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
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
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.