On the eve of this week's haute couture shows in Paris, a new invitation-only committee has reinforced the notion that young Chinese designers are an increasingly rich vein of new talent.
Taking over the historic 18th century Hotel d’Evereux next to Schiaparelli on the Place Vendome, the New Couture Committee was the catalyst for a debut show by Beijing designer Tanya Wang on January 13.
“This show confirms China’s New Couture Committee is gathering some of the best talents in China,” said Christophe Billet, the Paris-based vice-president of the newly formed organization. “They are looking beyond Asian shores for recognition.”
Billet, whose career spans two decades guiding French luxury brands into China and who has been instrumental in introducing Chinese designers to Paris, said the committee, which is chaired by fashion veteran Christine Zhao, was formed to, “support designers who have reached a high point of sophistication and whose work expresses the same demanding level of craftsmanship required by French haute couture.”
“Of course the New Couture Committee does not use the word ‘haute,’” said Billet. “Haute couture strictly refers to France, where the Fédération Francaise de la Couture (the governing body of French fashion) sets the criteria by which all designers are recognized and invited to take part in the biannual shows.”
But that has not stopped China’s aspiring designers from setting their sights on a Paris fashion show under the patronage of the New Couture Committee.
Chinese designer confidence is growing at rapid-fire speed. Guo Pei, who famously dressed Rihanna for the 2015 Met Gala in New York, now has an atelier in Paris and will show on the official haute couture schedule on Friday. Laurence Xu, who is one of China’s most successful designers and dresses actresses Zhou Yun and Fan Bingbing, confirmed he will show in Paris in July. And Grace Chen, Dan, Muiki Wen and Moodbox have all seen their work displayed in Paris at the ‘China in Paris’ showroom.
Chen is no stranger to Paris. She was the first Chinese designer to be invited by the Chinese Embassy in Paris to show in the French capital, and she recently collaborated with Ali Mahdavi, the acclaimed French photographer and film director, to produce a video of her Spring/Summer 2017 collection.
Wang’s show and the champagne-fueled after party—estimated to have cost upwards of US$50,000—was an impressive debut for the designer, the New Couture Committee and Wang’s sponsor, Snow Lotus which is the oldest cashmere house in China.
Wang is known for her delicately draped evening gowns. While collaborating with a cashmere house brought challenges for her evening wear designs, she ultimately produced a charmed collection of exquisitely embroidered cashmere dresses that kept a Paris audience spellbound.
“Cashmere is a very exacting fabric,” she said, speaking backstage before the show. “It’s a noble fabric, but we don’t think of it in terms of evening wear. Once I had designed the silhouettes, 40 percent of each dress was made by Snow Lotus and the remaining 60 percent, the embroidery, was completed in my atelier.” Wang, who founded her couture house in 2009, said the collection took a year to develop.
“To show in Paris and to target the overseas market is the dream of every designer, around the world,” she said. “China has a lot of talent. I feel there are two kinds of designers, those who travel overseas to promote a Chinese image and those who are international and you can’t identify their work by their nationality. I feel it should be a combination.”
Chen Diyu, the general manager of Snow Lotus, said the company is planning future collaborations with new designers. “We intend Snow Lotus to be an ambassador around the world for Chinese quality and design skills,” he said.
Another guest at the event, Yun Tianxiang, who is a member of the Beijing Fashion Week Organizing Committee, said he planned to take Chinese designer collections to Milan, New York and Dubai in the near future.
Chinese designers enjoy singular support in Paris by the high-end boutique Les Suites. Eka Iukuridze, who founded the multi-brand salon in 2013, currently lists Chinese designers Moodbox, Dan, Grace Chen and shoe designer Scheme on its website.
Asked why dresses with a price tag of 9,000-30,000 euros sell so well in an unsteady fashion environment, Billet said: “Women who shop at Les Suites are international and they recognize the beauty and quality of Chinese couture. They are looking for creative inspiration long before they look for big names.”
Susan Owens is the founder and editor of Paris Chérie, a Paris-based fashion website dedicated to bringing French style news to Chinese readers.