Has the time come for Milan to let Chinese creativity rise and shine? The just-wrapped Milan Fashion Week hinted that Italian fashion insiders have a strong interest in Chinese brands. However, this proclivity has taken longer than London’s: as Milan struggled with this boom (perhaps to preserve the reputation of Made in Italy?), London Fashion Week showed a strong appetite for Asian names over the last decade.
So it was a surprise when Chinese designer Huishan Zhang — a staple brand on LFW’s schedule since 2012 — announced he would present his Spring-Summer 2022 collection during the Italian fashion rendezvous. A short movie was released during MFW to explore “the very real wardrobes of a fictional ensemble of women.” As the designer told WWD, “The Milan show for me is a postcard to those who have been supporting us during the pandemic to remind them of the good times to come.”
Meanwhile, just a week before, a swath of Chinese brands vied for attention at LFW. Taiwanese designer Apu Jan announced his presence at LFW, hoping to bring his heritage to a British audience. “Growing up in Taiwan, I had the chance to learn and explore functional textile development and the application of imaging technology,” he told Jing Daily. Perhaps the city, now a hub of tech innovation, seems more relatable for young talents from the mainland? And back at MFW, craft is foregrounded.
Although names like Angel Chen and Shuting Qui were absent, newer names had popped up such as Annakiki. Designer Hui Zhou Zhao also rounded out her Spring-Summer 2022 with a nostalgia-infused runway show. The first object on view from the front-row was a Chinese fan, inspired by 女书 nüshu — women’s secret language in ancient China.
Ancient Chinese characters were carefully embroidered into the folds of fan-like crop tops, worn with high waist palazzo trousers. As the models glided across the yellow catwalk, we could breathe in imperial China — but with a modern twist. After the show, Jing Daily caught up with Hui Zhou Zhao to ask about her foray into Milan.
Many Chinese designers keep showcasing at London Fashion Week. Can you tell us what drew you to Milan instead?
Of all four fashion weeks, Milan is the one that is widely acknowledged for its art and culture. Italy pays a lot of attention to craftsmanship, too, and, in my collections, I have always mixed craftsmanship with modernity. That is why I think Milan is just the right place for me to show my work. There is the kind of craftsmanship I appreciate the most.
As a Chinese designer, why do you think Italy is a good market for your brand?
For me, Italy is not just a country of art and culture. Italy is also an international market. And when it comes to Chinese branding, it is also necessary to raise awareness and make fashion insiders discover the existence of brands that can speak a modern language while using typical Chinese elements. Italy is the market that allows me to do all that.
Your Spring-Summer 2022 collection pays homage to the history of 女书 nüshu. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
女书 nüshu is a secret language used by women in ancient China. When they could not attend schools, they invented this secret language to communicate with one another, to not be understood by men. Just like 女书 nüshu, my Spring-Summer 2022 collection can be read as a symbol of strength, independence, and feminism. I wanted to bring this aspect of Chinese culture to Milan Fashion Week to show Italy that China is not just what people think it is. There are elements of Chinese culture with very deep roots.
Are you going to present your SS2022 collection in China, too?
We have already had a fashion show for our Chinese consumers. I am glad many Chinese women are independent and strong. And they have found in Hui a way to communicate and express who they really are. They have made an identity out of it.