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.

Some Thoughts on Fashion Week

Fashion Week today is becoming a celebrity show rather than “fashion” show. Seems like press is more interested in the first row instead of the clothing itself. In China, the Fashion Week prior to 2005 was merely a self-entertaining practice – most presenting designers were just “show” designers (means they did not have stores), most audiences were media and ordinary audience. People watched the show like they were watching a movie or an opera. Having said that, Chinese fashion designers would not have attained current fame and reputation if without these years of self-entertaining practices.

Obviously, Fashion Week stimulates the development of local culture and The hospitality and tourism industry of the “big 4” Fashion Week are greatly impacted by the Fashion Week thereby. However, the huge cost invested in a 15-minute fashion show is the other side of the coin. Is it really worthy to invest millions on a short-show? Though it seems like a routine now to make big investments for a one-time decoration, but actually static shows or simple staging can also showcase the designs itself. Why do we need an extravagant show to present a set of clothing? Looks to me the form of the show weights over its content today. Extravagant theatrical performance creates the excitement but only for 15 minutes, but it does not help to sell the clothing much. What is the value of doing so?

China Fashion Week and Shanghai Fashion Week finally established their own signature, the former one focuses on the established brands and the latter one promotes the emerging designers. But I don’t understand why second-third-level cities like Ningbo, Qingdao, Chongqing, Humen and even many other third-tier cities also followed to host Fashion Week too. Competition between cities?

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.

SANKUANZ: The New ‘Chinese’ Fashion

The original article has been in published in CODIGO Magazine. No unauthorized use is permitted.

By: Christine Tsui

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Tibetan religious symbols,deformed animals, and extraterrestrial beings in spring-bud green are depicted running in tandem with transformed Chinese characters like “diyu (hell)”, “hun (muddy)”, “pei (an onomatopoetic word of spitting)”, “‘lihai (fierce)”. These images are depicted on long black blazers layered on top of longer, oversized T-shirts,and are the signature of SANKUANZ’s new men’s collection. Mixing a bit of different cultures – Asian, African and Western – the line calls on themes such as uncanniness, cynicism, quirkiness, rebellion, mysteriousness, and some humors as well. The clothes in this collection do not look appropriate for professional men who seem quite serious all the time, nor for young boys skating on the streets who are too young to take things seriously. SANKUANZ,then, is a perfect fit for the new, emerging elite force – young creative entrepreneurs. This group of young men carries both the sophistication of men and the youthful vigor of boys, often working in the creative industry, and strikes just the right balance between boys and men, professional and hippy,creative and extravagant.

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The designer of the collection is named Shangguan Zhe, who is considered “100% ‘made-in-China.’”Born in 1984 in Fujian, which is located in the southern region of China, Shangguan obtained his bachelor’s degree in Advertisement and Visual Communication at a local university. He designed graphic tees while he was in his third year of study, and during this time, sold them to his friends and schoolmates. Gradually, he gained a following of loyal fans who brought him profits, which eventually allowed him to establish his own studio,and to extend his design to a full category of clothing in 2008.

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Business has been neither good enough to offer him and his team a consistent quality of life, nor too slow to prevent survival. However, the inconsistent business never bothers this young Chinese boy who was born right after the P.R.C determined that she was going to open her gates to the rest of the world in the early 1980s after nearly 30 years of isolation. “Fun for now” is all that the designer cares about – he started the business “just for fun” – no long term goals, no business planning, no strategy, simply a “let it go” attitude. He is also not aware of how many people he has on staff, nor how much money he currently has on his hands.  To Shangguan, life can proceed as long as he feels that whatever he is doing is fun.

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“Fun for now” is also representative of the attitude of the new Chinese youth culture. Chinese culture has never been seen as having a particularly strong sense of humor. The traditional practices of respecting the older generation, observing the higher hierarchy and the patriarchy, plus a sense of intrinsic conservativeness play a role in influencing most Chinese people to believe that making fun of something or someone can be rude, offensive and impolite. That is why when SANKUANZ debuted at Shanghai Fashion Week in 2013, the line instantly caught the attention of picky and opinionated spectators. GQ China – the prestigious men’s fashion magazine – contracted SANKUANZ and attended his first international show at London Fashion Week in 2014. Apparently, GQ China also picked up on this new, emerging trend of young, Chinese fashion designers and consumers. As many Chinese families have only one child at home, the parents are willing to devote everything they have to helping their next generation by fully supporting whatever it may be that they want to pursue. The children then travel around the world, starting their own businesses when they are just 20 years old. Growing up in an accelerated period of Chinese history during an internationalized age, this young generation are the recipients of much more freedom both mentally and financially. The dramatic changes that have taken place within the country have offered a great opportunity for the young generation to be themselves, to enjoy the life they have today, and to pursue whatever it is that they are passionate about. These young people constitute the consumer base for emerging Chinese young designer brands like SANKUANZ.

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SANKUANZ, apparently, no longer embodies a “traditional” Chinese fashion aesthetic.

In a long run, Chinese designers have been struggling with defining their national identity. What is “Chinese fashion”? Of the majority of established Chinese designers, most of whom were born in the1960s and 1970s, this group is most likely to highlight their Chinese identities either in the form of concrete Chinese symbols like Qipao(Cheongsam), dragon, peony, lantern and Chinese painting, or in a more emotional spirit of “peace”, “nature” and “harmony”, which make up the core of traditional, cultural and ethical values of Chinese culture. Growing up in a totally conventional Chinese culture and having experienced the CulturalRevolution and other political campaigns, the older generation of Chinese designers has a strong affinity to the Chinese traditions and culture. Therefore, their designs carry a strong hallmark of ‘Chineseness’.The ‘Chinese’ identity is rather a consequence of the Chinese national patriotic education and political enforcement than an intentional choice made by the designers.

However, the new generation of Chinese designers is no longer “Chinese”; they aim to be part of the ‘international’ design world. That is why from the design created by the younger generation of designers like Shangguanzhe, audience rarely see the typical ‘Chineseness’.

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Nevertheless, it seems as though the majority of international spectators are still not keeping up with the progress that Chinese fashion designers are making, as they still believe that Chinese fashion should carry with it a “Chinese” identity. Sometimes,international journalists even try to force their readers to believe that there is an association between the Chinese designers’ collection and Chinese culture. So, then, when the Chinese designer Masha Ma did her show in Paris,one of the questions that was raised by a local journalist was whether the“white” she used in her collection bore any significance to memorial or funeral colors. While this is not a totally wrong judgment because Chinese do indeed wear white colors at funerals, this does not mean that Chinese exclusively wear this color for these events. The color white is also evocative of purity,innocence and cleanliness today in China. A further example is about another emerging Chinese designer named Huishan Zhang. A graduate of Central SaintMartin College of Arts and Design, Zhang was asked by one journalist, when he did his show in London, whether or not his Chinese heritage impacted his design. This is such a superfluous question, just as the ‘Habitus’ theory raised by the French sociologistPierre Bourdieu, it does not matter if you are born in Japan, the UnitedStates, or in France, your thinking and behavior are shaped by the place where you grew up. Apparently, the views held towards Chinese design from the international media are far behind the progress of Chinese design.

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Therefore, for the young Chinese fashion designers, there is still a long way to go before they become truly ‘internationalized’.

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Always look at the bright side – Some Thoughts on China and Chinese Fashion Industry

The organizer of the Brazilian conference says they would like to know why Chinese fashion industry develops so fast. No one expected China would have her own fashion 20 years ago. A friend asked me a similar question – why China made such dramatic change in the past 30 years? What a big question! What I found from my conversations with my Chinese friends and international friends is they often focus on different side of the same story. From the China side, all I hear are corruption, dictatorship, air pollution, poisoned food, hopeless education and blablabla. But what I often hear from my overseas friends are the inconceivable changes that China has made in past 30 years. China is the only country that made such great achievement without undergoing any severe political unrest.

When I was 19 years old, my boss told me that one often sees the bad side of the system when he is IN the system. But when he looks at the system from OUTSIDE of the system, he often discovers the good side of the system. So staff often finds the merits of his previous company when he changes his job, or notices in fact his previous boss is better than the current one; a man may find his ex is better than the new one (hopefully not)… Just like people often complaint a lot of our own home countries, and find other countries seem better than our own. The point is – no one is perfect, it all depends on which side you are looking at. Life is short – a way to make ourselves happy is to always look at the good side. (Apparently it does not mean we shall neglect the problems)