Watch out, world. China’s creative, young designers are coming
A month ago at the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival, Chinese actress Zhang Xinyu walked down the red carpet in a dramatic red-andgreen gown covered with big, bright floral print, which soon became an Internet controversy in China.
As Chinese netizens harshly criticized Zhang’s “rustic” taste and jokingly called the dress a “bed cover gown”, Patrick Gottelier, an accomplished British designer and a long-time enthusiast of Chinese culture, candidly expressed his love for Zhang’s outfit.
“I loved the dress. I loved the irony of taking print from what is normally considered to be a cloth, a print of country people, and putting it on the international stage,” he said.
Gottelier is an experienced designer who throughout his life has ventured into a variety of design-related fields including interior design, accessory design, and television-set design.
Finally discovering his passion for knitwear, in 1977, he and his partner, Jane Gottelier, launched their own brand, Artwork, which in the past three decades has grown into one of the most esteemed and trend-setting knitwear labels in the United Kingdom.
In September, after spending seven years teaching in Britain as head of the Department of Design at Falmouth University, he came to China to establish a four-year fashion program in partnership with the DeTao Masters Academy in Shanghai.
For Gottelier, life in China has been an adventure.
“We have received such kindness at all levels of our life and work here, but the more we are in China, the more we realize how much we don’t know and still have to learn. It is daunting and incredibly exciting.”
As Western clothes replace traditional Chinese styles and become the dominant art expression in China, Gottelier disagreed with the popular belief that Chinese designs are less original or elegant than European ones.
“British and Chinese aesthetics simply possess distinct characteristics, but one is not better than the other. You can point to great designs in China and elements that are in poor taste, and the same is true of the UK,” he said.
In fact, one of his favorite fashion works is Chinese-British designer Angel Chen’s final collection at Central St. Martins last year. “She combines her Chinese cultural heritage with Central St. Martins’ creativity and an international outlook — a future star for certain.”
To expand his brand to the Chinese market, Gottelier said the label would strive to be sensitive and to be respectful of Chinese culture.
During his stay in China, Gottelier said he has observed a disturbing contrast between Westerners’ love for Chinese aesthetics and Chinese people’s lack of appreciation for native artists.
Zhang’s “bed cover gown”, for example, though widely criticized by Chinese Internet users for its “overly Chinese” color scheme, was highly appraised by Gottelier. “The striking irony it shows is difficult to accomplish in fashion, and I personally think this dress works on several levels. I suspect the people who criticized it know nothing of China,” he said.
Gottelier is actually not alone among Westerners in praising Zhang’s theatrical floral gown. For instance, Bustle, a US entertainment website, asserted: “Zhang’s ensemble should be considered red-carpet royalty because the detailing and the colors of this dress are too perfect.”
In the Western Hemisphere, not only is Zhang’s Cannes outfit considered a stunning success, but also Chinese style in general has gradually been incorporated into the mainstream fashion aesthetics.
Gottelier recently visited New York for an exhibition, China — Through the Looking Glass, at the Metropolitan Museum, which features 140 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art to explore how China has fueled the fashion imagination for centuries.
“I was struck by just how much foreign fashion designers have ‘plundered’ Chinese culture for inspiration. It is dismaying that Zhang’s dress was criticized for combining East and West at exactly the same time foreign designers were being adulated for doing the same thing.”
He also recalled his acquaintance with Uma Wang, a Chinese designer famous in London for her emphasis on comfort and practicality. Gottelier first met Wang on a holiday to Shanghai eight years ago and since then has become a good friend of hers and a devoted admirer of her work.
He told China Daily: “I am quite sure that her reputation in the West will continue to grow, as she is a unique voice in China. Ironically, it may be necessary for her to become really famous in the West before she achieves the success she deserves in China.”
At the same time, he also expressed optimism that the new generation of Chinese designers with bolder concepts and louder voices will lead to a fashion revolution in China, and that Wang is one of the key designers in establishing Chinese fashion on the international stage.
To make a personal contribution to the progress of China’s fashion industry, Gottelier now serves as a professor of apparel and product design at Shanghai DeTao Masters Academy and focuses on helping his Chinese students best release their creativity.
“We are adopting a wide range of teaching strategies to encourage them to explore their own creativity and culture while maintaining a global perspective,” he said.
To further inspire young Chinese designers to take on creative paths in the fields of modern womenswear and menswear, Gottelier is working with his partner on a book called Asia: Rising Fashion Designers that will explore and record the current and emerging fashion trends in Asia.
“When our students graduate, those foreigners who have criticized Chinese creativity and style had better watch out. Our graduates will be world-class fashion designers,” he confidently told China Daily.
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