China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE -

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 @chi­



Ma Yanli has been a judge of Miss Uni­verse China.

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