WANG TAO: TAKING ‘CHINA CHIC’ GLOBAL
Women’s fashion designer looks beyond the runway
Like many of the best fashion designers in the world, Wang Tao wears two hats.
Leading an eight-designer team, she has been creative director of Shanghai-based women’s wear brand Broadast:Bo for 12 years. And, once Broadast:Bo became a proven success, Wang debuted her namesake label Taoray Wang during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week New York in the fall of 2014.
“I will be back for every season from now on,” she said after the first Taoray Wang runway appearance.
Chinese designers have often used international fashion weeks as one-time promotional events for their names and brands and many don’t get the chance or have the money to return. So far, Wang Tao has kept her word. For the fourth time, she’s back in New York, this time with her 2016 autumn/winter collection. Departing from her past themes borrowed from popular movies — Black Swan, Fifty Shades of Grey, Out of Africa – this season Wang has taken inspiration from Victorian fashion and its patterns and tweeds.
“Historically, tailoring was common for men,” said Wang in a press release. “But now it is providing the answer for modern women who want to be elegant, stylish and sexy. This season is filled with a combination of traditional heritage and modern silhouettes.”
Wang said she wants to deliver a lineup for “independent and international women”.
“I don’t define my customers by race or nationality,” she told China Daily. “They have an international background. They embrace diversity and are open-minded to try different things. They are well-educated and welltraveled. They are multi-cultural.”
Taoray Wang collections’ past three shows have garnered a following among international media and buyers.
Barneys New York, one of the most sought after buyers during New York Fashion Week (NYFW), took a handful of her collection back to its office for consideration last fall. Though they didn’t buy anything, Wang said they were keeping an eye on her label.
She focuses on materials and tailoring, and her styles are minimalist. The “effortless blue shirt paired with wide, cropped khaki pants” won her a big round of applause from Women’s Wear Daily.
“I love design. I would do it even if I was starving,” she said.
After earning a degree in history from the East China Normal University in Shanghai, Wang went to Japan for a second bachelor’s degree in design. She won five International Fashion Designer awards during her four years at Tokyo Mode Gakuen College of Fashion and Design.
After graduating, Wang worked under famous Japanese designer Koshino Junko before setting off to London at the age of 30.
“I could have stayed in Japan and had a pretty good future, but I followed my heart. Europe was my dream,” she said. There she worked as creative director and director of China marketing for the Rebel Belle brand.
In 2004, through her supermodel friend Lu Yan, Wang was introduced to Wang Weidong, chairman of Broadast:Bo. Wang Weidong was looking for a new creative director for Bo, which targets urban Chinese women between the ages of 25 and 35.
Mother of a 9-month-old at the time, Wang joined Bo. Though the Taoray Wang label didn’t appear until 2014, the seed was planted from day one.
“I was used to working in high-end fashion,” said Wang. “The linings I used in the past were even more expensive than the fabrics we use at Bo. So I asked my boss to promise me that if I did well at Bo, he would let me do an haute couture label.”
In 10 years under Wang Tao’s guidance, Bo opened 700 new stores in China and revenues rose from $30 million to $350 million.
“Three years ago I asked my boss, ‘ Do you remember your promise?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’”
Wang said that it was her job at Bo that gave her the inspiration for Taoray Wang. From 2008 to 2013, she not only worked as the creative director of Bo, but was also promoted to general manager. She said she wants to dedicate the Taoray Wang label to modern businesswomen.
“Broadast:Bo was for the younger me, romantic and literary; Taoray Wang is for the present me, independent and experienced,” she said.
The minimalist style makes the clothes functional for her target customers. “Easy to put on and easy to mix and match, they are for businesswomen who don’t want to spend a ton of time thinking about what to wear.”
Speaking to reporters and assistants backstage before her show in last fall, she seemed calm and unruffled. “I’ve been working on runways for nearly 20 years, and I’m used it,” she said. “I want to know what people think of my work.”
“It’s up to the buyers to decided if it’s an international brand,” she said. “Many Chinese designers have walked onto international stages and gotten a lot of press coverage, but nobody buys their clothes. To me that means nothing.”
As for fashion in China, Wang worries that many Chinese designers are bound by socalled “China Chic”.
“Too often Chinese designers think ‘ China Chic’ means Chinese ethnic style or there has to be a dragon or a phoenix,” she said. “If we want to make it on the international stage, we have to liberate ourselves from the stereotypes.”
“Chinese culture is not what you can buy in the stores at the entrance to the Great Wall. It’s so much more complicated,” Wang continued. “The true ‘China Chic’ should have an international vision.”
“China needs soft power. Soft power is not just a grand show,” she said. “It takes a lot of hard work. It’s a craft that takes time to refine.”
Wang lives between London and Shanghai and travels to the Big Apple twice a year. She’s married to a Briton and has two kids.
Wang rarely talks about her personal life. “I don’t want people to focus their attention on me. I want them to like my clothes. I want them to buy my clothes.”
Chinese culture is not what you can buy in the stores at the entrance to the Great Wall. It’s so much more complicated,”
Fashion designer Wang Tao (above); backstage at her show at The Dock in New York last season; and some of her latest designs (top).