Mots-clefs

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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.

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Last April 中国大学生装周 (China Graduate Fashion Week) mapped out the future of Chinese fashion and it was inspiring.

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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.

I was a guest of 360 Fashion Network which allowed me full access. I am very grateful to them.

I was a guest of 360 Fashion Network which allowed me full access. I am very grateful to them for asking me to join their team. Here we are interviewing one of the students before the show. Wang TingTing from Dalian explains her intricate knitwear collection.

Another great design by Hang Ting Ting

Another great design by Wang Ting Ting

What I thought was incredible was to find influences from Claude Montana or Kansai Yamamoto, stars of the 80's from designers that weren't born then and never heard of those masters.

What I thought was very interesting was to find influences from Claude Montana or Kansai Yamamoto, stars of the 80’s from designers that weren’t born then and never heard of those knit masters.

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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.

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The creativity and inventiveness was surprisingly superior to anything I have seen in London in the last few years.

Not every look was a winner, this armless wonder was not so impressive.

This « armless pleather jumpsuit » was a bit scary, not every look was a winner.

One of the prettiest silhouettes from a CAFA Beijing student.

One of the prettiest silhouettes from a CAFA Beijing student.

Not all looks were inspired  -  this Dalian student, will remain anonymous.

Somewhere a Vegas showgirl is laughing.  When « More is More » – This Dalian student will remain anonymous, I fear for a while longer.

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.

Not every look was "wearable" but I am sure Gaga would adore this rubber gloves explosion.

Not every look was « wearable » but I am sure Gaga would adore this rubber gloves explosion.

嘉鳳鳳 -  Jia FengFeng -  Inspired by excess consumerism, she played with reclaimed wool threads, toys and Barbie dolls to create one of the most striking looks from the University of

嘉鳳鳳 – Jia FengFeng – Inspired by excess consumerism, she played with reclaimed wool threads, toys and Barbie dolls to create one of the most striking looks from the University of Donghua. She is now designing toys.

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CAFA catwalk was the most professional presentation. 4 designers each with a mini-collection. Flawless.

D-Park -  Beijing's beautifully renovated official Fashion arena was exceptionally loaned to the students for the duration of their Graduation Fashion Week

751 D-Park – Beijing’s beautifully renovated official Fashion arena (a reclaimed nuclear facilities )  was the site of China Graduation Fashion Week.

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A fresh silhouette coordinated down to the socks from a CAFA Beijing student.

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.

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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.

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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.

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« 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.

I loved how the student balanced the heavy ruffled skirt with the prim coat.

I loved how the student balanced the heavy ruffled skirt with the prim coat.

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.

Oriana G and her magnificent coat.

Oriana G and her magnificent coat, a clever mix of wool felt and hand knits.

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The lovely looks from Hangzhou graduate Hong DanDan. The fabric was treated to remain stiff as a board, and yet all that it conveyed was lightness and movement. Poetic and lovely.

Hangzhou graduate Hong DanDan presented four very accomplished looks. The cotton was treated to convey lightness and movement. Poetic and lovely. Up close stiff as a board, it was disconcerting and lovely.

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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.

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关娇 – Guan Jiao and her BIFT Graduation project.

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谭晓薇 -Tan XiaoWei and her burned silks, I like the way she treated silk like raw leather.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A bientôt.

b.

*- designer of EVENING (see fearless archive)

https://fearless-in-beijing.com/2012/12/07/good-evening-from-beijing/

**-designer of Chictopia