DRESSING THE US’ ‘LITTLE ENVOY’
Laurence Xu talks about his designs for Arabella Kushner
The video US President Donald Trump showed Chinese President Xi Jinping on the first day of his visit to China on November 8 of his granddaughter Arabella Kushner singing and reciting poems in Chinese sparked widespread discussion online last week. One of the major topics of discussion was the pearl-pink cheongsam, or qipao, dress the young girl wore, which was designed by renowned Chinese haute couture designer Laurence Xu.
One of the few Chinese couturiers to often show at Paris Fashion Week and the designer behind the bright yellow dragon dress worn by Chinese actress Fan Bingbing at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Xu is known for his designs that are rich with traditional Chinese elements.
“First and foremost, I chose a cheongsam design because the cheongsam is the traditional clothing for Chinese women and it went well with Arabella reciting Tang Dynasty (618-907) poems,” Xu told the Beijing News.
“Pearl pink matches Arabella’s skin… it is also a color loved by many little girls,” he noted.
The dress was delicately embroidered using traditional Chinese craftsmanship and decorated with roses and butterflies. According to Xu, the roses symbolize Arabella’s nationality since the rose is the US’ national flower, while the butterflies, which are often seen in traditional Chinese paintings, highlight the girl’s passion and energy.
The Chinese designer said he was inspired by the first granddaughter’s previous video in which she sang in Chinese and recited some ancient Chinese poems.
“I found her a lively, beautiful and sweet girl with fair skin and a warm smile. The first impression that I had of her via her video inspired me,” Xu said.
The designer also talked about the evening dress he designed for Arabella. Also pearl-pink, the dress is a mix of Eastern and Western styles with a cheongsam top and puff skirt bottom, making it a good fit for Arabella’s image as a little envoy between the two countries, he said.
“By changing the dress’ bottom half into a puff skirt, it becomes a lovely East-West design that fits her age,” Xu told the Beijing News.
A challenging task
Approached by Ivanka Trump’s team as early as in late August, Xu said he was recommended by one of his foreign friends to the team and it is in late September that he was chosen as the cloth designer for the mother and daughter on their trip to China.
“Unfortunately we got news a few days ago that Ivanka cancelled her trip to China, but Arabella wore my design and is loved by many – I feel honored,” Xu told the Beijing News on Friday, saying that he feels this is meaningful as he helped weave the friendship between the two countries with his design.
According to a feedback from Ivanka Trump’s office, Arabella loves the dress and “thinks it is very beautiful,” Xu said.
As for the requirements set by the first daughter’s team, Xu told the Beijing News that they simply asked for designs with Chinese elements.
“The team sent me their sizes and their schedule in China for reference. Besides that, there were no other specific requirements,” Xu recalled.
According to the designer, the original plan was to design outfits for the mother and daughter for five occasions: arriving at the airport, business scenarios, big evening parties, small evening parties and travel wear.
“According to the rules of haute couture, a designer has to provide two to three choices for clients. As such I designed 13 outfits for Ivanka and five for Arabella since according to the schedule she [Invanka] was to attend two to three events,” he said.
After drafting the designs, Xu sent them via mail to the team and they chose five outfits that they liked. This left Xu and his team just a month and a half to finish the outfits.
The designer told the Beijing News that the most challenging part of the task was finishing the embroidery in such a short time. The sophisticated embroidery design on the chosen outfits took Xu and his team nearly a month to complete.
Besides the embroidery, Xu also used traditional yunjin brocade fabric – a type of silk woven entirely by hand – for the outfits. In Xu’s opinion, embroidery and yunjin fabric are representative symbols of traditional Chinese culture.
“For instance, the yunjin fabric was given as gifts to the royal families of the Yuan (1279-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties; they are the essence of Chinese silk art,” Xu said.
The designer also revealed his designs for Ivanka Trump, which include a red cheongsam decorated with peonies and tulips for her airport debut and another cheongsam beautifully embroidered with a lotus and phoenix pattern.
Though many of Xu’s designs have been applauded by his clients and international fashion circles, others have criticized his designs as being “too much” when it comes to adding Chinese elements. Xu said that he understands why some don’t care for his designs since everyone has their own ideas about beauty.
“Beauty in my mind is about magnificence and nobility, so that’s why I use this style of design,” he noted.
Designer Laurence Xu Top: Arabella Kushner