China is regularly feted by the West as a fresh market for consumer brands and every designer with an ounce of business sense aims to secure Chinese stockists to bring their designs to one of the most luxury-literate countries in the world. However, the country is becoming equally known for its own emerging talent, which is gaining influence around the world. Chinese fashion is making waves across the globe and London’s latest crop of new designers features a number of Asian-born fashion stars.
Du Yang, founder of the Yang Du label, originates from Dalian in north-east China. She came to London 10 years ago, has completed both a BA in fashion print and an MA in fashion womenswear at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and has worked as an intern with Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Giles Deacon. Her talent has been recognised as part of London Fashion Week’s New Generation sponsorship programme, which has taken her designs to the London Showroom in Paris and to New York. Her work is fresh and witty; abstract and surreal graphic characters in bold, uncompromising colour palettes have become her signature.
For spring/summer 2013 these appeared on a range of printed silks in simple shapes inspired by the marionette theatres and street puppet shows of Prague, which visually reinterpret classical tales to appeal to international audiences of all ages – also Du’s aspiration for her designs. The clothes are, she says, ‘not typically Chinese. I take from both east and west – the romantic and the rational - and try to make something that would have universal appeal.’
In contrast, the basic premise of Huishan Zhang’s designs are very firmly rooted in his Chinese heritage. Zhang was born in Qingdao, on China’s east coast, and, like Du, is a graduate of Central Saint Martins. During his time studying at the college, he spent a year working at Christian Dior, including six months in the Dior couture atelier. He founded his own label upon graduation and his first collection, autumn/winter 2011/2012, sold out within a month of its arrival at Browns boutique in London’s South Molton Street.
‘I’m very interested and passionate about my Chinese history and traditions and find the craftsmanship behind them beautiful,’ Zhang explains. ‘A lot of the silhouettes and shapes of my collections are taken from traditional Chinese robes and garments.’ A small but perfectly formed collection of dresses, tunics, jackets and slim-cut trousers was sent down the runway, all cocktail-appropriate, many reminiscent of the cheongsam and all featuring print or embellishment that nodded to ancient Chinese symbolism.
This took the form of images of birds, a symbol of freedom, set off against flowers that only bloom in winter, denoting toughness. Whatever the future holds for Zhang, his place on the fashion map is already secure: the Victoria and Albert Museum has acquired one of his dresses for its permanent collection.
Simone Rocha’s surname will already be familiar to many; she is the daughter of the Hong Kong-born fashion designer John Rocha CBE and another alumna of Central Saint Martins. After her graduation, her collection was picked up immediately by fashion creative Lulu Kennedy to show on the Fashion East catwalk, which showcases new talent. She has created a capsule Simone Rocha for Topshop collection, and received New Generation sponsorship for her two most recent shows, including spring/summer 2013. She cites her inspirations as Ireland, where she grew up, family, art and photography, and says she is preoccupied by ‘the exploration of fabrics’, layering plastic with cotton, silk or toile until she has created something that ‘feels new.’ Dresses are pretty and delicate, jackets and coats oversized and often deconstructed and everything is paired with sturdy, thick-soled brogues that Rocha says ‘give a tougher edge’ to an otherwise light collection.
Rocha’s clean, soft palette of creams and golds is interspersed with shots of neon pink or yellow and is accessorised with day-glo Perspex box-bags, the top edge scalloped to mirror the hems of dresses. The clothes are made in the same factory as Azzedine Alaïa; quality is of huge importance to Rocha, who is a firm believer in longevity for her garments. ‘I want people still to be wearing them in five, 10 years. I don’t want to be too trendy.’ And yet, classic and timeless as these clothes are, there’s a strong dose of inherent cool. It’s not hard to see why model Alexa Chung chose to wear one of Rocha’s dresses when she picked up her British Style Award at the British Fashion Awards last year.
Made in China
As Dora Fung, fashion and production editor of Vogue China, says: ‘Made in China is not a tag to be looked down on. Asian designers have come a long way in the past five to 10 years, and their presence in New York and London is only going to grow.’ Combining that increased presence with the appointment of Taiwanese-American designer Alexander Wang as creative director of Balenciaga makes it clear that China and Asia are becoming superpowers in the fashion world.