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10:00 am HKT
Jan 9, 2015

Culture

Q&A: Fashion Maven Anna Wintour on China’s Sartorial Future

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    Anna Wintour, Hong Kong tycoon Silas Chou and media maven Wendi Deng pictured in Beijing on Jan. 8, 2015.
    Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Does China have style? Fashion goddess Anna Wintour thinks so.

    The famed Vogue magazine editor dropped into Beijing Thursday to hype a new China-focused fashion and art exhibit, “China: Through the Looking Glass,” opening at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibit, opening in May, features imperial and early 20th-Century Chinese-inspired dresses — from haute couture to ready to-wear — from such designers as Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren and Alexander McQueen.

    Ms. Wintour and Andrew Bolton, curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, say the exhibit will display more than 130 pieces and feature film snippets from Chinese film director Wong Kar-wai, highlighting cinematic and pop-culture influence on Chinese art and fashion.

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    Ms. Wintour and Mr. Bolton spoke with China Real Time about Chinese style and the impact of Chinese consumers on fashion. Edited excerpts:

    WSJ: How are Chinese consumers influencing fashion globally today?

    Ms. Wintour: Western design houses have been exploring China in terms of investment for well over a decade. It has been a huge audience for most of the European designers and I actually feel that the Americans have been a little bit slow to explore China in a way that they could have a little more aggressively. I think there are a number of reasons that some of them didn’t.  They may not have been entirely successful with attempts in the past.

    Because our own market in the U.S. is so huge that they haven’t felt the necessity to expand yet in China. But I sincerely believe that’s changing. The success of someone like Michael Kors here has been extraordinary. The European houses, whether led by Kering or LVMH , has been absolutely extraordinary.

    Europeans were just here earlier and through necessity they needed to expand and they intelligently looked to China.

    Mr. Bolton: You see capsule collections from Chanel, Dior and Valentino that are specifically aimed at Chinese audiences and it’s very clear that the European designers have been much more aggressive in terms of engagement with the Chinese consumer.

    WSJ: Do you see a growing appetite in the U.S. or Europe for Chinese design?

    Ms. Wintour: I don’t feel that Chinese designers have reached the level of prominence that European or American designers have, but we’ve noticed in fashion schools in the U.S. and in England and we’ve seen how much the makeup of the students in the classes have changed there in the last five to 10 years. And so many of the students are Chinese and obviously, they will represent the future of Chinese fashion.

    I’m sure within the next generation, we’ll see the emergence of Chinese designers on a global scale.

    WSJ: Are there any Chinese designers you have your eyes on?

    Mr. Bolton: I find interesting a woman named Ma Ke. She was very early in engaging recycled materials. She’s a designer who is deeply philosophical and approaches her work from a Buddhist and Confucianist perspective. She was the first Chinese designer to be accepted by the Paris Haute Couture Week to show her work. She had an extraordinary performance called “Wu Yong,” which means useless. It was a deeply poetic collection.

    Ms. Wintour: Ma Ke is similar to Rei Kawakubo, who led the way in Japan in having her own sense of fashion.

    WSJ: What is Chinese style today?

    Mr. Bolton: I think it’s constantly evolving. When the West thinks of Chinese style, they often look to symbols like the Qipao or the Mao suit. It’s usually very historical. It tells a story of Western tailoring techniques.

    Ms. Wintour: I think of young Chinese women today as being incredibly modern and are taking a lot from Western style and tailoring. I see a lot of women in these great-looking sneakers, as though they are almost very influenced by sport.

    WSJ: In putting together this exhibit and in coming here, what has been most surprising to you?

    Mr. Bolton: I haven’t been here since 1997, so it has changed dramatically. It has speeded through modernity and you see it through Shanghai in Pudong. Even here in Beijing, you see it in architecture, with buildings like the Rem Koolhaas building.

    Ms. Wintour: It is an eclectic mix of a city and it’s so surprising architecturally. You feel there’s so much energy.

    – Laurie Burkitt

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