Celebrity Stylist Christopher Bu Opens First Store
Days before leading Chinese actress and fashion icon Fan Bingbing attends the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where she will be honored by The Hollywood Reporter as International Artist of the Year, Jing Daily has a chat with Christopher Bu, Fan’s former stylist cum fashion designer responsible for some of her most attention-grabbing red carpet ensembles.
Prior to launching his eponymous label in 2011, Bu had already carved out a name for himself as a stylist to the stars, most notably Fan. Shortly after, Bu experienced a Jason Wu moment when Fan wore one of his couture creations, a dramatic red gown embroidered with white cranes, to the Opening Ceremony of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
Now, two years later, he has opened his first retail shop in Beijing, dedicated to his ready-to-wear-line Chris by Christopher Bu. Jing Daily and Bu discuss the designer’s retail strategy, proclivity for colorful patterns, and transition from styling sets to crafting couture. (Interview translated from the original in Chinese.)
How did you start working in the fashion industry?
At the Beijing Film Academy, I studied hair, makeup, and styling for movie sets, but I found myself naturally gravitating towards the fashion aspect of my work. By the time I graduated, I had made a few contacts in the film industry and began styling full-time for movie stars.
I founded my own brand two years ago in 2011, with the encouragement of my client and good friend Fan Bingbing. Before that, when styling her I would often be frustrated that my precise visions weren’t available on the market. One day she said, you have so many ideas—why don’t you launch your own brand? It’s really thanks to her that I started designing.
Why did you decide to open up your first store in a hutong in Beijing?
I like the atmosphere of a hutong. It’s not like the more commercial areas, where there might be a lot of pressure to compete, sell, and expand. Here, I have the freedom to think and operate independently. Back in the day when I was still just a student, I would ride my bicycle everywhere, often around Houhai. I prefer this more comfortable and relaxed side of Beijing.
Describe the Christopher Bu aesthetic.
My ready-to-wear line Chris by Christopher Bu—the one stocked in this new shop—is designed for young people. It’s inspired by movies, my travels, pretty much anything I see and hear in my day-to-day life that interests me. Then I come up with ways to represent these experiences through clothing.
My couture label, on the other hand, is deeply influenced by ancient Chinese culture. Many existing brands are already making traditional Chinese clothing. What I do is draw from ancient techniques, using a lot of intricate handiwork. But I also incorporate modern materials and cuts into my designs. I want to create clothes that embody our heritage and history, but are still relevant and chic today.
Who is your target customer?
She is the woman who enjoys dressing up. She probably pays attention to celebrity styles and trends, and has an appetite for couture brands. She isn’t afraid of looking different. She likes patterns and color, but prefers minimalist cuts and shapes. She is modern and chic.
Both dresses you designed for Fan Bingbing to wear to the Cannes Film Festival incorporate strong Chinese elements. For example, the red gown features plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, and chrysanthemums, also known as the four noble plants, as well as cranes that represent longevity and auspiciousness in Chinese culture. What was your goal behind those creations, and what impact did those events have on your brand?
Actually, I didn’t really think about it that much! I just made what I wanted to make. The response my dresses got afterwards surpassed my wildest expectations. While I was designing, I knew I wanted to convey a message about Chinese culture—something I always do for my couture line. I didn’t tailor that design for the international audience; I was simply staying true to myself.
It was only after the first Cannes Film Festival that I started getting commissioned to do gowns from major international clients. That’s when I realized how big an impact those events had had on my name brand.
Why do you think there has been so much interest abroad in Chinese designers in the last five years?
More and more Chinese artists are emerging, at a time when the world has been showing increased interest in China in general—the perfect conditions for Chinese design to gain international credibility. Local designers now have more opportunities to promote themselves than ever, via more established events and platforms abroad. Already, we have seen much progress on all fronts, from local media coverage to design quality.
Do you still think Chinese consumers prefer Western luxury brands? When do you think they will have faith in domestic design?
A major chunk of Chinese consumers are brand-obsessed. But there is also a small and growing portion that appreciates Chinese history, culture and authenticity—these are the true fashionistas, the ones who have a defined sense of taste and self.
In the last two years, there has been a very apparent shift in public perception of local brands. Many young people passionately follow the latest developments in the domestic design scene. Whenever we come out with a new collection, they have already heard about it and want to know where it will be sold.
I have great hope for the future of Chinese design. Some past designers might have gotten carried away with exaggerated or impractical concepts, and struggled with producing modern and wearable garments. But we see that less and less now. I have no doubt that China will soon have even more talented designers, with fresh ideas the world has never seen before.
Where is your brand currently stocked? What is your retail strategy, and do you plan on expanding your brand abroad?
I want my brand’s growth to happen naturally, on my own terms. If there is international interest—if the opportunity arises for collaboration—then I will seize it, but this is not my ultimate goal. At the moment, I’m focused on getting stocked at Chinese multi-brand shops, rather than trying to open more of my own shops. Chris by Christopher Bu is currently stocked in Beijing (at my new shop, Dong Liang Studio, and BNC) and Shanghai, but we are looking into expanding into second-tier cities like Nanjing. [Christopher Bu, the couture line, is made to order for exclusive clients.]
I am not trying to be very aggressive; I’d rather take it slow. My strategy is more about careful brand development, preserving my message, and honing my aesthetic, rather than quick growth.
Christopher Bu. 25 Ju’er Hutong (right off of Nanluogu Xiang Hutong), Dongcheng District.