Dress by Beijing couturier Guo Pei
W hen Rihanna – one of pop music’s most globally eyeballed performers – stepped out in a dress by Beijing couturier Guo Pei for the 2015 Met Ball, it prophesised an intriguing potential tilt in the axis of the fashion industry. The most-memed dress of the night by a mile, the spectacular fit- for-a-royal-wedding Yellow Empress gown (boasting a 16ft cape, a 25kg train and 50,000-plus man hours of embroidery) comprehensively ‘owned’ the launch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s China: Fashion Through the Looking Glass exhibition – a show exploring the impact of Chinese design on Western fashion. On another level, it also served to fuel the exhibition’s subtext: inverting clichéd odes to Orientalism to salute a new dawn for Chinese fashion itself. Tellingly, the show became the museum’s most successful to date, even surpassing the previous Alexander McQueen blockbuster, Savage Beauty . ?hile of the ^isitors _ere Chinese, the rest _as an international a ٺ air, a ٻ rUinO a risinO aXXetite for Jeaond?estern Kreati^ita that e`Keeded e^en its curator Andrew Bolton’s expectations. Fast forward to 2018 and via the legacy of her red-carpet baptism, Pei is arguably not only the most internationally visible of China’s current fashion stars (in January she appeared on Nick Knight’s fashion film
China’s younger and increasingly avant-garde fashion designers are also toainO _ith heritaOe to e`tend the Kountra¼s KruKiJle of inÆuenKe · _ith XriKe tags considerably less than the rumoured £500k that an ‘average’ Pei will set you back – catering to less elite luxury audiences. Chinese inspirations remain rife but with a distinct nod to lives lived across the East-West divide. Renli Su, a favourite of concept boutiques such as LN-CC, is a key example. Hailing from a small town in China’s Fujian province, the designer trained at both the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and later the London College of Fashion. Her muted, multi-layered, somewhat demure pieces featuring gathered waists, slashed sleeves and velvet-ribbon hems are informed by both the humble workwear of Victorian-era Britain and ancient Chinese methods of pattern cutting. Echoing Pei, Su also acknowledges the Cultural Revolution as a driving force; the destruction of huge numbers of garments during that period fed her obsessive desire to dig into the social histora of Klothes _here^er she Kould Ånd theU. Uma Wang, who was educated in Shanghai (China Textile University) and London (Central Saint Martins) prior to launching her own label is also a master blender. Her romantically geeky SS18 collection, which featured antique-style, tea-stained, loosely structured, Chinese collar trouser suits and dresses, also Jore a !sesYue Art ,eKo lounOinO Æa^our _ith an unUistaSaJle Oender Æuidita that ?anO desKriJed as the »ne_ Chinese¼
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
The newwave of Chinese fashion talent is a creative and formidable force that takes its cues frombothChina’smythical heritage and itsmodern global appeal
By Katie Baron
_eJsite and JaroUeter of industra inÆuenKe, sho_studio.KoU, she¼s also indicative of how many of China’s key fashion talents are stoking their Kreati^e Åres Ja reinterXretinO their Chinese heritaOe in Xursuit of deÅninO a new national identity. Indeed, Pei’s global fame was a long time coming. She’d been creating couture gowns for two decades before her Rihanna moment in 2015. The follo_inO aear she _as in^ited to JeKoUe the Årst Chinese national to sho_ at 8aris Couture ?eeS. ;he o_es an enorUous deJt to her roots, sXeKiÅKalla the creative touch-paper of cultural turbulence. Her fairy tale designs are a personal rebuttal of the 1966 to1976 Cultural Revolution of her childhood where individualised sartorial expression was deemed an assault on the state, strangling the growth of a contemporary native fashion industry. As such, the extravagant elegance quashed by the Revolution became her trademark, compelling her to resurrect the technical UaOniÅKenKe of traditional Chinese dressUaSinO sSills and the Kountra¼s tailoring dynasties ever since. In deploying extraordinary intricacy on a monumental scale using the classical Chinese motifs of mythical beauty · Xearls and Oold tassels, Xhoeni`es and _hite silS Æo_ers · 8ei¼s desiOns re^eal deÅanKe as _ell as the Uore oJ^ious tiKs of indulOenKe.
way of dressing. And then there’s Huishan Zhang, a Chinese-born now London-based designer with the LMVH seal of approval no less (he spent part of his third year at college in Dior’s Haute Couture Atelier) whose delicately girly womenswear – think pastel shades and whimsical gauzy dresses – balances a sweetly elegant traditional Chinese sensibility with the sharper tropes of European tailoring. Retail, too, is bending towards the home-grown trend. The vast consumer a ٺ eKtion for?esternUeOaJrands suKh as Chanel and/uKKi · that¼s rendered mostmalls identikit luxury hangers – is being challenged by nativeconceptstores aiming to capsize China’s copycat reputation. Hermès-owned luxury lifestyle brand Shang Xia is a three-storey villa housing Chinese craftsmanship that’s conceived as an urban oasis and acknowledges traditional customs: visitors must remove their shoes on entry to the lounge, and hostesses serve customers fresh tea as they browse. BNC (Brand NewChina) – a multi-brand boutique, founded Ja inÆuential Chinese XuJlisher and JloOOer 0onO 0uanO in , hosts more than 150 independent Chinese fashion and homeware labels. From the traditionalists to the avant-garde, the message is clear: China’s new wave of talent is telegraphing creation not just consumption, via a potent mix of myth, modernism and transnational allure.
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