360 Fashion Network, 50RMB, 751, BIFT, CAFA, China Graduate Fashion Week, China Graduate Week, Chinese Fashion School, Chinese students, Claude Montana, D-Park, Dalian, Donglian, 谭晓薇, Fashion Schools, Fashion students, Guan Jiao, Hangzhou UNiversity, Kansai Yamamoto, Tan XiaoWei, 关娇, 中国大学生时装周
China’s creativity is regularly associated with modern art. Most “fashion” stories out of China are too often about luxury shopping and consumerism but this is absolutely going to change – and soon. Paris – London – New York – Milan, Sydney and all, you need to take example on Beijing. There, I said it.
Last April 中国大学生时装周 (China Graduate Fashion Week) mapped out the future of Chinese fashion and it was inspiring.
The second week of April 2013, Beijing welcomed the first Fashion Week dedicated solely to the graduate Fashion students. Obviously for a country this big, there are dozens of top fashion schools in China and if not all of them are yet strong, the collections presented by the students from CAFA in Beijing, from the Universities of Donghua or Hangzhou were quite extraordinary.
Hangzhou was the first school to present and I think the most in the vein of Central Saint Martins or my « Alma Mater » Studio Berçot in terms of quality and creativity, but all are doing a most impressive work in unleashing the imagination of their students. The talent on display, though still raw, was nonetheless remarkable.
The creativity and inventiveness was surprisingly superior to anything I have seen in London in the last few years.
Chinese fashion students are – for the best or the worse – not burdened with Western cultural references. When you do not know who Elvis or Jackie O was, and the only feminine icons known are Audrey Hepburn or Lady Gaga, it might be easier to conjure up fresh ideas.
CAFA catwalk was the most professional presentation. 4 designers each with a mini-collection. Flawless.
In addition, the Chinese government is obviously giving this new project a very strong financial support and the efforts put into the production of these shows are impressive.
From my years at the British Fashion Council, I have seen countless fashion shows put together in London by some of the best schools from CSM or London College of Fashion, in addition, I am a graduate of Paris’s famed Studio Berçot and we too held shows all over Europe, but nothing was as professionally produced and on such a scale as China Graduate Fashion Week.
Professional models, venues, light technicians and sound, securities, makeup artists and hairdressers on hand all day to present show after show in the best possible light.
« One look per show » in terms of hair and makeup and even if at times it was a bit heavy handed, it always looked very polished.
To close the Week they held a ‘winners’ presentation. Each school selected one or two candidates to compete in one final show and I took the time to go backstage during the final rehearsal to meet some students. I also wanted to look at the best of the best collection closely. Four designers in my opinion stood out. Their collections were more polished. Glimpses of Chinese and Western influence were cleverly intertwined one in the other.
Each student had his own unique voice and each was different. I chatted with one in particular whose collection I thought was amazing. Guan Jiao from BIFT – Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology. Jiao was not there, but her friend Nicole was able to give me her details. I tracked Jiao down and later I have sat with her to discuss what the future holds in store for one of China’s promising fashion talent.
Some of China’s most original talents, designers like Yu Waning*, Masha Ma or Christine Lau** are currently establishing themselves nationally and more and more stores are dedicated to China’s best designers, so what is it like to be part of the next generation?
Chinese girls right now are the first generation to dress as they wish. This is the most important think one needs to remember, so Chinese fashion designers are the first to use their voice and express them in clothes. That alone merits pause.
A BIFT student (Beijing Institute of Fashion Technologies) Guan Jiao outstanding graduate collection earned her a spot in a Japanese design firm in Beijing. She is currently working there and hopes to hone her craft there for another year. She would like to travel to New York or London and perhaps join another school to add some international depth to her resume, but her English is still weak, she is improving it and she knows that her future no matter what is in China. Pragmatic, she is waiting to feel strong and confident enough to open her studio. Until then, she is learning her craft and finding her voice, both in Chinese and in English.
When I came upon her collection, I loved the contrast in texture of her work. Jiao skillfully developed a very intriguing collection of just 6 pieces, all handmade, mostly in thick wool and fine wool jersey printed in soft geometric pastel pink, aqua, lime and white lines. Her winter palette was very interesting and I loved the strong patent leather accents. She balanced her soft classic shapes with the unexpected contrasts of thick latex bands, almost tire like, that she hand-shaped to resemble traditional Irish cable knits. The contrast between her lady-like colors and shapes and these heavy touches was irresistible.
When we sat down and I asked her about her inspiration she smiled and pulled out … a Chinese 50 RMB bill. There in tiny print were her swirling pinks and pale green lines, magnified a million fold on her skirt. A more perfect metaphor I could not have dreamed of. Chinese money, at the heart of her inspiration became in her expert hands poetic, creative, light and pretty.
The French version of this blog is published on Le Monde: Swinging Pekin in the Style section.
The Chinese version of this blog is published on Vogue China: Gabrielle Beijing.
*- designer of EVENING (see fearless archive)
**-designer of Chictopia