Por Jessica Laiter
Upon opening your Vogue guidebook to Fashion Week, or glancing over the FW schedule, what do you notice that’s different? I won’t even make you think too hard. The lineup has changed. Suddenly there are unknown brands written in Chinese, interspersed amongst other well-knowns. At that point, you decide to either ignore the unknown or, after further consideration, come to the realization that Chinese labels may be something to note.
Suddenly certain questions come to mind: What does it mean, Chinese fashion? Is it all embroidered dragons, fans, and anything else you can conjure up that seem distinctly related to Asian culture, detailed on a red dress? If you have no interest in these things, is it worth the bother?
Let me ask you this:
When you think about French, Italian, or American fashion, what comes to mind? Think about it. What makes it distinct and unique to the culture of origin? Yes of course, I am sure we can think of a few things here and there that aptly reflect the culture, but generally, designers like to take a more abstract, global perspective on their designs, inspired by world travel, world relics, history, art, sculpture etc.
So why would China be the exception?
Yes, I could write a novel on the history of Chinese fashion, but the biggest question here is, why are Chinese designers decorating the pages of Vogue? How do we feel about them? Are their talents mature? What do they bring to the table?
To answer your questions, most have graduated from top European design schools, had fruitful experiences at world-renowned fashion houses, many are even already international award-winning designers. So one has to wonder, is the trend something worthy of attention, or is it merely a blip on the fashion radar screen? If it helps any, Conde Naste, recently established a branch of their design school in Shanghai to nurture and develop China-based fashion talent. So it must have some sort of longevity.
Shanghai Fashion Week has turned into a top priority for media outlets, fashion notables, and emerging/established brands alike. At this point the weeklong event hosts more Chinese designers than I can record in a given week. Unlike years past, many are now pursuing a presence at New York Fashion Week. For Spring Summer 2017, Globe Fashion Runway, along with a number of other collaborations, supported a long list of Chinese designers. There is a sudden initiative to bridge the East West gap via fashion design. NYFW exhibitions and events, such as “A Day in China” at the New Museum, and the “China Moment” show, both featured the work of up and coming Chinese designers.
New York was initially viewed as “too high-end” and just too far away, but they found confidence in the interests of US retailers such as Opening Ceremony. More and more organizations have an invested an interest in the global growth of Chinese brands, and are pushing to promote them here in New York City.
After many conversations, it is evident that although a Chinese heritage is something to be valued, it is not a focal point in the design process. Defining someone as Chinese is to pigeonhole his or her work and talents.
Chinese-ness shines through by the virtue of being Chinese. Common goals are global integration, proving open-mindedness, exhibiting the desired chic factor uncommonly associated with Chinese youth, and an interest in other cultures (which may or may not stem from China’s long history of closed borders to the outside world).
The thing about China being so “new,” is that people are still trying to find themselves, where they fit in, and how traditional and contemporary China can co-exist without sacrificing authenticity for globalization.
My personal passion for Chinese culture and tradition, can be attributed to the beautiful elements unbeknownst to most Westerners and happen to be right in front of their noses. Which is exactly what the MET exhibition “China Through the Looking Glass” successfully proved last summer. Whether it’s the Valentino Shanghai collection, Chinese characters on a Chanel dress, Jade bracelets at Carolina Herrera, or pagoda embroidered Chanel suits, these elements have been apart of western design history for quite some time.
Some Chinese designers are embracing this rich part of their history without objection, such as Lan Yu, who in the subtlest of ways, infuses Chinese culture into her designs, with a traditional technique of Su embroidery, or Wang Tao, who sews silk with Chinese patterns into the linings of her jackets. Chinese fashion design is making its grand entrance, with sustainable fabrics and major collaboration with brands such as Swarovski to start. They are on the cutting edge.
Yes, they want to learn from professionals, aka Europeans and Americans designers. But they also wish to translate those experiences into a unique, independent perspective of the world. They’re still figuring it out, but who isn’t?
Personal recommendations for Designers-to-Watch:
Jamie Wei Huang
Cynthia and Xiao
Based in New York City, Jessica Laiter is inspired by diversity. She’s the editor of Chinese Graffiti, a blog that feeds her passion for the fusion of tradition, modernity, fashion and culture in Eastern Asia.
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