The current image that Chinese fashion is projecting is rather bleak. Known for the biggest source of counterfeiters and producer of cheap, low-quality goods, it’s not exactly the first place we think of when talking about high fashion. Hell, I just read this article on WSJ about Chinese consumers buying up fake branded paper bags. That’s how important luxury brands are as status symbols, which is not surprising since that was how Japan behaved when the country started getting richer. Apparently it’s called the 1980s syndrome, the period when materialism began its acceleration after leaving a decade of hippies and threats of nuclear war.
However, like any other society, the crassness is bound to make way for sophistication. Give it another couple of years the LV and Gucci monograms will be seen as outdated, like how they are perceived in most Western world now. Not only that, there are an increasing number of East Asian designers who are graduates of Central St. Martens, FIT and Parsons. Their names have been gaining international recognitions and you can even find some of their works stocked in European boutiques.
Current creme de la creme include Qiu Hao, Uma Wang, and Vega Zaishi Wang, among many others. It is easy to assume that Chinese designers would produce derivations of traditional cheongsams in modern cuts but that is far from the truth. On the contrary, they are leading the nation’s fashion industry with modern, cutting-edge clothes for the independent urban warriors of China.
It is easy to see why Qiu Hao has been heralded as one of China’s influential avant-garde designer. He switched discipline from interior design to fashion design, completing his MA in the renowned Central St. Martens. There has been much chatter about his current ‘Serpent’ collection, including Vogue Italia’s coverage. Creating a tall and lean silhouette, Qiu Hao showed much restrain in his minimalist approach. One could only wish to be able to see in person what appears to be luxurious silk, wool and leather, let alone touch the garments. While Qiu Hao himself did not divulge his inspirations, there are hints of Rick Owens, Haider Ackermann and Maison Martin Margiela, all of which have been transformed by one who has had training in spatial designs. For the moment Qiu Hao’s magnificent works are only available in his Shanghai store, but there is no doubt the rest of the fashion world is looking forward to his expansion.
While Qiu Hao is a conceptually-driven designer, Uma Wang has been honing her commercial capabilities on her way to becoming retailers’ favourite. Having worked for ten years before establishing her own label in 2005, Uma developed her signature knitting techniques. Her collections were so well received during runway shows and buying sessions that she changed the minds of Western buyers and editors about Chinese fashions. The fact that her clothes are now stocked in European boutiques such as Daad-Dantone and PNP Firenze proved that she’s on her way to becoming China’s most successful fashion export. One thing I love about her label is that she produces so many pieces in every collection that the lookbook itself is an endless visual feast.
Vega Zaishi Wang
Another up-and-coming star endorsed by Vogue Italia’s Carla Sozzani is none other than Vega Zaishi Wang (alongside Qiu Hao). Half designer, half savvy businesswoman, she left Xiamen with just her cat and a large suitcase for Beijing, eventually opening her studio and shop in the Chinese capital. Like her contemporary peers, she wants Chinese women to dress independently, albeit concentrating less on exaggeration. Vega Wang’s designs concentrates on precision tailoring, a skill that was perhaps developed further during her internship in Alexander Mcqueen. For those of us who cannot make the journey to her flagship store in Beijing, fret not, her clothes are available in her taobao store too
Although the rise of influential Chinese designers is still a drop in the ocean, their burgeoning number brings hope to a nation plagued with cheap and unoriginal designs. It will take a while yet for Chinese fashion to find its own voice, let alone take a dominant position in the global luxury market. With the likes of Qiu Hao, Uma Wang and Vega Zaishi Wang, amongst many others, it will only be a matter of time before Chinese fashion garners as much attention as its Western counterpart.
- Gracia Ventus