How to judge the Chinese designers? Is Yohji Yamamoto right?

By Christine Tsui

Translated by Rachel Wang

Recently an essay about the comment of Chinese designers by Yohji Yamamoto seemingly struck a chord, and even several of my friends have re-posted the article. However, it may contain some misleading descriptions and analysis, so I would like to post my view on it below.

The original source:

How do you judge the Chinese designers? Yohji Yamamoto: It May be Inappropriate to say on TV.

Utterly getting rid of Japanese style?

In the original text, Yohji Yamamoto holes that, in the 1980s, he never identified himself as Japanese, and eliminated any Japanese elements in his design.

On this issue, we can refer to the book The Fashion Conspiracy published in 1989. Besides, in the book of Japanese Designers’ Fashion Revolution in Paris, written by a Japanese author in 2005 when Yohji Yamamoto had just built his fame, an interview of him and Rei Kawakubo recorded can be the evidence.

In the interview, the two designers were organizing their first show in Paris. In the consideration of the deliberately variation from the typical French fashion, they sought for the inspiration from the dressing of Japanese peasants at last. At that time, few of Europeans had met Japanese peasants, so it was definitely a crafty way of innovation.

They were shrewd indeed, utilizing a series of different design strategies from French ones. Symmetry was highly valued in French fashion, so they designed in dissymmetry; colorful in French fashion, pale colors of black and grey only in their designs; exquisiteness in French, rough looks in their design, which is also out of Japanese appreciation, deliberately to show the semi-finished dressing on the stage; emphasizing the curves of women in French, covering the body in their looks; luxury in French styles, simplicity in their styles.

In a word, the design strategy that won the fame for them was indeed partially from the Japanese culture and aesthetics.

How to interpret nationalism?

1.  The interpretation of nationalism in the original text is much narrow.

Actually, nationalism matters in all the countries around the world. “It is the USA that values nationalism most, instead of China.” The only discrepancy lies in the various educations and expressions.

2.  In the fashion industry, Chinese designers are thought to be heavily burdened by the traditional elements, and the western designers are free from it.

However, this ideology may come from the lack of historical knowledge. In the fashion history, the designers from the US, Italy and Britain once competed with the French designers, aiming to overwhelm the French and spread the US fashion, Italian fashion or British fashion in the world. What they utilized to break the ceiling were exactly their local cultures.

3.  “Dynamic is a common feature for all cultures of, instead of being still.”

In the dynamic evolution, exchanges and influences never stop, which makes cultures consistently interpenetrate. In the latest 100 years, western fashions affect the east, but 100 years ago, the eastern fashion was the symbol of luxury and power in the west.

4.  Nationalism is not an error. We should embrace all sorts of nationalism with different cultural positions, but not to be supercilious or self-conceited standing on our own nationalism.

Grace Chen’s Couture Show at Shanghai Couture Week

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I invited Queenie, the managing editor of Business of Fashion China to join me to visit @Grace Chen’s couture show last night at @Shanghai Couture Fashion Week…I was terribly late…I almost wanted to run with legs, but I was on high heels….

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This little red dress is my favorite piece of the show. Cannot fit a bride more! I think @Grace Chen should develop this “little red dress” to the equivalence of the classical “little black dress”.

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@Grace Chen has been making great progress after a decade of experience in American fashion industry. A very sophisticated designer! Grace Chen focuses on women aged from 40 to 60, a segmentation that has been ignored by the mainstream markets (because they think this age is too old!). Actually, this is the group who has both time and money to consume high fashion.

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These are my favored pieces! BTW, being a model is tough. My friends always say I am too thin, but these models are much thinner than I am.

Only two types of fashion designers will eventually be remembered by the world. One is a conceptual designer. This type of designer has created their own unique aesthetic system and impacted their next generations, designers like @Yves Saint Laurent @Christian Dior @Coco Chanel @Hussein Chalayan @Givenchy in the past, and @Issey Miyaki @ yohji yamamoto @Alexander NcQueen in recent. Their designed pieces may not be able to create profit directly, but through certain branding strategy these labels can become commercially successful too.

Friends in overseas once asked me whether there is any conceptual fashion designer in China. My answer is not yet! But I think @Ma Ke got great potentials to become the one, if she can keep operating her @Wuyong label for another decade and build her own distinct aesthetic system. She is the one who has certain impact over the younger generation in China.

The other type of designers will be the one who’ve been creating sustainable successful business. If you don’t believe yourself can be a conceptual designer (cuz I believe you have to be a genius in order to be in this category), then you should go toward the business direction. Many fresh designers think working for business sake is a compromise to secular world or a sacrifice of their creative ideas. In fact, it all depends on how you view the role of a designer. If you think design is just a way to express yourself, working for business is then a compromise; if you think design is just to serve people and help them to solve their problems, then you won’t feel any compromise.

“China Fashion:Conversation with Chinese Designers”(Abstract)

The article provided here is from the book China Fashion: Conversations with Chinese Designers (Bloomsbury 2009). This article only provides part of the contents. For the completed writings please refer to

http://www.amazon.com/China-Fashion-Conversations-Christine-Tsui/dp/1845205146/ref=mt_hardcover?_encoding=UTF8&me=

Abstract

This book mainly depicts the history of fashion design in China through interviews of prominent Chinese designers.  It covers the past three decades, from 1978–the reforming era after the Cultural Revolution, or post-Mao era–to 2008.  For this book, designers were split into three generations.  The first generation, exemplified by Wang Xin-Yuan, Wu Hai-Yan, Liu Yang and Frankie Xie, were born in the 1950s and early 1960s.  This was an era when China isolated herself from the rest of the world and led various political revolutions and movements within the country.  This first generation of designers grew up in the 1980s and became prominent in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.

The second generation was led by Liang Zi, Ma Ke and Wang Yi-Yang.  They were all born in either late 1960s or early 1970s, prior to the reforming era, and started their own designer labels in the mid-1990s.  They blossomed in the late 1990s and early 2000s and now they’re the mainstay designer brands in China.

The third generation refers to those born in the 1980s during the “one-child” policy.  Only two designers were interviewed, due to the general youth of this age group.  This generation is commonly considered the hope of Chinese fashion designers.

This book portrays the growth of Chinese fashion designers, including the education they received as children, their work experience with the state-owned enterprises, and the ups-and-downs in developing their designer labels.  At the end of each chapter, an analysis is given on how China’s politics, economy and culture affected the designs and principles of the designers.

To help you understand the development of fashion design in China, an introduction covering the Chinese fashion history pre-liberation (pre 1949) and Mao era (1949-1978) is given in the first chapter.   An industry outline is listed at the beginning of each chapter in order to support the background information for each generation of designers.

It is worth noting that the ten designers interviewed for this book (including Mr. Jin Tai-Jun who did fashion design before China was liberated) were selected through discussions with the experts in the industry, including some of the interviewed designers themselves.  Key factors in making selections included achievements in fashion circles, commercial success, and prominence in the industry. Diversity of design personality and personal growth were other important factors taken into consideration during the selection process.  Also considered were the ages, genders, and geographical locations of the candidates.

The ten interviewed designers certainly do not encompass the entire history of Chinese fashion, but they do epitomize Chinese fashion and design and provide a unique and intimate approach to studying Chinese fashion designers.

This book can provide valuable history and fashion information for fashion lecturers and students in colleges and institutions, especially those who also have an interest in Chinese history and culture.  Professionals in the industry, including entrepreneurs, managers, and journalists should find the book both interesting and useful if they desire knowledge about the Chinese fashion market.

(For more information, please refer to http://www.amazon.com/China-Fashion-Conversations-Christine-Tsui/dp/1845205146/ref=mt_hardcover?_encoding=UTF8&me=

Past, Present and Future of Chinese Independent Fashion Designers (2)

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(This article was posted on”China Garments”2015.7. Unless otherwise specified, all of the pictures used in the article are provided by designer)

In terms of opportunities, there is no doubt that the biggest opportunity for Chinese designers is the adjective “Chinese”, especially in the consideration of media’s attention. From the industry media and consumer media to academia, all of them pay more attention to Chinese designers with the growth of “China craze”. In the industry media, the world’s leading fashion media WWD invited Hung Huang to write a series of special reports about ”designed in China” in 2013; Vogue China first reported several Chinese young designers when it was first launched in China in 2005 (though the reason of why they chose certain designers has been questioned). On the whole, both domestic and international fashion magazines report more on Chinese youth fashion designers than before. It is unprecedented that academia also concerns a lot about Chinese fashion designers. The latest academic work is edited by Gemma A. Williams, which includes interviews with more than 40 emerging Chinese designers. Almost all of these designers are independent designers. Before then, in 2009 the British publishing house Bloomsbury published “China Fashion: Dialogue with the Designer” written by me. This is the first English book that has introduced Chinese fashion designers to overseas readers systematically. The overseas Chinese version and simplified Chinese version of this book were published in 2011 and 2013 by the University of Hong Kong Press and Donghua University Press respectively. Thanks to domestic and overseas readers’ curiosity and hope towards Chinese fashion designers, this book could finally come out both overseas and domestically. Since Frankie Xie Feng presented at Paris Fashion Week in 2006 on behalf of the Mainland Chinese designer, we can find Chinese designers in all the big four fasion weeks almost every year. On the aspect of education, the annual increased proportion of Chinese students which have been enrolled by the International top design colleges, such as Central Saint Martins in London and Parsons School of Design in New York, has gradually outnumbered that of students from Japan and South Korea. These phenomena show that Chinese fashion designers are becoming more and more active in the international arena.

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(Tangy’s collection. Established in 1994, Tangy is one of the most successful designer brands in China)

However, the word “China” is a double-edged sword. Designers need to understand the current concerns on Chinese designers are mostly confined to the media. There is no doubt that this is a huge progress, considering that 10 years ago, it was hard to find overseas media who paid attention to Chinese designers. However, as noted earlier, design requires the support of sustainable business models, or independent designer is just a catchy title. To be successful is all about finding favor with consumers.  Overseas media may give extra attention to the designer just because he or she comes from “China”, but wealthy consumers will not pay out of their own pocket just because the word “China”. How to convert media’s attention into effective purchasing behavior has been recognized by media as the substantive issue independent designers need to face. As a result, I am opposed to some media’s exaggerated puffery on fresh designers. I personally always advise those rookies not to be fooled by these media publicity. Many young designers assume they are close to the real master due to the puffery by media but suffer from the ruthlessness of the real business later. Being down-to-earth and providing good service to customers are of great importance. Especially currently, the overall performance of fashion retail industry is very sluggish around the world. Even the rich and powerful luxury brands have become more cautious when expanding and hiring staff. The negative performances are not typical within the small circle of independent designers. However, after these niche designer brands have grown to a certain size, these challenges will appear one by one. Without a sustainable business model, a designer can only be a designer, rather than achieve a designer brand. In addition, many young domestic designers are eager for quick success and instant benefits, making the commercial market more chaotic, which is embodied in a market flooded with plagiarism. Not only the design style, but the album shooting styles of different brands are similar: all of the designs uniformly have “exceptions” elements – plain colors, asymmetry and loose shape structure; all of the albums show an oriental beauty of being static and implicit and the models are uniformly expressionless with little expressiveness. The pictures are taken either in front of a white wall or in an eastern courtyard which is quiet and elegant. These elements surprise consumers at the beginning, but makes them bored once they realize all of the styles are the same. Even the brand names all have a “philosophical style.” “Exceptional” and “Tangy” are the originators of such style. Previously, many domestic brands tend to get a “foreign” name. Although in most cases, no one knows the meaning of such “foreign name” and the message it wants to convey. Names like “Exceptional” and “Tangy” were a kind of innovation then, and in the meantime, well meet the oriental brand image. However, in recent years, this trend began to overrun. Almost every new brand, in addition to those brands named after designer names, has taken this eastern-philosophy-like naming strategy. Although from a technical point of view, it is indeed difficult to identify the distinction between “plagiarism” and “using others’ innovation as reference” and it is also common to see plagiarism between big brands, the excessive group plagiarism could only make the market more and more chaotic and let designers enter vicious price competition, which is not good for designers and their career.

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(Xiefeng attended Paris fashion week in 2006)

Compared with the development of early designers, another feature of today’s independent designers is that they can base on an international stage at the beginning of their business. Previously, the designers almost all focused on the development of the brand in the domestic market. Their development strategy is to firstly base on the domestic market, and then to expand to the international market. This choice is very consistent with the laws of nature under prevailing business environment at that time. However, the present business environment has changed. Firstly, the Internet completely shrinks the world, enabling the world to enter a phase of a genuine global village. The development of logistics, the convenience of capital flow, and the narrowing of culture differences make the expansion of the business a reachable goal. The current Chinese market has become an integral part of the international mainstream market. Occupying the Chinese market means occupying an important part of the international market. In addition, the mature distribution system in the international market which is based on specialty stores enables Chinese designers to expand the international market at the very beginning.

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(Wuyong by Ma Ke. Expected to become an independent designer brand in another kind of sense with profound social impact)

This doesn’t mean that it is hopeless if the brand of independent designers doesn’t grow to a certain size. Actually, there are two choices for independent designers. Choice A is always to be niche. They can insist on their personal styles and pursue sustainable development of business instead of earning much money and expanding the scale. They may not have the successful business size in traditional eyes, but it doesn’t mean that this kind of designers cannot become outstanding. For example, Alexander McQueen, who passed away in 2010, was not that successful in business area, however, definitely a milestone in the history of design. Supposing that McQueen wasn’t acquired by Gucci (Kering in nowadays) Group, but chose to be an independent designer, he probably would not die young. Many independent designers are expecting professional capital investment. In their opinions, success can definitely be achieved as long as they have enough money and individual designing talent. In fact, failures of many brands are caused by the involvement of professional investors, whose job is to maximize the profit in the shortest time. The investment goal is really simple – profit. Once the professional capital intervenes, designers will inevitably be in a dilemma between personal design style and business capital. This is not an easy process. Therefore, before inviting the intervention of investors, designers should at first make clear what they want to achieve in the future. For independent designers, most of them may dream about creating a true designer brand, however, they need to understand that they have to pay a high price for that. There is no good or bad dream, but designers need to know what they want and what they are supposed to pay. Once the designers understand their goals, what they need to do is to hold fast to his or her goal.

Thank you for your reading!

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New York, New York (1)

Started a new journey in the Big Apple! This was a show for graduate students of Fashion and Society at Parsons. Parsons is one of the best fashion institutions indeed – most of these graduates’ designs are good enough to enter the market. Their works show strong personal styles but are also very practical; they can just wear their designs to go to work/school! lol

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An interesting course at Parsons: learning how to critically coment on fashion design through the study of literature. They learn about how writers contruct the meaning of something, say, cigarrete. A cigarrete has a short life because it will be thrown away immediately after use; usually, cigarrete users also have a relatively shorter life. Meanwhile, cigarettes are companions to the smokers; they make the smokers feel warm and bring a sense of security, especially when people are alone at night. Cigarette is also a way of socializing, particularly among men. Some become friends by asking for a light. The brand of cigarette can signal certain social class.
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An excellent writer can construct numerous meanings out of a single piece of cigarette. The same goes for fashion design. Being a fashion commentator is analyze the stories behind a design in a unique and multi-demensional perspective. It is not about how the designers create it, but how the viewers understand it. An excellent design needs no words to express itself – it resonates with the audience at heart.
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American Chinese fashion designer exhibition in New York. Jason Wu, who was shot to fame after designing dresses for Michelle Obama
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Jade lai. I never heard of his name before…
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Derek Lam’s work
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Anna Sui’s sketch
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Vivienne Tam‘s work
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Peter som
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Zong toi’s work. Knitwear
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Vera Wang’s gown
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