Fash­ion and tra­di­tion come to­gether in jewelry

Vivi­enne Tam is just a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from other well- es­tab­lished fash­ion de­sign­ers with Chi­nese an­ces­try such as Phillip Lim, Ja­son Wu and Alexan­der Wang. Gan Tian tells us why.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at gan­tian@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

Vivi­enne Tam re­cently launched her first jewelry col­lec­tion in part­ner­ship with TSL Jewelry, and the col­lec­tion be­trays her in­flu­ences and in­spi­ra­tions. Al­though the col­lec­tion is in­fused with moder­nity, it is in­spired by the Taoist con­cept of wu xing, the five ele­ments of Chi­nese cos­mol­ogy — me­tal, wood, wa­ter, fire and earth — that make up the world as they suc­ceed each other in an im­mutable cy­cle.

“Ev­ery­thing is of th­ese five ele­ments, the en­vi­ron­ment, en­ergy. Our body is also about the five ele­ments,” Tam says in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with China Daily back­stage at the Bei­jing pre­sen­ta­tion of her Spring/Sum­mer 2013 col­lec­tion.

“Fash­ion is al­ways about the Western way of dress­ing, so I thought why don’t I in­tro­duce this Taoist phi­los­o­phy to the West, telling them how we dress our­selves and en­hance our en­ergy,” she says.

Un­like most fash­ion de­sign­ers who talk fast and loud, Tam speaks slowly in a low, calm tone. Be­fore she an­swers each ques­tion, she pauses to think for a short while. She speaks flu­ent English, but switches fre­quently to Can­tonese, throw­ing in a few Man­darin words, in or­der to ex­plain the phi­los­o­phy be­hind the col­lec­tion.

The 18K gold col­lec­tion fea­tures strong sculp­tural shapes to en­cap­su­late the qual­i­ties as­so­ci­ated with each el­e­ment.

The Me­tal se­ries uses cir­cu­lar shapes to high­light the propen­sity for change. The Wood se­ries uses col­umns to sig­nify re­ju­ve­na­tion and growth. The Wa­ter se­ries rep­re­sents the cease­less cy­cle of life in the shape of curv­ing waves. The Fire se­ries fea­tures tri­an­gu­lar struc­tures to rep­re­sent strength and the power of sun, and the Earth se­ries com­prises rec­tan­gu­lar shapes with 18K rose gold, agate and cit­rine pro­vid­ing a sense of bal­ance and co­he­sion with an un­der­ly­ing feel­ing of vi­tal­ity.

Tam, born in Guangzhou, Guang­dong prov­ince, moved to Hong Kong in 1960 when she was 3. In 1981, she went to New York to study. Her bi-cul­tural up­bring­ing in Hong Kong and stud­ies in the United States have cul­ti­vated an East-meets-West aes­thetic.

In 1993, she launched her first label East Wind Code, which wowed the Western fash­ion in­dus­try with mod­ern qi­pao- in­spired pieces fea­tur­ing clean lines, Asian prints and del­i­cate em­broi­dery.

Her works were soon fea­tured in Women’s Wear Daily, which is known as “the bi­ble of fash­ion” and were picked up by mu­se­ums such as the Andy Warhol Mu­seum in Pitts­burgh and the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York.

The 55-year-old de­signer re­calls that she used to go to the Chi­nese Depart­ment Store dur­ing her early years in Hong Kong. “There were no changes. It seemed like sou­venirs”, and she de­cided she wanted to trans­form the tra­di­tional Chi­nese style into some­thing mod­ern.

“In the fash­ion world, ev­ery­body was look­ing to the Western brands, but I wanted to de­velop my own iden­tity. I wanted to de­sign some­thing I be­lieve in. I be­lieve in my own cul­ture,” Tam says.

To many Western­ers, Chi­nese de­sign is very limited: bright yel­low and red, the dragon and the phoenix, Chi­nese char­ac­ters, ink-and-wash paint­ings, qi­pao or Mao suits. Tam is well aware of that it is more than that.

“There is some dif­fer­ence be­tween how we see our cul­ture and how Western­ers see Chi­nese cul­ture. They live in a very su­per­fi­cial (Chi­nese) world, Susie Wong, Chi­nese food, Chi­nese medicine, kung fu, and so on,” Tam says. “For Chi­nese peo­ple, we are liv­ing in this cul­ture. Some­times it is quite hard for us to get away from it.”

“Be­cause Western­ers only un­der­stand it su­per­fi­cially, they can cre­ate some­thing very dif­fer­ent. That ab­stract think­ing al­lows them to have more freedom to do some­thing. So my pieces are a com­bi­na­tion of Chi­nese cul­ture and their cul­ture.”

She draws a com­par­i­son when she first went to the United States and was thrilled to find a Chi­nese restau­rant in the heart of New York. How­ever, she found the food was dif­fer­ent. At the end of her meal, she was served with a for­tune cookie, in­side of which she found a small piece of pa­per with motto, some­thing she’d never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore.

Tam stresses that she is try­ing to de­liver some­thing more than just a fla­vor of China to the rest of the world.

“The fash­ion world is fast-paced. It is about sur­face. But I want to bring some­thing much deeper to the world be­sides fash­ion. I want to bring some­thing be­yond fash­ion, some­thing about bal­ance, en­ergy and life, all that makes you bet­ter,” she says.


Vivi­enne Tam’s first jewelry col­lec­tion is in­spired by Chi­nese Taoist phi­los­o­phy.

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