Emerging Chinese designer Huishan Zhang is redefining Chinese fashion with his combination of Western modernity and aesthetics with oriental craftsmanship.
Zhang grew up in Qingdao and left his hometown at the age of 17. He studied fashion design and pattern cutting at Central Saint Martins in London, where he was handpicked by Delphine Arnault, daughter of LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault, for an internship at Christian Dior.
“I feel very lucky to have met so many kind people, to have such amazing opportunities. When I was at Dior I felt so alive, I made sure I touched everything from the couture department!” says Zhang with enthusiasm.
“I’m Chinese, I speak “Chin-glish.”I find a lot of Chinese elements very beautiful and I believe they can be reinvented and become relevant to our modern living."
Although you can sense his youthful passion and energy from his warm smile, he is calm and composed as he sits in front of me wearing a navy jacket with multi-lapels.
“It’s Yohji [Yamamoto]!” he tells me. “I always wear Yohji for an interview because I love his spirit, one of his famous quotes is: ‘You have to listen to the fabric.’ And it totally inspired me!”
Yamamoto’s Oriental sensibility has always been a source of inspiration for Zhang. Although he has been living and working in London for the past 10 years, he’s still very much in touch with his roots and remains fascinated by traditional Chinese culture and heritage.
“I’m Chinese, I speak “Chin-glish.” I find a lot of Chinese elements very beautiful and I believe they can be reinvented and become relevant to our modern living,” he says.
His philosophy can be clearly seen in his collections. Traditional Chinese Cheongsams are made into diaphanous dresses in silk organza, giving them an air of romance. The tailoring is clean and sleek to keep it fresh and urban. He also incorporates delicate lace and embroidery as decoration. The lace is made in a specialist studio in his hometown of Qingdao, which has been producing couture lace for many years, while the embroidery is from Suzhou, a region where the dragon-robe originates. One dress is covered in matte and shiny silver and gold sequins forming a pattern of dragon. Zhang is clearly redefining the East-meets-West look by giving it a whole new dimension and a much deeper meaning.
“For me, the dragon motif is not cliché, it’s beautiful and I use subtle colour to represent it and it make it modern and relevant. The lace has a Western couture quality but it has the Chinese peonies motif. Everything is about “Yin and Yang”. There is such rich heritage and craftsmanship in Chinese history and I would like to introduce it slowly, little by little, to the West and to the modern customers in China too,” he says.
While most luxury brands are focusing on selling in China, Zhang’s wants to go one step further and open high-end, luxury manufacturers in the region.
“Manufacturers are not used to making high fashion, but as people are more educated, they will understand fine things. It’s down to supply and demand – Chinese do have some amazing skills and I would like to be proud if them. I’d like them to feel proud of themselves too!”
Watch this space.
Huishan Zhang couture and SS12 ready-to-wear exclusively available at JOYCE in Hong Kong