Set to an eclectic mix of music, ranging from Brandy & Monika's 'The Boy Is Mine' to Faye Wong's 'Dream Person', Designer Huishan Zhang's personal blend of Eastern and Western culture was evident even before the models came down the catwalk.
Zhang showed his Autumn Winter 2018 collection in the lavish interior of the Savile Club, housed in a grand 18th century building in Mayfair. The collection has been inspired by the work of Asian film director Wong Kar-wai, particularly the films Chunking Express and 2049. It sees black patent vegan leather paired against hand painted lace, bold graphics and blossom prints on dresses, and luxury satin outfits with crystal and pearl fringing. Throughout the collection, Zhang's take on the Cheongsam is present.
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Speaking to Jing Daily, Zhang says he has drawn on “the dark romance and the mystery of love” expressed through Wong Kar-Wai's work to create his collection. “I want it to be personal because overall I'm serving my clients, so they're going to be on the same journey as me,” he says.
Zhang has had a meteoric rise since he first launched his brand in 2011, not long after graduating from Central Saint Martin's prestigious fashion college. Born in Qingdao, Zhang left China at the age of 17 and lived in New Zealand and Paris before settling in London. While studying he was picked out by Delphine Arnaud to work at Dior Paris, in the brand's leather goods department and in Dior's Haute Couture Atelier.
Since then he's been named in the Business of Fashion 500 twice, received the Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize, and has a dress in London's V&A Museum's permanent collection, the first Chinese contemporary fashion designer to do so. And he's just opened his first flagship store in Mayfair.
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But at the heart of Zhang's work is the idea of culture, and a new take on the meaning behind “Made in China”.
Ten years ago, those three words would have been enough to conjure up images of sweatshops and low-quality or imitation products for any Westerner, but for today's consumers, the phrase is fast evolving.
This month research firm Kantar reported that the young generation of global consumers today see the brands coming out of China differently to previous generations, describing them as “innovative” instead of inexpensive or low quality, and younger consumers in Europe and other markets are now using Chinese global e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba and JD.com to shop from.
The higher ends of fashion have been helping push this trend too; Wei Lin's innovative PH5 womenswear label, whose clothes are made in China, debuted at New York Fashion Week two years ago, bringing the designer's brand of high quality knitwear to the catwalk. And at London Fashion Week this year, e-commerce giant VIP.com became the first Chinese retailer to officially sponsor the industry event.
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But Zhang's business takes this a step even further: “It's the Made In China luxury idea,” he says.
Zhang says he has always been fascinated by his own culture and believes it holds a quality that he can introduce to other markets. “Thinking as a young generation, especially as a young generation of designer, I want to have the opportunity to show the craftsmanship and the quality from China.”
While he is based in London, Zhang calls his brand “very international” and has more than 40 stockists around the world, from America to the Middle East. This is one of the things that attract his customers, who he describes as “somebody who is intelligent, who is well travelled, who really understands and appreciates culture, and most importantly appreciates the craftsmanship of what they wear”.
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Despite his success in multiple markets, Zhang says the London Mount Street store has given him an opportunity to extend his brand offering. “We always say we offer a Huishan Zhang product, and now we're offering a Huishan Zhang brand, an experience – it's completely different from what we normally do. That's why we have the store because we want to give the customer more,” he says. He has also launched an atelier service.
Zhang works closely with his suppliers to ensure the quality of his clothes are up to scratch, helping them to build the particular skills needed to create his work properly. “I think it makes a lot of difference,” he says.
It clearly makes a difference to his customers, many of whom are at his fashion week show and are keen to congratulate him in person afterwards.
The designer says he wants to “represent a type of lifestyle” with his products, and following his reception at London Fashion Week, he could well be on his way to doing just that.