Japan Has The Kimono, Korea The Hanbok; What’s China’s Most Representative Apparel?
Although China now has no shortage of home-grown fashion designers, some of whom studied at the best design schools in the world, the sheer vastness of the population and dramatic differences in taste seen throughout the country mean that a clear “Chinese style” has yet to emerge. While we see pieces influenced by everything from blue porcelain to the traditional qipao (cheongsam) from domestic Chinese designers (and everything from take-away boxes to “chinoiserie-lite” from non-Chinese designers), the country still lacks, for better or worse, a “representative” national piece, akin to the Japanese kimono or Korean hanbok, writes Yang Ningshu (杨宁舒) this week in the Heilongjiang Daily.
From Yang’s article (translation by Jing Daily team):
Often, Chinese traveling abroad are worried by one question: What can I wear that will represent our ancient culture?
Based on clothing worn during China’s Tang Dynasty, after 1,000 years of evolution the kimono has become the national outfit of Japan. The kimono has a very important role there, worn not only at weddings but at a variety of festivals and activities, including graduation ceremonies. In Korea, the hanbok — also derived from traditional Chinese clothing — is respected and beloved by the Korean people. In Vietnam, the traditional aodai is seen on everyone from schoolgirls to flight attendants and worn during every major holiday or important occasion.
Clothing serves not only a practical purpose, but is wound up with a country’s national culture and symbols, traditions, laws and institutions. As such, we should take our national clothing as seriously we do our flag. With Han Chinese clothing influencing the national costumes of many Asian countries over the course of the last three thousand years, including Korea and Japan, we should encourage more designers to create comfortable, natural traditional [Chinese] clothing. Not “retro,” but rather clothing that reflects Chinese culture while incorporating modern fashion elements to create a better representation of modern Chinese aesthetics.
All well and good, but as the writer points out, try as they might, designers still encounter resistance from Chinese consumers:
Harbin Normal University fashion design student Lu Junyu is one of the new breed of designers who adds many Chinese elements to her creations. She said that in the minds of most consumers, Chinese elements symbolize the “rustic,” and that many of these consumers will give up on any designs that use elements like plate buttons (盘扣). You see more people wearing Tang suits (唐装) or qipao nowadays, but most of these individuals are artists or intellectuals.
As Lu Yunju said, if a clothing brand wants to develop and grow [in China], it needs mass appeal, and as such, most Chinese designers are reluctant to infuse their clothing with traditional fashion elements.
Continuing, the writer quotes Zhang Xiang of the Heilongjiang Province Academy of Modern Art as saying that the absence of aesthetic education about China’s traditional culture, coupled with the dominant Western culture that permeates the country’s fashion industry, has created something of a vacuum in China’s sense of fashion identity. Going on, the writer suggests that Chinese designers shouldn’t ignore the importance of creating a new “national costume,” not only to for cultural reasons but also to catch up with other nations:
You can see a number of countries and people tenaciously holding onto their national clothing even today, such as Germany, the UK, Austria, Russia, Japan, Korea, India, Vietnam and Mongolia. As such, the creation of national clothing for China is a serious issue that can’t be treated casually. But, at the same time, this is a gradual process that requires slow filtering. It won’t happen overnight.