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Sue Leigh Waugh
- Published on Amazon.com
"As one of the most economically promising countries in the world today, China is attracting more attention from the international communities in all aspects. But very little is known about Chinese fashion, although the country is the largest clothing manufacturing center in the world".
The history of 20th century Chinese fashion has been as turbulent and dramatic as every other aspect of Chinese culture. Following an explosion of creativity during the Republican Era, a series of crises, occupations, wars, civil wars, natural disasters and revolution would bring the development Chinese fashion to a standstill for nearly 60 years. Author, lecturer and Shanghai-based fashion designer Christine Tsui has performed an invaluable service to students of contemporary Chinese fashion - in fact to everyone interested in fashion - by providing the first comprehensive overview in English outlining the growth of China's fashion industry from the Pre-Liberation Era to the 21st century.
For most Westerners, knowledge of Chinese fashion has been limited to a handful of lavishly illustrated coffee table books of Qing Dynasty Dragon robes and form-hugging Qipaos. If pressed to name a single contemporary Chinese designer (who actually lives and WORKS in China), most students of fashion design would be at a loss. Tsui's narrative of the birth of China's fashion industry not only seeks to remedy this critical ignorance but delivers a historical page-turner! From Hong Xiang, China's first international fashion firm (founded in Shanghai in 1917) to Wang Yi-Yang's anti-fashion Cha Gang (Tea Mug) fashion label - Tsui's account is seamless!
The development of a full-fledged homegrown fashion culture encountered numerous obstacles - both political and societal. Despite Deng Xiaoping's reforms, China's garment manufacturers were exclusively State Owned Enterprises, governed by multiple ministries. During this time, there were no schools that offered any courses in fashion design - "designers" applied for courses under the Department of Dying and Weaving and were evaluated based on their painting and drawing abilities while students gifted with tailoring skills were assigned to courses in "Clothing Engineering." On a societal basis, western fashion was embroiled in a politically-charged love-hate relationship; loved by many young people who secretly yearned for western goods and reviled by many of the older generation who found the progvactive, sexually frank fashions seen on the catwalk as an offense to traditional Chinese modesty. Indeed, during these early years (the late 70s to mid-80s) all of China did not even have a single professional modeling agency.
Tsui focuses on the life and work of nine contemporary, post-Mao Chinese fashion designers: Wang Xinyuan, Wu Haiyan, Liu Yang, Frankie Xiefeng, Ma Ke, Liang Zi, Wang Yi-Yang, Lu Kun and Ji Ji.
If there is any fault to this book, it is because it is an academic text: while including more than 150 photographs, all are in black and white. The book has a simple, reader-friendly layout: Each historic period - Pre-Liberation, New China, the Cultural Revolution, and the three decades since China's opening (the 80s, 90s and the new century) - are provided an overview focusing on the major developments in China's fashion industry. Following this historic context, each of the featured designers receives a summary of their portfolio, awards, and critical acclaim, an extended biographical sketch and a brief dialogue with the author.
The first generation of designers were true pioneers. Not only did they have to deal with the egos and intrigues for which the fashion world is famous, but also they had to find their own way in an industry that up until, that time, had not existed. Their tenacity - even heroism - is truly inspiring, as they endured stunning setbacks, betrayals, bankruptcies, crooked partners and jealous rivals. Even with their all of their talent and resolve, these gifted designers still struggle against the relentless march of globalization. The continuing economic recession and the general market contraction for haute couture have presented additional challenges to maintaining locally produced brands and labels, and sad to say, at least of couple of the designers Tsui profiled (Ma Ke and Ji Ji) have already left the runway to focus on creating art and design in other media.
In her conclusion, Tsui writes: "Chinese fashion designers have dreamed of establishing designer labels in Western markets since the first generation of designers became prominent. Yet, despite this prominence in the inner fashion circles of China, the designers had trouble breaking into the mainstream Western market." Will "Made in China" one day enjoy the same prestige as the fashion centers Paris and Tokyo now enjoy? Only time will tell.
All-in-all, Christine Tsui has done a valuable service in presenting a succinct, and entertaining - albeit, highly-selective - introduction to contemporary Chinese fashion. No fashion library should be without this important little book. Now - what we need are a few more over-sized collectors' editions so we can see these fashions in full color!