Through the preser­va­tion of an­cient savoir-faire and the em­pow­er­ment of lo­cal ar­ti­sans, haute cou­ture of­fers so­cial and cul­tural value, writes ruby verid­i­ano

Prestige Hong Kong - - CONTENTS -

Stew­ards of Cul­ture

HAUTE COU­TURE’S REP­U­TA­TION is one of deca­dent beauty and oth­er­worldly glam­our, rep­re­sent­ing the high­est ech­e­lon of fash­ion lux­ury. It’s char­ac­terised by the use of elab­o­rate em­bel­lish­ments such as em­broi­dery, feathers, pleat­ing and spe­cial ac­ces­sories, metic­u­lously sewn by hand on the finest ma­te­ri­als. Al­ways made-to­order, each dress takes a min­i­mum of 1,000 hours to com­plete, with some tak­ing three years or more.

But beyond the sur­face abil­ity to pro­duce awe-in­spir­ing dresses of top­most work­man­ship, cou­turi­ers also play a deeper, more mean­ing­ful role: by pre­serv­ing time-honoured savoir-faire and tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship, haute cou­ture can breathe new life into dy­ing art forms and cul­tural relics. In this way, cou­turi­ers not only rep­re­sent the van­guard of el­e­gance, but they can also be stew­ards of cul­ture.

When cou­turi­ers cre­ate from this in­ten­tion, one can feel the soul of a dress.

At Yumi Kat­sura’s pre­sen­ta­tion dur­ing Paris Haute Cou­ture

Week, the emo­tion in the room was pal­pa­ble. Kat­sura, a vet­eran Ja­panese cou­turier who was trained in France, merges Ja­panese tech­niques with the “French touch” to rein­vent tra­di­tion, re­sult­ing in exquisitely printed gowns and mod­ern ki­monos.

Sadly, the ki­mono, de­spite be­ing one of the most em­blem­atic sym­bols of Ja­pan, is in dan­ger of ex­tinc­tion in just a sin­gle gen­er­a­tion. Its slow and elab­o­rate cre­ation process (com­prised of 30 separate steps) is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to pass on to a new gen­er­a­tion ac­cus­tomed to speed, and the age­ing of ar­ti­sans means that it is sus­cep­ti­ble to fad­ing away. The de­mand for Western fash­ion, com­bined with Ja­pan’s eco­nomic down­turn, has con­trib­uted to a plum­met­ing de­mand for ki­monos, in­creas­ing the ur­gency to in­no­vate the art form to achieve mod­ern rel­e­vance.

Ow­ing to de­sign­ers such as Madame Kat­sura, how­ever, the ki­mono finds a new home on haute cou­ture run­ways, where it can be shared with an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence. The ki­mono is rein­tro­duced in a sim­pli­fied ver­sion to serve as evening and bri­dal wear for cos­mopoli­tan women, giv­ing it a more ac­ces­si­ble, high­fash­ion for­mat.

More­over, Kat­sura im­ple­ments in­tri­cate, cen­turies-old tech­niques such as yuzen dye­ing (an elab­o­rate process us­ing rice paste mix­ture), shi­bori dye­ing (indigo dye), Nishi­jin weav­ing and Ja­panese em­broi­dery in her cre­ations, re­sult­ing in the most pres­ti­gious qual­ity of Ja­panese tex­tile crafts­man­ship. To­day, Kat­sura works with lo­cal ar­ti­sans who spe­cialise in th­ese tech­niques, which his­tor­i­cally were re­served for royal and aris­to­cratic fam­i­lies, with each dress tak­ing up to six months to com­plete.

Although the process is long and or­nate, the de­signer doesn’t mind. “I have been de­sign­ing for 53 years,” Kat­sura says. “I have stud­ied tra­di­tional tech­niques from all over the world. How­ever, I think that the tra­di­tional Ja­panese tech­nique has the most artis­tic value among all of them. So I con­tinue in this way.”

Mean­while, on the other side of the world, a Le­banese-Amer­i­can cou­turier has ded­i­cated his life’s work to making cou­ture cre­ations with re­spect for an­cient em­broi­dery tra­di­tions of his home­land. Rami Kadi fuses his dual cul­tural her­itage to­gether to cre­ate dresses that bridge East and West.

“I feel it’s im­por­tant to pay trib­ute to the savoir-faire that’s been used across his­tory in many coun­tries,” Kadi says. “Th­ese tech­niques are part of fash­ion his­tory. I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by the art of em­broi­dery, and its in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties to em­bel­lish a dress. To em­broi­der a dress is like paint­ing it with sub­tle del­i­cate­ness.”

Em­broi­dery in Le­banon is prac­tised among all fam­i­lies, re­gard­less of class or geog­ra­phy, and has been a part of the re­gion’s cul­ture since the Ot­toman Em­pire. It’s used to make com­mon items such as veils and un­der­gar­ments, as well as house­hold items like cur­tains and bed cov­ers.

To­day, Kadi em­ploys cross stitch, knot­ted stitch and chain stitch em­broi­dery to make his

im­pec­ca­bly de­tailed dresses, but he adds a mod­ern twist by us­ing un­ex­pected ma­te­ri­als – floures­cent threads, foiled se­quins and baked se­quins. More­over, he re­pur­poses meth­ods: for ex­am­ple, he uses a tech­nique tra­di­tion­ally used to weave a chair and ap­plies it to make a dress.

The ar­ti­sans he works with are of­ten sur­prised by his fu­tur­is­tic take on tra­di­tion, but soon learn to mix old and new. Ac­cord­ing to Kadi, many of his new ar­ti­sans come from Syria, flee­ing the war to re­set­tle in Le­banon. Through his ate­lier, he’s able to of­fer them a valu­able job as they tran­si­tion into a new life.

“We’re train­ing young and old ar­ti­sans in an­cient crafts,” says Kadi. “In my opin­ion, the best way to in­volve the new gen­er­a­tion is to show them that we de­sign­ers are us­ing th­ese tech­niques in our every­day work, and that they’re es­sen­tial in un­der­stand­ing the ba­sics of de­sign. It’s very im­por­tant to trans­mit this savoir-faire.”

Look­ing fur­ther east­ward, a de­signer is re­defin­ing and re­viv­ing the wardrobe of an em­pire. Guo

Pei is con­sid­ered China’s first homegrown cou­turier, with an aes­thetic and ethos that’s rooted in her cul­ture. Her loy­alty to her coun­try is ev­i­dent in her de­signs, man­i­fest­ing it­self in tra­di­tional tal­is­mans such as dragons and phoenixes, as well as cre­ations that in­clude a dress in­spired by blue­and-white Chi­nese ce­ram­ics.

Guo was born dur­ing the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion, when Mao Ze­dong purged the coun­try of fin­ery, in­di­vid­u­al­ity, ideas and cul­ture. For years, Chi­nese dress was drab and colour­less – Pei her­self grew up with monochro­matic, home­made clothes, only be­ing in­tro­duced to the fan­tasy of silk and the idea of beau­ti­ful dresses through her grand­mother’s sto­ries about life be­fore the rev­o­lu­tion.

Chiu-Ti Jansen, founder of the me­dia com­pany China Hap­pen­ings, said it best when she told The New Yorker mag­a­zine that Pei’s cre­ations rep­re­sent “a vis­ually deprived na­tion’s pent-up long­ing for im­pe­rial grandeur”.

Mao’s purge in­cluded much of China’s tra­di­tional arts and crafts, in­clud­ing em­broi­dery, of which China is home to at least five dif­fer­ent styles, much of which was erased dur­ing the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion. Guo has had to learn tra­di­tional em­broi­dery tech­niques de­spite the cen­tury-wide gap in the craft’s his­tory.

“Em­broi­dery grad­u­ally be­came my most ex­pres­sive way of de­sign since I find it so ex­quis­ite and beau­ti­ful,” Guo says. “This be­came a suit­able way for me to ex­press my sig­na­ture style. When I trav­elled to find in­spi­ra­tion, I found that there are em­broi­dery contexts ev­ery­where in the world. Of course, as a Chi­nese de­signer, it’s my re­spon­si­bil­ity to bring Chi­nese cul­ture to the world stage.”

To­day, her use of or­nate em­broi­dery and quintessen­tially Chi­nese aes­thet­ics have estab­lished her as a mas­ter cou­turier and teacher, with a de­sire to pass on her craft. In 2012, she estab­lished a bri­dal-gown pro­ject that teaches tra­di­tional em­broi­dery tech­niques so that younger de­sign­ers can learn the craft once again, en­abling it to have a last­ing im­pact.

“When you en­gage more in de­sign, you’ll find that

crafts­man­ship is a crys­talli­sa­tion of hu­man wis­dom in­stead of merely be­long­ing to one na­tion,” she says. “Crafts­man­ship should be bet­ter pre­served, con­tin­ued and in­her­ited. It’s a sus­tain­able goal to find a space and way for this tra­di­tional crafts­man­ship to be passed on.”

It’s re­fresh­ing to see that younger, ready-to-wear de­sign­ers, such as Kate Han and Ge­orge Feng of the Mukzin brand, also em­brace a pas­sion for tra­di­tion. The de­sign­ers con­nected over their shared ex­pe­ri­ence of study­ing abroad, and re­turned to China dis­ap­pointed by the over­all lack of ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Chi­nese cul­tural tra­di­tions.

“Most of the clothes we wear day to day are com­modi­ties,” Han says, “and they prob­a­bly don’t have a chance to be ex­hib­ited in a mu­seum one day. They’re more like one-time prod­ucts, lack­ing both dura­bil­ity and a sense of beauty. The more fast-mov­ing in­for­ma­tion we are bom­barded with, the less at­ten­tion we pay to the tra­di­tional cul­tures and hand­i­crafts that have long sup­ported our progress.”

Estab­lished in 2014, the young brand also demon­strates a mis­sion to re­vi­talise Chi­nese crafts­man­ship in a mod­ern con­text, fo­cus­ing on Xin­jiang em­broi­dery as its core tech­nique. The Mukzin team went to Hami in the heart­land of Xin­jiang Prov­ince, and estab­lished the crafts­man work­shop for the Qian­huix­i­u­ni­ang­tuan (Chi­nese em­broi­dery ar­ti­sans), to help bring this ob­scure craft to light. The ar­ti­sans are all over 50 years old, and now earn 20 times more than they did be­fore. As a re­sult, par­ents see the value of the craft, and are now more open to al­low­ing their chil­dren to study and in­herit it.

“I ad­mire the cul­ture and his­tory of China. I don’t want to see a fu­ture in which all of th­ese valu­able trea­sures are ne­glected,” Han says.

In a world that thrives on in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and fast fash­ion, we risk di­min­ish­ing not only qual­ity, but also the abil­ity to up­lift, ad­vance, and pass on cul­ture. As Han points out, with­out an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for slow fash­ion, this gen­er­a­tion may not have any­thing worth ex­hibit­ing in the mu­se­ums of the fu­ture.

De­spite the temp­ta­tion to suc­cumb to speed, it’s im­per­a­tive to honour the time it takes to make some­thing last­ing and pro­found. It en­sures not only the preser­va­tion of beauty, but also the en­rich­ment of a civil­i­sa­tion. In their roles as guardians of cul­ture, cou­turi­ers are the pro­tec­tors of tra­di­tion and savoir-faire, out­fit­ting us with a rich cul­ture that pays trib­ute to where it came from.

This kind of de­sign phi­los­o­phy is un­mis­tak­ably pal­pa­ble: it is, with­out doubt, the soul of a dress.



Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Hong Kong

© PressReader. All rights reserved.