A Colorful Mind: In The Studio With Shanghai’s Crochet Queen Celia Bernardo

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Celia B.’s vibrant designs. (Erica Ji)

“China” and “design” are today’s two hottest keywords. While more and more Chinese designers are seeking to shine on the international stage, many Western designers have decided to set foot in Asia, choosing China to embark on their journeys to build their independent design careers.

When it comes to brands renowned for original graphic prints and bright colors, you can’t help but mention Finnish label Marimekko, whose bold colors and lively patterns bring fun and joy into people’s everyday lives.

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Celia Bernardo. (Erica Ji)

Aspiring new Shanghai-based designer label Celia B. also features zingy colors and unique textiles. The label has been garnering a large amount of attention in Shanghai, becoming a new favorite among stylists. One reason is definitely the eye-catching style of its apparel line, and another would be Spanish founder and designer Celia Bernardo’s natural fashion-icon look.

Before creating Celia B., Bernardo had ten years of experience working as a professional fashion designer for fashion labels, including Zara and ASOBIO. She finds inspiration from traveling and enjoys using rare, exotic materials from various cultures in her work. Her collection features intensive use of patchwork, yarn, and crochet. Celia B. offers a mosaic of different cultures with a modern twist, expressing a stylish, playful attitude.

Jing Daily recently visited Bernardo’s studio, an old townhouse on Nanjing West Road in Shanghai, and caught up with her to discuss branding and design. Like the tone delivered in her collection, the designer herself was just as passionate and cheerful—she spoke fast and smiled often. On the day of interview, Bernardo was knitting a bag, which is going to be a part of next season’s collection, using a traditional crochet machine. Since hand-knitting is extremely time-consuming and attention-demanding, only artists with strong passion and patience are able to persist at it.

What is the main difference between being an independent designer versus designing for a fashion label?

As an in-house designer for a fashion label, I had to be obedient to my boss and made compromises regardless of personal preference. Now as an independent designer, I can intuitively create the looks I like and build my own client base. I also have to take care of the business aspect, which is challenging, but it gives me a lot of joy.

How do you describe a typical Celia B. girl?  What is the proportion of Celia B.’s Chinese versus foreign customers?

Celia B. girls are creative, outspoken, and confident, with a desire to have fun dressing up. About eighty percent of Celia B.’s customers are local Chinese, and twenty percent are foreigners. Chinese girls today are willing to try new things, and want to have a unique style.

Currently, your collection can be purchased on Zooq.com and at designer’s markets. What is Celia B.’s plan in expanding distribution channels?

I am working to better my official online store features so that my products can be sold nationwide or even worldwide. As for my long-term goal, I plan to open brick-and-mortar stores, selling accessories, women’s wear, children’s wear, and home décor. The physical stores will display a signature Celia B. style and will allow me to communicate with customers directly.

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One challenge that independent designers face is how to streamline their production processes. Given the low quantity, factories are usually unwilling to accept orders or arrange the manufacturing schedule.  As an emerging designer who has been in China for only two and a half years, how did you solve this problem?

This is indeed a challenge. For knitted products, I usually create a sample by myself and find a factory for production. It is relatively easy, compared to products made by sewing machines. It is challenging to find a factory which is willing to collaborate, since they usually require a minimum quantity, and the prices are expensive, too. Most of the time what I can do is keep looking and keep trying.

What are Celia B.’s main challenges and goals in the future?

There are a lot of challenges, but the main one is trying to build a team. It is almost impossible to operate an independent label and realize ideas on a one-person basis. I need to expand my team and have more people help me work. My goal is to make Celia B. seen and loved by more customers. We are now based in Shanghai, but we will expand to markets worldwide.

What should we be expecting from Celia B.’s next season?

I will stay close to Celia B.’s classic style, while expressing new ideas through different cuts and prints. This upcoming September and October, I will attend trade shows in Tokyo and Paris, hoping to introduce my design and label to the Japanese and European markets.

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Who are your favorite Chinese fashion designers?

Helen Lee and Christine Lau.

Compared to European cities, what are Shanghai’s advantages and disadvantages for an independent designer?

One advantage of Shanghai is that the city is full of energy and all kinds of possibilities. Its disadvantage, however, is that unlike in London and New York, there are less supporting resources for independent designers here.

Look below for more photos from the Celia B. studio. (All photos by Erica Ji)

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This article originally appeared in Chinese. Translated by Jasmine Lu. 

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Fashion