Up-And-Coming Chinese Designers To Watch
For designers and retailers, China’s fashion scene is at once highly attractive and increasingly claustrophobic. With luxury giants continuing to dominate the market at the high end as they open a seemingly endless number of lavish flagships, competition remains tough and cracking the Chinese consumer remains even tougher. Amid this intensified competition, however, a new breed of home-grown and often internationally educated designer is emerging to offer something different.
Following the first installment of our “designers to watch” series last year — which featured Beijing’s Vega Zaishi Wang, Xander Zhou and Chi Zhang as well as Shanghai’s Uma Wang, Qiu Hao and Jenny Ji — these are some of the designers that we (and a growing number of independent boutiques like Dong Liang and Le Lutin) think could reshape our conceptions of Chinese fashion in the years ahead.
Hailing from Beijing, London-based Masha Ma and her eponymous label keep things incredibly cool with bold, yet intricate, feminine forms and mystique. Standing on an already impressive résumé, Ma’s designs have attracted the attention of publications such as Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Another Magazine, Pop, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and L’Officiel. As a highly decorated designer, winning numerous awards and recognitions, Ma caught our attention not only for her designs but for her initiatives to improve the accessibility and quality of domestic Chinese textiles and manufacturing.
Burdened by the dearth of high-quality fabrics in China and reluctance among domestic mills to accommodate the custom needs of designers, Ma has banded together with a co-op of designers called One by One to purchase and operate a sewing facility to address their demand for quality, custom textiles.
Liu Qingyang: Chictopia
Since 2009, Beijing-based Liu Qingyang (刘清扬, a.k.a. Christine Lau) of Chictopia has seen her popularity steadily grow along with her industry accolades. Last year, Liu’s work was chosen to be featured on thecorner.com.cn’s “Vogue Talents Corner,” along with designers such as Uma Wang and Zou You. Liu’s label, Chictopia, has also been recognized as one of the top two sellers at Hong Huang’s Beijing boutique, Brand New China (BNC). Priced affordably, Chictopia’s pretty, feminine and youthful aesthetic, signature brand image, and unique fabric designs have appealed to China’s young consumer market.
Coupled with Liu Qingyang’s understanding of international trends and a sophisticated and capable production team, Chictopia boasts high-profile fans like actress Fan Bingbing, and this January, the label graced the cover of Vogue China. (A first for a home-grown independent Chinese brand.)
A native of Xiamen, Yifang Wan has attracted steady media coverage since her days at London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design — alma mater of other Chinese designers like Vega Wang, Yang Du and Uma Wang — where Wan received both a BA and MA in womenswear.
Best known for her MA graduation collection, which showed at London Fashion Week — marking the second time a Chinese student designer walked that stage — Wan has won the admiration of V Magazine, Dazed & Confused, Vogue, 1883, Wonderland, Disegno, TstylesU, the daily Telegraphy, London Evening Standard, the Independent Monday, and the London Global Times.
Wan’s designs have also found fans in the likes of Lady Gaga, who — on her most recent Asia tour — donned the designer’s graduation collection.
Zhang Da: Boundless
Considered one of China’s most mysterious designers, Shanghai-based Zhang Da — who helms his own experimental label, Boundless (没边) — has been pushing the limits of fashion with revolutionary-retro style. Having worked with Shang Xia on its first collection and had his designs featured at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) in Beijing, Zhang Da has certainly made a name for himself with his unexpected and understated use of materials, models, and even space that breaks fashion convention time and time again.
Using more inexpensive and accessible materials like plain blue cloth and padded cotton — a la China’s de facto 1960s worker’s uniform — Zhang Da takes on the challenge of procuring finer textiles in China while still delivering occasionally avant-garde looks. Also reflecting his somewhat maverick reputation, Zhang Da employs real people as models and skips extravagant stage designs and lighting for his shows, keeping the experience simpler and slower.
Yuan Chow: CHairEYES
Inspired by the same retro touchpoints as Zhang Da, eyewear designer Yuan Chow (Yuan Zhou, a.k.a. Chair Yuan) of the four-year-old Shanghai-based eyewear brand CHairEYES creates collections of vintage glasses that are both avant-garde and chic. In keeping with the styles of yesteryear, Yuan keeps his manufacturing authentic and close to home, with his in-house designs carefully produced by family-run factories rather than mass-production houses, a more traditional method that keeps quality high and consistent. Along with other independent high-end eyewear labels like London-based Fei Wang, CHairEYES looks to address a massive gap in the luxury eyewear market — well-made glasses that Asian shoppers find actually fit well on their faces.
While not a an absolute newcomer to readers of Jing Daily, Beijing designer Simon Gao (高杨) remains a designer to watch. Recently, Gao showed off 66 pieces from his A/W 2012 collection at his hometown’s Langyuan VINTAGE, with notable attendees like Hong Kong singer Wyman Wong (黃偉文), male supermodel David Chiang, fashion blogger Han Huohuo (韩火火), fashion photographer Chen Man (Jing Daily interview) and Hong Kong actor Hawick Lau (劉愷威) giving Gao and his eponymous label SIMONGAO a visibility boost in a city now teeming with young designers.