Watch out, world. China’s cre­ative, young de­sign­ers are com­ing

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

li­jing2009@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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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