Chinese Fashion Designers
As label.m launches into China on Vip.com, we meet the new wave of fashion designers exporting a modern take on their country
“Fashion is a way of expressing our attitude and feelings for the present, and showing the world that China isn’t just an old and mysterious country.” We’re talking to Yin Zi, lead designer at footwear brand Kisscat, about the fashion world’s current focus on China. She has just closed London Fashion Week’s C-Pop show – a multi-brand celebration of contemporary Chinese fashion – with sculptural shoes inspired by Monkey King Sun Wukong, the superhero from the 16th-century Chinese novel, Journey to the West. “I wanted to show his attitude,” says Zi. “Sun Wukong is a very brave, fearless person and can do anything he puts his mind to – like young Chinese people now.”
The show was brought over to London by the e-commerce powerhouse Vip.com (China’s third largest online retailer) and the British Fashion Council (BFC). As longtime partners of the BFC and with label.m launching into China on Vip.com, Toni&Guy’s Artistic Team was perfectly placed to set the pace with the hair. Uniquely positioned with its international team of stylists, the Toni&Guy family really impressed all four designers. “We think that they’re truly fantastic,” says Zhi. “Having the whole team gathered together from all over the world made a big difference. They created young, fresh and confident looks. Working with them has been amazing.”
Looking to the future and talking about a modern China is Kate Han with her brand Mukzin. Drawing on traditional culture, she translates it for a contemporary Chinese audience. As the young designer explains, “Asian or Oriental style used to be created for Western people – or it was Western people borrowing from the East – but I design in the Chinese style for young Chinese people. I want to do for China what designer Gosha Rubchinskiy has done for the Russian aesthetic.”
It’s fair to say that London’s fashion scene wouldn’t be the same without the outré contributions from China. Take Xander Zhou and his pregnant-looking male models, for example, who stole pretty much all of the headlines at London Fashion Week Men’s SS19. Meanwhile, trendsetting Toni&Guy sponsored Xiao Li while her innovative label was still in its infancy, and are currently supporting knitwear pioneer and International Woolmark Prize semi-finalist, I-Am-Chen.
With more than 3,000 years of history, it’s easy to dismiss China as a country stuck in tradition, but increasingly it’s to the East that people are turning in search of innovation and creativity. The BFC has announced a huge China Partnerships Strategy, set to include £500,000 worth of deals that will see British designers receive help to navigate this complex market. Groundbreaking store Dover Street Market opened its first Chinese space in Beijing in February 2018, while the spectacular Shushu/Tong expanded into Europe with their edgily cute pieces stocked in DSM’s London outpost.
That’s not to say that these young designers are forsaking their heritage. A Life on the Left, so named to promote the philosophy of living (and so designing) heart-first, translates traditional techniques into new fashions in order to prevent them from disappearing. Artistic director of the brand, Kurston, says, “Chinese fashion is about the connection between the past, the future and the present. We want to take beautiful handmade crafts and put them into the fashion world. For example, we only ever use Dali dyed fabric [a traditional Chinese dyeing technique] to highlight the fact that this indigo shade was first developed in China.” The Toni&Guy Artistic Team translated this sartorial philosophy into spiral braids, reflecting Kurston’s wishes for an “out-of-this-world look – UFO style!”
And for Bailuyu’s floaty and feminine aesthetic, designers Fu Wen Jie and Fu Su Qin looked to the deer, a lucky animal in Chinese culture, dashing it across organza gowns and making use of ancient textile and embroidery techniques. “China has such a long history and there are elements that are particular to the country, which goes some way to explaining the West’s fascination with Chinese style,” says Jie. And if London Fashion Week’s C-Pop show is anything to go by, we can’t see that changing any time soon.