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Designer Zhongzhi Ding is elevating homoeroticism in fashion with his standout collection

Exclusive: With its celebration of masculinity and sex positivity, Zhongzhi Ding’s MA menswear collection has made the fashion world sit up and take notice

By Joseph Kocharian

Composite of Za model on a runway

Fashion brands and designers can often have a sanitised and commercialised approach to male sexuality. Homoeroticism is often flirted with, rather than fully explored, so it’s really exciting to see Zhongzhi Ding – leader of the fashion, art & design category of this year’s Attitude 101, empowered by Bentley – diving headfirst into this world. The London College of Fashion graduate’s designs are innovative too, offering practicality, while the use of prosthetics takes his pieces into a more tactile and 3D space.  

Ding burst onto the scene in London Fashion Week in February 2023, when his MA menswear graduate collection entitled Male Enhancement sparked major excitement. A celebration of masculinity mixed with utility for both cis and trans men, it saw sweat-stained models strutting down the catwalk dressed as cowboys with sodden armpits and chests, complete with exaggerated curves and silhouettes. It was an ode to embracing sexuality that harks back to some of the most iconic LGBTQ+ art, and certainly got fashion editors on the front row hot under the collar for his designs and that helped make him the leader of the fashion category of this year’s Attitude 101, empowered by Bentley.

“A strong libido may have taken control of my brain” says Ding as he explains the inspiration behind the collection. “I’d like to create a series of male characters that are related to old photos from the 70s and 80s of the last century. Like body artist Peter Berlin with attractive bodies and huge penises, I wanted to create and reconstruct these male figures in contemporary times. I was deeply influenced by Tom of Finland and Robert Mapplethorpe”.

“I tried to bring Tom of Finland’s oversized penis and super slim-fit leather trousers to the real world.”

Homoeroticism will always play a part in Ding’s designs, and this is not something he wants to hide.

“In the future, maybe I’ll shape many characters with different personas which are hidden in my mind.”

“That would be exciting and fun. Just like Barbie and Ken, created by Mattel, who have different personalities and careers. But, most of all, they are all attractive to me. Design is a very important means of expressing myself. I keep exploring how to push my designs and collection to an ultimate boundary, to show people the ‘masculinity’ I am chasing. I don’t want to hide anything, and I believe a lot of consumers have been looking for this kind of design.”

“Desire and fashion are not in conflict.”  

Ding’s collection goes way beyond sex appeal, with detailed designs for functional clothing that accentuates masculinity. The upper body has been given an exaggerated silhouette with padded, V-shaped garments to increase the width of the shoulders and chest. Oversized proportions in Ding’s works are not limited to the top half of the body. Paying tribute to the men drawn by the infamous Tom of Finland, with their extra-large bulges, has led Ding to work with the very technical process of prosthetics. Through these he has explored and identified indicators of homoeroticism as a vehicle for design, adopting characteristics of hyper masculinity. Size, bulk, length and girth were developed as prosthetics, with accentuated nipples, penis shaft and glans worked into the construction of the pieces. 

Ding has also considered the trans community in his designs

“For the trans male community, the addition of prostheses will provide them with a wearable option. In addition, there is a hollowed-out design of the urethra in the prosthesis, which tries to meet the wearing and physiological needs of the population.” 

Zhongzhi Ding MA menswear collection (Image: Provided)

Creating the prosthetics was a journey in itself. Lots of people (us included) have asked if they were designed using models. “This is a question that many people are interested in,” laughs Ding. “Actually, this prosthetic was a collaboration with a sex-toy company in China. They have super professional modellers, and even a look book of various penises. I found the penis shapes I liked and told the modeller what sizes I needed. It is worth mentioning that I have modified the traditional prosthesis, such as leaving space at the bottom to improve the comfort of the wearer.” 

Adding prosthetics to clothing design obviously comes with technical challenges. 

“I think these two aspects are closely connected,” Ding explains. “The challenge in designing a garment is to create a smart structure that can easily hold the prosthesis in a certain position. Creating a prosthetic is more of a test of my comprehensive skills and communication skills. The comfort and texture of materials are the main parts I need to consider, which I have come to learn as a whole new area. As for communication, I also need to accurately convey the requirements to the factory, which is a challenge for me.” 

Ding’s designs are electric, sex positive and also incredibly detailed and considered. Looking at his first collection, it’s exciting to think where his design journey will take him. But despite all the details, Ding still goes back to the basics: “My favourite look is a sweat-printed tank with shorts with sided hollow-out. In fact, it’s a makeshift look that I added to my creations, and although it’s simple, it’s the sexiest ever — and straightforward.” 

Attitude 101, empowered by Bentley is our list of the year’s 101 most influential LGBTQ+ people.

Logo for Attitude 101
Attitude 101, empowered by Bentley celebrates 101 LGBTQ+ trailblazers (Image: Attitude)

The 10 categories, each featuring 10 individuals, are Media & Broadcast, Film, TV, and Music supported by LA Tourism, Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM), Third Sector & Community, Financial & Legal, Fashion, Art & Design, Sport, Travel, Business, and The Future supported by Clifford Chance.

The full Attitude 101 fashion, art & design list, empowered by Bentley

Attitude 101
The Fashion list of Attitude 101, empowered by Bentley (Image: Attitude)

Zhongzhi Ding – Fashion designer

Koko Barno – Model and content creator

Jesse Darling – Artist and poet

Kingsley Gbadegesin – Designer

George Gorg – Model and content creator

Kyle Ho – Designer

Reece King – Model

Giselle Palmer – Ballroom star

Jordan Rossi – Director, photographer and writer

Richie Shazam – Model and photographer

This feature appears in issue 357 of Attitude magazine, available to order online here, and alongside 15 years of back issues on the free Attitude app.

Andrew Scott on the cover of Attitude issue 358
Andrew Scott on the cover of Attitude issue 357 (Image: Ramon Christian/Attitude)