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Grace Chen: Designs Bridging Zeitgeist

Johnny WANG 2018-10-01 16:25

Fashion that interprets a unique understanding of contemporary China.

From a certain perspective, Chen’s design ethos is a process of art creation. At the beginning, she “was in a fog and saw nothing clearly, but gradually found a feeling, where after things became clearer and clearer, and finally the object of creation sprang into life.” This indicates her starting point of creation is usually an abstract idea, “I don’t rush to a shape after seeing a flower or a building, and I seldom obtain ideas from any visual experience,” she said.

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The mechanism of inducing inspiration from abstract ideas is rather humanistic. Then comes the question: what’s the meaning of fashion garments to the wearer? It’s a cloth to cover one’s body, or  protection against the elements, or a language to expressing personalities? Like languages, fashion has grammar and connotations – grammar is the form while connotations infuse the language with exact meanings. 

As for “what to express”, the style of fashion is an extremely vague concept worth consideration. Like the late fashion designer Gianni Versace once said, “don’t follow the trend, don’t let fashion decide you, but decide who you would like to be, how you would like to wear and live.” Ultimately, what do fashion styles try to express? For Grace Chen and almost any other top designer, the answer is “attitude”.Take her latest “Solitude” series for example, the colour choice and profile features are exotic. “What does exoticism have to do with solitude? Well actually ‘Solitude’ punctuates the relationship to our inner selves.” Chen regards the relationship with the inner selves as critical to contemporary life, “we spend too much time alone because the Internet enables us to solve problems by ourselves.” And right in this environment, Chen thinks it’s time to consider the idea between “self and self”. She says, “I’m quite attracted to the feeling of solitude. I mean, the idea of being alone but not lonely, which is about freedom and letting go of myself.” 版面 2.jpg

Then she jumps to ways of expressing attitude. “Naturally, the first thing that came to my mind is how to express the conception. In this series I designed Middle Eastern-style bloomers, headscarves, and robes of lace, all targeted to create the feeling of freedom. Being alone is a relaxing act, which could happen in any situation, naturally and freely.”

Many fashion designers infuse their attitude towards life in their work, representing their pursuit of beauty. However, as times evolve, perceptions change. Master fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld made the remark “concepts of beauty change with time.” Without question, the value orientation of fashion design works the same way. Before WWII, Chanel brought French women the idea of independence, followed by Dior’s revolutionary “New Look” – arousing post-war passion toward beauty, and Armani’s brilliant portrait of the contemporary working woman in the 1980s and 1990s.

All the fashion moguls mentioned above exert their unique understandings of Zeitgeist into their designs. “I always think keeping up with times is crucial. A fashion label is a fashion language, representing a fashion spirit. Whether it’s Dior or Chanel, or the iconic Armani in the 1990s, the designers do not define the spirit of their times, but the society decides their attitude.”

While China does not have a long history of the fashion industry, so it’s no wonder that Chinese fashion trends are flooded by foreign imports, despite the considerable growth of domestic designers. Some of the latter are grotesquely radical, a distorted vision of the cultural Zeitgeist that defines China in the 21st century.

Chen has her own understanding of the times, “the status quo of the fashion industry closely ties with our history. Our whole traditional values are based upon the males, while women were educated to excel in their studies and marry a good husband; career is the second most important for them. But for me, I agree with neither of them, as both of them are chauvinistic.”

Interestingly, French designer Yves Saint Laurent said something similar, “the most beautiful clothes for a woman are the arms of the man she loves.” Chen thinks “the origin of a woman’s happiness is her charisma, not the appearance, but rather a combined ability, sometimes it could be her self-recognition as how she perceives herself.”

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Chen’s fashion designs spare no effort to explore the beauty of women. It works the same on every fashion designer for sure, but Chen put more focus on the natural beauty of the female. In other words, Chen regards every single woman as a pure individual removed from wealth and social status. This is the original intention of her fashion career, “to give women a chance to fully express themselves and find their most charming moment.”

This is exactly her personal understanding of the contemporary Chinese aesthetics, “Chinese women are tough, gentle, silent, deep inside and enriched.” She also thinks highly of “balance”. For instance, embroidered flowers are not rare in the west, but she adds extra “fluttering” effect to create a new, balanced pattern.

Chen’s design concepts are born from the culture in which most Chinese women grow up with – the “secularism” that fits the mainstream aesthetics in some way; and also featuring genuine, modern creativity – the “elegance”. When those two meet, it’s enduring and timeless. 

【Layouts Hu Fangfang】

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