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In the 1980s, when conformity was the rule of law in China, young Ying Gao got a glimpse of deviation from the norm at a Yves Saint Laurent exhibition in Beijing.

“At that time I didn’t know what was beautiful, elegant, refined. I didn’t know that vocabulary, but what I remembered was something very different from my everyday life.”

Today Ying, a fashion designer and professor at the University of Montreal, creates interactive garments by combining fashion and media arts. Elements like air and light inspire her.

“I love creating shapes from intangibles,” she says. “The key element is neither technological nor organic; it is rather the intangible.” This notion of elemental ambiguity is seen in her designs. Ying says that change and flow are attributes of her creations.

While sensory technology is central to Ying’s designs, she says her garments are not “gadgets.”

Some of her projects incorporate sound and movement, playing with things like thousands of pins, for instance.

She says she has no interest in working with biometric data, like heartbeats and stress levels, because those cannot fully capture emotions. “My mission is to experiment in a more poetic dimension in terms of form, how to get the message across.”

A version of this article originally appeared in Sixtysix Issue 06 with the headline “Ying Gao: Fashion Designer, Montreal.” Subscribe today.