Christine Tsui, Visiting Researcher, Parsons The New School for Design & Dorothy Ko, Professor of History, Barnard College discussed the development of Fashion designers and Labels in Contemporary China at the Brown Bag last Thursday.
Her lecture began with the first generation of Chinese designers, who emerged in the late 1980s and drew inspiration from couture designers, like Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, and Yves Saint Laurent. Tsui asserted their designs were highly infused with “national identity” and Chinese elements. One of the most influential designers coming out of this generation was Frankie Xie, whose collections appeared at Paris Fashion Week in 2006. After talking to this generation of designers in interviews for her book, she sensed they were isolated and disconnected from the market and world. Their fame came from design contests, performances, and shows, so they never developed a “concrete market foundation.” Without this foundation, they had difficulty selling their products and faced constant threats of piracy.
The second generation was born in the 1960s and 1970s. They took a more philosophical approach to design, inspired by Japanese, Belgium, and European designers, like Yoji Yamamoto. They were much more in touch with the market and daily lives of their customers, one reason they are still famous today. Their designs combined a “Chinese spirit” with Western fashion “norms,” often mixing Chinese elements with Western cuts. She asserted this was the best generation for Chinese designers because “it is the best time for economic development” and the designers “all have very good partners” to help grow their business. Despite this positive design environment, they faced threats from online sellers, piracy, and commercialization of their designs.
The youngest generation of designers, the third generation, was born in the 1970s and 1980s. Their business model is shaped by technology and outline retail outlets, while their design style is shaped by independent international designers. She suggested they still incorporate some Chinese elements, but these elements were less apparent than the designs of the first and second generations. They face an increasingly competitive and saturated domestic and international market, along with rising manufacturing costs and piracy concerns.
She concluded her presentation by stating the most fundamental challenge for Chinese designers – branding, or adding cultural value. Tsui suggested Chinese designers are now in the period of transition between creating “material value” and “cultural value.”
Audio for the lecture on iTunes U can be found: here.