For many young Chinese, traditional is back in vogue:
對 中國的很多年輕人來說﹐傳統重回流行舞台﹕近年來中國快速發展的經濟使居民購買力大大增強﹐中國在世界經濟中不斷提高的地位也使國人油然而生自豪感﹐他們 對代表中國傳統的元素如飢似渴。剛富起來的中國人對古老的胡同和傳統的四閤院進行了修繕﹐並紛紛移居其中。不僅如此﹐在國際拍賣會上﹐中國人也在以大手筆 買下明朝的瓷器和中國古董﹐拍價不斷創出新高。
在服裝界﹐這種回歸以兩種截然不同的方式體現出來﹕有些年輕人熱衷於傳統服裝的現代演繹﹐ 比如傳統唐裝的再現﹔有些年輕人則喜歡點綴有中國元素的西方服裝風格﹐比如配有中山裝衣領和精緻絲繡內裡、裁剪合身的外套。這種服裝品位上的改變為那些能 “古為今用”的設計師們帶來了無限商機。
上海的年輕設計師黃夢綺(Denise)親眼目睹了近年來這種品位上的變化。四年前﹐她在上海著名的外灘開了自己的第一家專賣店﹐當時她的顧客幾乎清一色 都是外國人。這些顧客喜歡她設計的時髦拖鞋、包和圍巾﹐這些物品都是用中國絲綢織成﹐還常常用魚、鳥或竹子等中國傳統刺繡圖案進行裝點。相反﹐中國顧客卻 不喜歡這些。
黃夢綺說﹐有些中國人走進他們店﹐四處看看﹐然後對她說﹐“這些都是外國人喜歡的設計。”這也反映出了西方著名服裝品牌常常 會面臨的一項挑戰──西方人喜歡﹐中國人卻不喜歡。比如﹐2003年古奇(Gucci)和阿瑪尼(Armani)等推出了以中國為主題的服裝系列﹐在世界 上產生了巨大反響﹐但在中國卻受到冷落。
不 過﹐在穿著中國傳統服裝時﹐必須要把握住時尚與過於誇張之間的微妙界限。42歲的Annie Zhang是上海的一位風險投資家和藝術品收藏家。她說﹐如果穿上一件廉價旗袍﹐你可能會看起來像個餐館服務員。她和朋友出游或是參加聚會的時候﹐幾乎總 是穿著包含中國元素的服飾。
她 和朋友是台灣服裝品牌夏姿(Shiatzy Chen)的忠實粉絲。該品牌的創辦人王陳彩霞現年56歲﹐常被譽為是“中國的香奈爾”。Annie Zhang認為夏姿非常擅長適度地使用中國元素。比如﹐一件用硬挺的黑色面料製作的夏姿長外套中﹐唯一體現中國傳統風格的地方就是一朵簡單的繡花。 Annie Zhang買的另外一件套裝看起來完全屬於西式﹐只有荷葉領體現了中國元素。她說﹐她不喜歡中國傳統的盤扣﹐太中式了﹔而夏姿的服裝常常使用看不見的暗 扣。
基 於中國文化設計服裝可能並不容易﹐而且即使某位設計師的設計廣受歡迎﹐保持住回頭客仍可能是項巨大挑戰。中國著名奢侈品牌“上海灘”(Shanghai Tang)就是經過挫折後才體會到了這一點。1994年﹐服裝定製品牌“上海灘”在香港推出。1996年﹐該品牌開始推出成衣﹐這些用鮮艷絲綢製作的中國 傳統服裝吸引了富有的遊客﹐主要是西方遊客。1997年“上海灘”在紐約開了一家專賣店﹐不過其服裝上使用的小裝飾品卻過於誇張廉價﹐甚至在中國城就可以 買到。這家店因此陷入困境﹐開業不到兩年就不得不搬家﹐店面也小了很多。“上海灘”認識到必須不斷創新﹐才能與流行的品位保持同步。
“上海灘”駐香港的執行主席雷富逸(Raphael le Masne de Chermont)說﹐我們的服裝從完全的中式演變成了些許的中式﹐在服裝設計上更加微妙﹐所以服裝款式比過去更現代、更時髦。
In the Mood for Love ... and Qipaos
But now Ms. Li, a television producer, spends her free time going in and out of dress shops in Shanghai -- she's on the hunt for the perfect qipao to wear on special occasions. And she's not the only one: As Ms. Li goes from shop to shop, she is surprised to find many young Chinese women buying qipaos for parties. The dresses are a far cry from the ones her grandmother used to wear.
'The patterns are so modern and the fabric colors are so bright. And you can choose the length of the qipao according to the occasion,' she says. Long for formal occasions, above-the-knee for cocktails or drinks on Friday. 'It is just so trendy.'
For many young Chinese, traditional is back in vogue: China's sizzling economic growth in recent years has given consumers a sudden lift in purchasing power, and the pride that's come with China's emergence as a big player in the global economy is creating a hunger for things that represent their roots. Newly rich Chinese are restoring old hutongs, or family courtyard homes, and living in them. And they're setting new records on Ming-era porcelain and Chinese antiquities sold at international auctions.
In fashion, this look backward is manifesting itself in two different ways: Young people are snapping up modern takes on old styles, like traditional tangzhuang jackets. Or they're splashing money on Western styles with Chinese embellishments -- fitted coats with just a hint of a Mao collar and an elaborate embroidered silk lining. The shift in taste is translating into big business for designers who can pull the Chinese culture out of the past and interpret it for today.
As a young designer from Shanghai, Denise Huang Mengqi has witnessed the recent change in taste firsthand. When she opened her first boutique in Shanghai's prestigious Bund area four years ago, her customers were almost exclusively Westerners. They liked her modern slippers, bags and scarves, which are sewn from Chinese silks and often adorned with embroideries of traditional Chinese motifs such as fish, birds or bamboo. Chinese shoppers, on the other hand, didn't.
'Some Chinese would walk into the store, look around, and tell me, 'This design is for foreigners,'' says Ms. Huang, reflecting a common challenge major Western fashion houses such as Gucci and Armani faced in 2003 when they launched a line of Chinese-themed clothing that made a splash around the world but got snubbed in China.
Today, about 40% of Ms. Huang's business comes from local Chinese shoppers, many of them lawyers and bankers in their 20s, 30s and 40s. 'I hear fewer people calling it traditional now, and more of them see it as a fashionable item,' she says.
When it comes to wearing Chinese styles, however, there's a fine line between being stylish and looking like you're dressed in a costume. 'If you wear a qipao that's cheap, you risk looking like a waitress at a restaurant,' says Annie Zhang, a 42-year-old venture capitalist and art collector from Shanghai who almost always wears outfits designed with Chinese elements when she goes out with friends or to parties.
Unlike those of Ms. Li and her fellow shoppers, Ms. Zhang's tastes have evolved since she wore her first qipao to a ball five years ago. Instead of traditional dresses, she now looks for modern styles with just a hint of Asian influence.
She and her friends are big fans of the Taiwanese fashion house Shiatzy Chen, whose founder Wang Chen Tsai-shia, 56, is often referred to as the Chanel of China. Ms. Zhang thinks Shiatzy Chen is good at keeping the Chinese elements understated. For example, in a long coat from Shiatzy Chen made with a stiff black fabric, the only hint of Chinese traditional style is a simple embroidered flower. And a suit Ms. Zhang bought looks entirely Western except for its lily-pad like broad collar. 'I don't like clothes with the traditional knotted Chinese buttons. That's too Chinese,' she says. 'Shiatzy Chen suits often use clip buttons so you can't see them.'
In building a brand based on Chinese culture, Ms. Wang Chen says 'it's important that you keep up with the times. You can't separate yourself from the current tide.' For example, she says, 'a lot of people wear qipao or mianao, but just making a qipao or a mianao won't do it.' (A mianao is a traditional cotton quilted or padded jacket.)
Ms. Wang Chen's original line of clothes, in fact, wasn't Chinese. When she launched her label in 1978 in Taiwan, it was a line of Western designs. But after two years, she realized she couldn't compete with the big Western fashion houses if she was simply chasing their trends.
'I thought that if I used my own culture, the Chinese culture, then I could advance quickly,' she says. After Ms. Wang Chen incorporated more Chinese elements into her designs, she says her sales tripled in one year.
She opened her first boutique in mainland China in 2003. Today, Ms. Wang Chen has six boutiques in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin and Qingdao and plans to boost the number to 40 by 2010. She won't disclose figures, but says sales in Shanghai have more than tripled in the past four years.
Chinese-culture-based couture can be tricky, and even when a designer has a hit, keeping the crowds coming back for more can be a challenge. Shanghai Tang learned this lesson the hard way. The quintessential Chinese luxury brand was launched in 1994 as a custom-tailoring business in Hong Kong. In 1996, the store began to make ready-to-wear fashions -- traditional Chinese styles in brightly colored silks -- to appeal to well-heeled, mostly Western, tourists. But when the company opened a New York boutique in 1997, its array of clothes and knickknacks smacked of costumery and worse, tchotchkes one could buy in Chinatown. The store struggled -- less than two years after it opened, it moved to a much smaller space. The company learned it had to evolve to stay relevant to modern tastes.
Since then, Shanghai Tang has revamped and distanced itself from traditional qipao designs and classic tangzhuang jackets. The company still has a shop in New York -- it is moving again and will reopen later this year -- as well as boutiques in Europe and Dubai. In Asia, besides Hong Kong, it has shops in Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, among other cities.
'We evolved from utterly Chinese to subtly Chinese,' says Raphael le Masne de Chermont, Shanghai Tang's executive chairman, based in Hong Kong. 'We are much more subtle in the way we design our clothes. So we are embracing a more modern and more fashionista (look) than we used to.'
Six years ago, when Mr. le Masne took over, qipaos and Mao jackets made up the bulk of Shanghai Tang's sales -- mostly to Westerners. Few Chinese bought clothes in the shops. Today, about 40% to 45% of its shoppers world-wide are ethnic Chinese, says Mr. le Masne, compared with just 20% six years ago. And those traditional qipaos and tangzhuangs? They make up just 4% of the company's sales, he says.
The new Shanghai Tang look has included brocaded parkas with fur-trimmed hoods, tweed skirts festooned with crystals in a dragon design and cardigans embellished with pieces of jade.
For the past three collections, says Mr. le Masne, 'we have started evolving toward a very modern vision of China.' Shanghai Tang is 'being a little bit of the torchbearer of China on the move.'