WANG TAO: TAK­ING ‘CHINA CHIC’ GLOBAL

Women’s fash­ion de­signer looks be­yond the run­way

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By HEZI JIANG in New York hez­i­jiang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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,”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Fash­ion de­signer Wang Tao (above); back­stage at her show at The Dock in New York last sea­son; and some of her lat­est de­signs (top).

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