Rico Man­chit Au ex­per­i­ments with her fash­ion label Ri­costru to re­con­struct Guangzhou’s rep­u­ta­tion as a man­u­fac­tur­ing base into that of a de­sign hive. Rebecca Lo sneaks a peek.

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Guangzhou’s iden­tity as the world’s man­u­fac­tur­ing cap­i­tal is shift­ing from pro­duc­tion to de­sign. T.I.T. Creative In­dus­try Zone in Haizhu dis­trict is lo­cated in the for­mer Guangzhou Tex­tile Ma­chin­ery Fac­tory, a site with 1950s red-brick in­dus­trial build­ings. Like its arty coun­ter­parts Red­tory and Bei­jing’s 798, T.I.T. is a govern­ment-ini­ti­ated in­cu­ba­tor for hot young fash­ion and in­dus­trial de­sign­ers.

Along a leafy lane with weath­ered rail­road ties and her­ring­bone-pat­terned paving stones is The Fash­ion Door.

The three-story bou­tique is fin­ished with the raw con­crete preva­lent through­out T.I.T., and its sim­plic­ity mim­ics that of Ri­costru’s ap­parel for men and women, avail­able in a pop-up store on its ground floor.

Ri­costru is the label founded by young fash­ion de­signer Rico Man­chit Au. The Guangzhou na­tive stud­ied in Shang­hai and Mi­lan, and earned her mas­ter’s in fash­ion de­sign from Isti­tuto Marangoni Mi­lano in 2009.

“Ri­costru” is de­rived from the Ital­ian word for re­con­struc­tion — “ri­cos­tuzione”. It refers to how each per­son has his or her unique will and in­di­vid­ual cre­ativ­ity, and is the un­der­ly­ing theme of Au’s cre­ations, she says.

“I just sim­ply loved draw­ing when I was a child, but I didn’t know then that I was go­ing to be a fash­ion de­signer,” Au says.

“When I stud­ied de­sign, I be­gan to ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery stage of it.

“I ini­tially stud­ied in Shang­hai be­cause it is a very spe­cial city that em­braces both tra­di­tional Chi­nese and mod­ern Western ele­ments. Its com­plex­ity makes up its unique cul­ture. It was a good place to nur­ture some­thing new.

Mi­lan is un­doubt­edly one of the fash­ion cap­i­tals of the world, she says.

“It has a long his­tory in fash­ion ed­u­ca­tion,” the de­signer ex­plains.

“The city it­self is beau­ti­ful with a lot of his­tory. I learned not only use­ful tech­niques but was also in­spired by its en­vi­ron­ment. The city taught me its spirit: to be dili­gent, so­phis­ti­cated and de­tailed. It taught me how to com­bine de­sign and busi­ness well.”

Au set up her stu­dio in Guangzhou in 2010 and es­tab­lished her ready-to-wear label Ri­costru in 2011.

Her flat­ter­ing struc­tural forms, at­ten­tion to the small­est de­tails and un­usual jux­ta­po­si­tion of avant-garde ma­te­ri­als have won a fol­low­ing.

Au’s con­cept is to re­turn to basics by giv­ing men and women a min­i­mal and clean aes­thetic to al­low their own per­son­al­i­ties to shine through.

Ex­cel­lent tai­lor­ing means her clothes fall grace­fully, al­low­ing tan­ta­liz­ing glimpses of bare flesh be­neath sheer fab­rics while keep­ing other ar­eas mod­estly cov­ered, she ex­plains. One of her sig­na­ture flour­ishes is a re­veal in bright, con­trast­ing col­ors to elon­gate lines of the body in un­pre­dictable ways.

Au was one of five Chi­nese de­sign­ers in­vited to Bei­jing Fash­ion Week 2011’s Vogue Tal­ent Cor­ner and the only Chi­nese de­signer who showed her work at Mi­lan Fash­ion Week 2012’s Vogue Tal­ent Cor­ner.

“Both were valu­able ex­pe­ri­ences,” Au re­calls.

“I had the op­por­tu­nity to share my ideas with some im­por­tant peo­ple in the fash­ion in­dus­try. They, in turn, gave me pro­fes­sional ad­vice, in­clud­ing in the ar­eas of com­mer­cial pro­mo­tion. I gained a pre­lim­i­nary un­der­stand­ing of how Euro­pean me­dia works and its var­i­ous chan­nels. Their com­ments were like a shot in the arm.”

Last July, Nina Ricci asked Au to de­sign a mini col­lec­tion in­spired by its fra­grance L’Air du Temps.

“They wanted to col­lab­o­rate with emerg­ing Chi­nese de­sign­ers and artists on the theme of love and freedom,” Au says.

“I based the col­lec­tion on that and the perfume’s pack­ag­ing.” The de­signs were ex­hib­ited in Shang­hai. Ri­costru’s Spring/Sum­mer 2013 col­lec­tion fea­tures pas­tel shades of pink, baby blue and sor­bet yel­low with am­ple use of white for ca­sual and swimwear.

Evening­wear in­cludes black and gray with one-shoul­der gowns and shiny tex­tures. Hemlines range from floor­length for evening­wear gowns to mi­cro-mi­nis with lay­ers of sheer net­ting.

The Fall/Win­ter 2013-14 col­lec­tion de­buted this past March at Youz De­sign Cen­ter in Bei­jing.

It was Ri­costru’s first for­mal fash­ion show, with fab­ric spon­sored by Ital­ian lux­ury sup­plier Al­can­tara. Mu­sic was courtesy of up-and-com­ing Chi­nese mu­si­cian Ding Ke and re­in­forced the show’s theme of “Cold as Fire, Hot as Ice”.

Her lat­est col­lec­tion was in­spired by Ice­land’s high-con­trast land­scapes and ex­tremes be­tween its ac­tive vol­ca­noes and pris­tine glaciers.

Ri­costru’s fall/win­ter line is in­tended to — like na­ture — ac­cent the magic light works in north­ern climes.

Sil­hou­ettes are ex­ag­ger­ated, with mul­ti­ple lay­ers and color-block­ing to re­in­force con­trasts.

The menswear fea­tures nubby sweaters, col­lar­less jack­ets and long over­coats over ca­su­ally un-tucked shirts in icy gray shades, with re­veals in shades like fiery or­ange along the arms.

The womenswear con­trasts matte and shiny tex­tures in black, with a range of warm col­ors from wine to pink jux­ta­pos­ing cold blues and whites.

Au be­lieves her cus­tomers care about qual­ity of life and have dis­cern­ing tastes that re­flect their ways of liv­ing.

She hopes to cre­ate de­signs that stand out in an in­ter­na­tional arena, and en­cour­ages other Chi­nese to fol­low suit.

“I think the most im­por­tant thing is to show our own cre­ativ­ity, abil­ity and the pos­si­bil­i­ties of what we can achieve,” she ex­plains.

“When peo­ple talk about gar­ments from China, the thing that comes to mind first is ‘made in China’. They think man­u­fac­tur­ing — not de­sign. Some­times, ‘made in China’ is equated with lower qual­ity.” That’s some­thing she as­pires to change. “We hope to show more pos­si­bil­i­ties for ‘made in China’ and ‘de­signed in China’.”


Ri­costru’s Fall/ Win­ter menswear fea­tures nubby sweaters, col­lar­less jack­ets and long over­coats, over ca­su­ally un-tucked shirts in icy-gray shades.

The womenswear con­trasts matte and shiny tex­tures in black, with a range of warm col­ors from wine to pink jux­ta­pos­ing cold blues and whites.

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