MA MAKES A FASHION STATEMENT
Andrew Moody Yan Dongjie
The fashion designer Ma Yanli, also known as Mary Ma, said Chinese designers have no need to flaunt their Chinese origins in the clothes they produce. The 41-year-old former model and actress said they should aim instead to be as individualistic as Western designers.
“Today’s top Chinese designers are designers in their own right and are competing with other international designers. Of course, designers reflect their personal influences, and some of these may involve Chinese characteristics, but this is not what it should be about.”
“It is not East versus West or China versus America; it is down to individual designers.”
Ma, once described as China’s answer to Cindy Crawford, launched her new clothing line that combines the simple look of a white blouse with blue jeans in Beijing recently.
The blouses will range in price from 399 to 2,500 yuan ($60 to $385). The jeans will be similarly priced.
“I like simple clothes in my daily life since they suit many situations — from relaxing at home and going to dinner with a friend to a relatively important event like an interview,” said Ma, who was wearing an outfit from her new line.
“I think girls are sexy when they are in jeans. You can forget about your height or weight, and just match a white shirt and jeans. Everyone can look great in this, if you are confident about yourself.”
Ma, who studied design at Donghua University in Shanghai, set up Maryma Haute Couture in 2005. It is based in Beijing and now employs 20 people.
This year her company was chosen to design outfits for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as well as leaders of five Asian countries for the welcome dinner of the first Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting in Sanya in South China’s Hainan province.
The design on the blue tunic that was made for the event had a representation of the Mekong River with a flower to mark each of the six countries that surround it.
“It was our first design related to either diplomacy or government. I was so proud seeing the leaders wear our designs. We worked crazily for a whole month on them (the outfits),” she said.
“Many at the dinner came to me and praised my design. It was a milestone for our business,” she added.
Ma said fashion in China is now beginning to reflect the “new normal” of slower growth and the general economic climate, and she expects black and gray to be a feature of what people wear this summer.
“I think white, black and gray are likely to be popular this summer instead of the more vivid orange, pink, yellow and red that have dominated in the past several years.
“What people wear is influenced and also reflects the status of a society. After years of fast-paced development, people now need something simple, peaceful but also high quality. They want calm colors, which can cool you down.”
Ma was brought up in Zhoukou, Henan province. She is the daughter of a middle school head teacher, although most of her wider family works in farming.
She was on course to be a national rowing champion but injured her back badly in a boat accident.
Then, by chance, while out shopping in Shanghai, she was spotted by a modeling agent looking for talent.
After being entered in the Shanghai International Modeling Competition in 1995, she went on to become China’s first supermodel and had a successful career, including becoming the face of many advertising campaigns in China.
She then combined this with an acting career, appearing in the TV comedy drama Marriage Battle and the 2010 movie Love in Cosmo, in which she played a fashion magazine editor based on the Cosmopolitan editor Anna Wintour.
She was approached about reviving her acting career with a role in a movie based on the Chinese reality TV show Metamorphosis, where children from wealthy backgrounds swap homes with those in poorer areas, and vice versa.
“I am not a professional actress, but I like to take roles in movies because they let me experience different people’s lives,” she said.
“It is just like my life. I have experienced so many things — from being brought up in an ordinary family and being a supermodel to being a TV actress, the founder and CEO of a company and a mother.”
Ma, who is divorced, lives with her 12-year-old daughter, Lang Ma Qin Ge, who attends the primary school attached to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
“She is already nearly as tall as me,” said Ma, who stands at 1.78 meters tall.
“She wants to be a professional classical concert pianist.”
Ma, whose customers have included soccer player David Beckham and musician Quincy Jones, said the Chinese fashion industry has made huge strides in the past two decades.
“It has changed dramatically.When I started out, the Chinese did not even know what fashion was. They took anything as beautiful as fashionable.
“Now Chinese fashion is so diverse, with a different understanding of what it is at every level of society.”
Contact the writers through andrewmoody @chinadaily.com.cn
Ma Yanli has been a judge of Miss Universe China.