Break­ing new fron­tiers for China

Zhe­jiang na­tive Chen Xuzhi is fly­ing the Chi­nese flag high on the global fash­ion stage with his in­no­va­tive, oriental-in­spired cloth­ing de­signs

China Daily (USA) - - SHANGHAI - ByXUJUNQIAN in Shang­hai xu­jun­qian@chi­

Chen Xuzhi was born and raised in Shaox­ing, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, one of China’s most an­cient wa­ter­towns that has two spe­cial­ties — yel­low rice wine and tex­tile.

In the 1980s, when the coun­try re­opened its door to the world, the town was known for pro­duc­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of me­ters of Dacron, a type of syn­thetic polyester that was widely avail­able in a va­ri­ety of col­ors. For years, this fab­ric was cov­eted by fash­ion­able women as it spawned new al­ter­na­tives to the bor­ing suits that were com­monly worn on the streets.

How­ever, Dacron’s pop­u­lar­ity was al­ways over­shad­owed by Shaox­ing’s fa­mous yel­low rice wines, which have been touted by some as the equiv­a­lent of cham­pagne in France.

To­day, Chen looks poised to turn the ta­bles with his epony­mous lux­ury fash­ion la­bel Xu Zhi.

The 24-year-old, who grad­u­ated from Cen­tral Saint Martins in Lon­don, has recre­ated a new type of fab­ric us­ing yarn quilt­ing tech­niques by work­ing with fac­to­ries in Zhe­jiang prov­ince and has in­cor­po­rated the fab­ric into all four of his fash­ion col­lec­tions.

“Es­sen­tially, I want to build a soft fem­i­nine im­age that sparkles with a type of oriental con­fi­dence, the quiet type, through the tex­tile,” said Chen dur­ing Shang­hai Fash­ion Week last month.

Es­tab­lished in Lon­don in 2014, right af­ter Chen’s grad­u­a­tion, Xu Zhi fea­tures a va­ri­ety of cloth­ing, from light op­tions for spring and sum­mer to heav­ier cloth­ing for au­tumn and win­ter, as well as for­mal state­ment dresses and ca­sual daily wears.

The Chi­nese de­signer first sold his cre­ations at trendy stores such as Open­ing Cer­e­mony in Los An­ge­les, Dover Street Mar­ket in Lon­don and Lane Craw­ford in Hongkong and Shang­hai, be­fore win­ning ac­claim from in­dus­try in­flu­encers in­clud­ing Sussie Bub­ble and Colin McDow­ell. Chen was also short­listed for pres­ti­gious awards such as the LVMH Young Fash­ion De­signer Prize and the Wool­mark Prize.

Hav­ing done in­tern­ships with the likes of bound­ary­push­ers such as UK fash­ion la­bels JW An­der­son and Craig Green, Chen said that the brand im­age he wants to project is one that is vul­ner­a­ble, in­de­pen­dent and con­tem­po­rary.

He also said that his brand’s dis­tinc­tive oriental style is more a re­sult of his roots than a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to tar­get the bur­geon­ing lux­ury fash­ion mar­ket in his home coun­try.

“I didn’t opt for an oriental style be­cause of the spend­ing prow­ess of Chi­nese con­sumers to­day. I did so be­cause that is where I come from and that is what con­tin­ues to in­spire me,” said Chen.

Af­ter his cre­ations were spot­ted by buy­ers of Lane Craw­ford at the Mode show­room dur­ing Shang­hai Fash­ion Week last year, Chen was cho­sen as one of the three young Chi­nese de­sign­ers to work on the “Cre­ation in China” project that was launched by the Hong Kong-based lux­ury depart­ment store.

Chen said that Xu Zhi’s lat­est fall/win­ter col­lec­tion for this project is in­spired

China Daily speaks with fash­ion colum­nist Lin Jian (LJ), ex­ec­u­tive editor-in-chief of GQ mag­a­zine in Bei­jing Cui Dan (CD) and Lon­don­based Chi­nese de­signer Chen Xuzhi (CX).

Do you think Shang­hai is the fash­ion cap­i­tal of China? LJ: Ab­so­lutely. CD: I think Shang­hai can be al­most de­fined as a fash­ion cap­i­tal.

CX: Yes, I think that’s be­yond ques­tion.

What do you think makes a fash­ion cap­i­tal?

LJ: I think there are two things that make Shang­hai a fash­ion cap­i­tal. First and fore­most, it’s the peo­ple on the street. More than once, I have friends from other cities telling me how peo­ple here in Shang­hai are so stylish. They would also lament how this is some­thing their home cities will take many years to catch up on.

The other fac­tor is the growth of the in­dus­try. From my knowl­edge, Shang­hai Fash­ion Week gets lit­tle fi­nan­cial sup­port from the lo­cal govern­ment in China and this has

Chen Xuzhi,

founder of the Xu Zhi fash­ion la­bel

I think we (emerg­ing Chi­nese de­sign­ers) are now liv­ing in the best time in fash­ion his­tory.”

by the vir­tual re­al­ity con­cept be­hind the film The Science of Sleep and fea­tures ba­sic wardrobe pieces that have been re­con­structed with new fab­rics. As a re­sult, all the pieces ap­pear “real” but in a dif­fer­ent way, cre­at­ing an “ar­ti­fi­cial re­al­ity”.

With re­gard to the lo­cal mar­ket in China, Chen said that Chi­nese con­sumers to­day are more so­phis­ti­cated than ever and have adopted a much more open mind­set to­ward the works by home­grown tal­ents af­ter decades of chas­ing the big lux­ury brands.

China is grad­u­ally los­ing its ap­peal as a man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant, and with the de­val­u­a­tion of the yuan mean­ing that la­bor costs are no longer as low as be­fore, the do­mes­tic tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try is now seek­ing to trans­form it­self by fo­cus­ing on orig­i­nal­ity and qual­ity rather than vol­ume.

All these fac­tors, he said, are play­ing a part in the rise of Chi­nese de­sign­ers such as him­self.

“I think we (emerg­ing Chi­nese de­sign­ers) are now liv­ing in the best time in fash­ion his­tory,” said Chen. re­sulted in a stronger grass­roots pres­ence — buy­ers, de­sign­ers, showrooms and me­dia would all spon­ta­neously sign up for this event to find out more, in turn driv­ing or­ganic growth.

CD: For Shang­hai, I think it’s the Fash­ion Week. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the city and the Fash­ion Week is like the chicken or the egg dilemma — it’s hard to de­ter­mine which came about first but you def­i­nitely know that they com­ple­ment one an­other.

Shang­hai is such a cos­mopoli­tan city and so is its Fash­ion Week event. This open­ness has nur­tured many pi­o­neer­ing busi­nesses like buyer’s stores, showrooms and pop-up events. In re­turn, these busi­nesses can in­spire lo­cal tal­ents. Fash­ion Week never shuts out any­one who wants to be in­volved. It has not set up any rule or wall, which makes it a very in­clu­sive event.

CX: I think it’s when the whole in­dus­try be­comes a well-linked com­mu­nity, with ev­ery link be­ing cre­ative and vi­tal. Such cre­ativ­ity and vi­tal­ity will even­tu­ally, maybe in five years or even a shorter time, give Shang­hai a dis­tinc­tive style that makes it glob­ally unique.

What do you think is the gap be­tween Shang­hai and other rec­og­nized fash­ion cap­i­tals like New York or Paris?

LJ: I don’t think Shang­hai will ever catch up with the so-called Big Four, con­sid­er­ing how the in­dus­try picked up only decades later. But I also think it’s not nec­es­sary for Shang­hai to fol­low their foot­steps and at­tempt to bridge the gap. What the lo­cal fash­ion in­dus­try should fo­cus on is how to bet­ter cater to the do­mes­tic mar­ket. Most of the or­ders placed in the do­mes­tic fash­ion in­dus­try are from Shang­hai.

CD: I wouldn’t re­ally call it a “gap”. If you look at the con­sump­tion lev­els, China is lead­ing the world now. If any­thing, I think there may be a lack of di­ver­sity in the do­mes­tic scene. More brands and styles need to be en­cour­aged to come out and tar­get dif­fer­ent au­di­ences. CX: Pro­fes­sion­al­ism.


Lon­don-based Chi­nese de­signer Chen Xuzhi poses with mod­els wear­ing his cre­ations dur­ing Shang­hai Fash­ion Week.

Chen Xuzhi

Cui Dan

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