Lu Kaigang became famous on China’s TikTok for modeling outfits made from tarp, leaves, and even an air-conditioner. His videos have gained international attention, even landing him a spot at London Fashion Week.
On Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, it’s hard to miss the lithe, tan young man confidently strutting down dirt roads in his village like they’re his own personal catwalk.
In one video, he’s wearing an intricate dress made from colorful tarp. In another, he has an air-conditioner slung around his shoulder like a messenger bag.
Since May 2018, Lu Kaigang, who goes by Liuxianren online, has been dazzling viewers with his surprisingly fashionable pieces made from all manner of household objects—old curtains, dead leaves, and even buckets.
He’s become a bona fide internet celebrity, with over three million followers on Douyin and another 200,000 on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter. His newfound fame even earned him an invitation to the spring/summer 2020 edition of London Fashion Week.
But not too long ago, the 20-year-old model was a down-on-his-luck factory worker in Nanning, a city in China’s southwest.
After dropping out of high school, Lu worked multiple odd jobs—as a waiter and a hairdresser—but the factory job in particular broke his spirit.
“He was the only worker working the night shift,” says Lu Kaiwei, his cousin. “He says he didn’t want to go on living like this.”
Since he was young, Lu Kaigang felt he was different from his peers. While other boys in his village were playing basketball, he preferred to stay at home watching fashion shows.
“I’ve seen every season of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.”
“I’ve seen every season of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show,” he says.
Lu was enamored by the clothes and scoured the internet for designs from famous fashion houses. His favorite brand, he says, is Dior and favorite designer, John Galliano.
Looking to mimic his idols, he started making his own clothes in May 2018 and asked his cousin to film him. “I couldn’t even imagine what he had in mind,” Lu Kaiwei recalls.
Breaking into the internet
On a whim, Lu decided to post his fantastical creations on Douyin.
In his first video, Lu fashioned a Victoria’s Secret angel outfit from palm tree leaves, complete with a matching headdress and chest piece. He modeled it himself on a dirt road outside his house.
It got no views.
The next nine videos he uploaded also did poorly. In total, his first 10 videos only received two views, he says.
Then, in August 2019, a video of him modeling a tarpaulin dress went viral. He gained thousands of followers overnight—and a business-savvy manager clamoring to represent him.
“I started following him and contacted him on Douyin,” says Yu You, a former stylist who now manages Lu. “That’s when found out it was just him and his little cousin doing everything. No professional team, no manager helping them navigate the industry. So I reached out to him and says, ‘Why don’t you let me manage you?’”
“I’ve never really gone far from home.”
Things took off from there. As his following grew, media outlets started taking notice. In November, we invited him to Hong Kong for his first editorial photoshoot with Elle magazine.
“I’ve never really gone far from home,” Lu tells us before the shoot. “I’m very nervous today. Shooting for a magazine is very different from what I usually do.”
Stay tuned for part two of this series, where we follow Lu on his debut with Elle.