watched growing up. “Particularly the female characters: the school uniforms, the bows, the gingham,” Lei says. Her childhood dream was to be a cartoonist, and they both loved characters like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, who could be equal parts feminine and fearsome.

a brunette woman in a gray cutout mini dress

Olivia Rodrigo in Shushu/Tong at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Jeff Kravitz//Getty Images

“In my school, girls used to cut their skirts shorter and add little things to them to make it their own,” Lei remembers. “I’ve always loved this rebellion against authority, which I think has translated into our designs. Uniforms are such a big thing for girls’ comics, and the socks/pleats combo has always been a huge thing for Asians,” she says, citing Devon Aoki in D.E.B.S and Chiaki Kuriyama in Kill Bill.

The result—the perfection titration of cutesy and acerbic—has been a hit with customers, among them celebrities. Name a Gen Z It girl with a penchant for the sweet and sinister, and she’s probably worn Shushu/Tong. Olivia Rodrigo chose their spring 2024 lace-trimmed floral slip dress on The Tonight Show and a cut-out charcoal minidress for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Blackpink’s Jennie promoted The Idol in Cannes wearing a tea-length, 1950s-style number. Ayo Edebiri has worn their ruffled apron dress, Florence Pugh their embroidered dress with crystal straps, Rosalía their take on ’80s florals, and Addison Rae their denim micromini with an oversized ruffled collar. (Though the wave isn’t limited to Gen Z-ers: O.G. twee girl Zooey Deschanel is also a fan.)

a woman in a black strapless tea length dress

Jennie in Cannes, wearing Shushu/Tong.

Mike Marsland//Getty Images

The duo has called their brand “sweet feminism with a twist.” Though the coquette-core aesthetic and its relatives (bimbocore, Barbiecore) have been dismissed as infantilizing, they don’t see it that way. They would love for their style, Lei says, “to be considered as a kind of “power dressing…I don’t think cuteness is a weakness.” Even though it’s now become trendy, “we’ve been drawn to this aesthetic from the very beginning,” she says. “Tongtong and I have never thought about any other direction for our brand.”

a person hugging another woman

Ayo Edebiri in Shushu/Tong, with her Bottoms costar Rachel Sennott.

Robby Klein//Getty Images

That said, their vision has evolved into something a bit more complex. For spring 2024, they complicated the innocent DNA of the brand with sheer, lacy, and lingerie-inspired looks. Though past collections have looked to touchstones like Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the cast of Heathers, when entering this more risqué territory, they cited Helmut Newton’s book Big Nudes as an inspiration.

a person wearing a white dress and sunglasses

A look from spring 2024.

Courtesy of the brand.

They sold their first collection on the Chinese social media platform WeChat; though their long list of stockists now includes Dover Street Market, SSENSE, and Browns, Lei says, “funnily enough, we actually meet some of our most important clients through Instagram DM!” The reach afforded by social media, she says, helps brands like theirs that aren’t located in one of the proverbial four fashion capitals.

a man and a woman wearing sweaters

Designers Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang.

Courtesy of the brand.

The collaborations have come fast and furious, too: After a linkup with Estée Lauder in 2022, they recently partnered with Asics on, what else, gingham sneakers. As they edge closer to the decade mark, Lei says, “I’ve never been into celebrating birthdays and this is no different for me; we just want to continue developing the brand step by step. My ultimate goal is make sure each new collection is better than the last. That’s what I enjoy most.” And, while they’d love to continue dressing It girls, they have a veteran star in mind too. Singer-actress and Chungking Express star Faye Wong “is my forever fashion icon—she is on my mood board every season without fail.”

Headshot of Véronique Hyland

Véronique Hyland is ELLE’s Fashion Features Director and the author of the book Dress Code, which was selected as one of The New Yorker’s Best Books of the Year. Her writing has previously appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, W, New York magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, and Condé Nast Traveler. 

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