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Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei goes global with army of artisans

Despite having been in the trade for more than 30 years, Chinese couturier Guo Pei finds herself at the starting line again.

“Many of my friends are planning their retirement, but for me, it’s only the beginning,” Guo, 50, says at her Parisian showroom in Place Vendôme, just a day after her July couture show at Hotel Salomon de Rothschild.

Guo started her career as a fast fashion designer in the 1980s and opened her own made-to-order atelier in 1997. She went on to become one of the few Chinese designers invited by Fédération de la Haute Couture de la Mode as a guest member to take part in Paris Haute Couture Weekalongside heritage couturiers such as Chanel, Dior and Valentino.

Although Guo had already built a strong fan following in China, counting A-listers the likes of Zhang Ziyi and Fan Bingbing as clients, she didn’t get in the international spotlight until 2015 when Rihanna attended the Met Ball in one of her designs. The spectacular, yellow fur-trimmed cape gown with a lavish train decorated with Chinese embroideries took Guo two years to create.

The wide coverage from fashion magazine spreads to internet memes earned Guo overnight fame, which unlocked more opportunities and possibilities.

She was invited to show in Paris two years ago, and her creations were featured in exhibitions at prestigious institutions such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris.

Being invited to show at Paris Haute Couture Week as a guest member, Guo says, was a steep learning curve.

“I respect the values of the couture federation as they respect their members’ passion, craftsmanship and how they can contribute to the living art – haute couture – in the future,” she says. “Being on the official couture calendar has really taken me and my team to new heights. I feel that we are growing with every collection.” Following her breakthrough overseas, Guo received a warm welcome from her clients at home.

“Chinese clients who doubted whether my designs could rival the Western designers’ were very impressed and proud of my [global] recognition,” she says.

Affluent Chinese customers’ growing appetite for sophisticated luxury has fuelled the development of home-grown designers, Guo adds.

“Although China’s modern fashion industry doesn’t have a long history, customers are learning fast,” she says. “Their growing knowledge and appreciation of quality designs have kept me going. Without the clients who have grown with me, designers like me won’t have the capacity to grow and the possibilities to prosper. They have learned to look beyond the price tag and understand the values of couture.”

One of her clients was, in fact, the matchmaker for her recent collaboration with Chopard for her haute couture autumn/winter 2017 collection. The client asked for a piece of Chopard high jewellery to match a couture wedding gown by Guo Pei for her big day. The client brought Guo and Caroline Scheufele – Chopard’s artistic director and co-president – together.

At Guo’s July haute couture show in Paris, models donned Guo’s statement couture gowns matched with Chopard’s multicarat diamond high jewellery accentuated with colourful precious stones such as rubies and emeralds.

“The big challenge for us was to create our own collection – be it couture or high jewellery that truly complements each other,” Guo says.

The starting point for Guo was the bright colours and elegant curves of high jewellery. “The jewellery makes a strong statement,” she says. “They are complicated yet feminine. The jewellery really reminds me of my embroidery.”

Inspired by the golden age of haute couture, Guo opted for classic ball gown silhouettes with feminine asymmetrical shapes and cut-out details. Echoing the shimmer of high jewellery, Guo incorporated metallic fabrics into the collection.

The labour-intensive details in the embroideries, floral appliqués and embellishments that Guo’s best known for elevated the classic gowns to a whole new level, which suited the taste of the couture clients and high jewellery collectors on the front row.

The mesmerising details could not have been achieved without Guo’s army of artisans – 500 of them to be exact – 300 of which are expert embroiders.

Guo has been recruiting artisans since 20 years ago when she started her own atelier called the Rose Studio.

Based on traditional artisanal skills such as su xiu (special embroideries made famous by artisans from Suzhou) and gong xiu (literally palace embroidery, often seen in garments of imperial families in ancient China), Guo has discovered her unique skills.

“The artisans are my most precious assets,” says Guo. “I nurtured them from day one. When we first started, we didn’t have many references or role models that we could follow. We started from scratch and I’m very proud of the work they do today.”

Da jing (literally magnificent gold) for example, the dress which took artisans 50,000 hours to make and one of Guo’s signature designs that was exhibited at the Met museum, demonstrated the level of craftsmanship in her work.

Despite being a Beijing-based Chinese designer, Guo deliberately didn’t highlight her Chinese roots in her designs, but was inspired by her time in the West, such as a visit to an 18th-century Swiss cathedral last season, and the Russian princess or art deco diva in previous seasons.

“I think [Chinese influences] are in my blood,” Guo says. “It’s my design language. I don’t want to be labelled as a Chinese storyteller. I think about a global audience.”

Guo says she has built a solid foundation and that she’s excited about what the future will bring.

“I have faith in my future because of the customers who have grown with me,” she says.

“Now that I have gathered my 30 years of experiences and resources, I’m ready to take it further. I’m ready to fly.”Read more at:formal dresses online | bridesmaid dresses

09:03 Publié dans fashion | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)


Teaching designers to sew up business

Financial fabric: Nonzero co-founder Tania Habimana says the Threads initiative will help South African fashion designers become more business savvy. Picture: SUPPLIED

Africa is home to 15% of the global population and to millions of snappy dressers, so it’s odd that the continent earns only 1% of the annual $3-trillion spent on fashion.

Perhaps that’s because wealthy consumers think anything bearing a European label is infinitely more chic than a home-grown brand, while the mass market retailers import clothes from low-cost China.

Getting Africa to claim a more equitable portion of the global fashion industry is a mammoth task and will depend on turning arty fashion designers into savvy business people.

That’s the aim of Threads, a new entrepreneurship crash course created by the Nonzero marketing agency.

"There’s an incredible amount of creative talent out there with an eye for detail and creating magnificent garments, but transforming that into a viable business model is the problem," says Nonzero co-founder Tania Habimana.

"The creativity in the South African fashion industry is world-class — all these entrepreneurs really need is the vital sales, administrative, financial and marketing rigour that will take their businesses to the next level," she says.

Threads is a 12-week business accelerator course designed to help fashion entrepreneurs grow their businesses into powerful fashion brands able to create jobs in SA by clocking up global sales.

The scheme is backed by Standard Bank and Mercedes-Benz, with training taking place in Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Participants will attend classes twice a week to learn skills including logistics, e-commerce, financing and accounting, franchising and marketing.

They will also go on field trips to look at resources such as SA’s world-class mohair, wool and cotton producers. In addition, they will visit the Durban port to learn about exporting and at the Mercedes-Benz plant in East London learn about supply chain management.

"We are not teaching them how to stitch — we all know how to stitch — but how to increase production and be competitive on the global landscape. We’re going to teach them how to run an organisation and grow a strong South African firm that can compete in Milan or New York," Habimana says.

The first 12 participants were chosen through a competition that attracted 416 well-qualified entrants. From those, 20 entrepreneurs were short-listed in each of the four cities where training will be held and they attended a day-long event to test their business acumen.

The criteria included having run their business profitably for at least a year. Some of the finalists have been moderately successful for several years but need help to make an international breakthrough.

The winners include Thabo Makhetha, who is becoming known for her designs using Basotho blankets, and Sabiha Badsha of Haya Collective, a Muslim who is designing contemporary modest wear.

Another is Jacqui Emmanuel of JSE Couture in Durban, who designs a luxury sportswear range called Emmanuel Sports-luxe. She employs eight people and also designs wedding gowns, but realised her skills could be redirected into a field with a far larger potential market. She sells her ranges through social media, online stores and via her company’s website.

"Understanding the business of fashion is really important," Emmanuel says. "Being a designer is good but making money is better, and if you can create an income from what you love, that’s a bonus.

"I want to be able to conquer bigger platforms and I need training and more business acumen. Having constructive criticism from people who will mentor you and train you in the necessary fields is really important," she said.

The judges included fashionista and former Elle editor Jackie Burger, who believes much work is needed to change consumer attitudes to African brands. Getting consumers to be proud of a "Made in SA" label will remain a battle until Africans take more pride in their heritage and their stories.

"If we are not proud of wearing our own designs and shouting it out, we are never going to cultivate that pride," Burger says. "If an international brand is still going to hold a higher gravitas in the way we express our creativity, we are never going to get this off the ground.

"Our biggest challenge is that our currency resides in our creativity and the Threads platform has to counterbalance that so we can become more fluent in the business opportunities.

"Globally, I have noticed a saturation of ideas and for the past two years, there’s been a definite look at Africa as a continent for skills and craft, which is a fantastic opportunity we can harness," Burger says.

Habimana has a background in the business of fashion, which is how she became aware of the general dearth of business skills. She holds a master’s degree in luxury goods and fashion management from Bocconi University in Milan and previously ran the digital operations for Levi’s across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

She then joined a Dutch menswear company and built up its presence in several African countries. "It was one of the toughest experiences of my life and when the store in Johannesburg closed down, I realised how hard it is to run a fashion business," she says.

Next, she presented a television show in which she travelled around Africa interviewing CEOs in the fashion business, and learning a lot in the process. "I started being approached by a few aspiring designers on how to run their businesses and realised the problem is bigger than me. It’s a continent-wide problem and I started brainstorming what could be done to solve this problem," she says.

The result is Threads, which will hopefully grow to become an annual, pan-African business incubation scheme.

After the initial 12-week course, one participant will win a trip to Europe to attend trade fairs and present the business to wholesalers and retailers.

The winner will also become a Mercedes-Benz ambassador for a year, driving a new car, and will receive a Standard Bank small business start-up pack.Read more at:formal dress online | womens formal dresses

08:01 Publié dans fashion | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)


The Last Post: the story behind the retro British military wives’ costumes

Anyone who has tuned into the first four episodes of BBC drama The Last Post will have observed a unique fashion culture - a group of British army wives accompanying their husbands outposted in the former British colony of Aden, who are being continuously influenced by their new climate, as well as what they think the developing trends are back home in London.

“The show is set in the Sixties, but a lot of the shapes you see are very Fifties; fit and flare with high necklines,” explains costume designer Kate Carin of the set up. “They wouldn’t have seen the most progressive Sixties silhouettes that were emerging in London, plus, being army wives in that era, there would only be so much that was tolerated [from the officers]. There were unspoken regulations for wives as to what was acceptable to wear.”

Carin had her work cut out when designing for the two main characters - bored housewife Alison Laithwaite, played by Jessica Raine, and fresh-off-the-plane Honor Martin, played by Jessie Buckley - as she needed to consider how they may be influenced by everything from the other wives, to the weather, as well as the new materials they may have access to.

“Mrs Robinson is a reference that springs to mind for Alison,” Carin says. “She’s bored, she drinks like a fish, and she’s interested in fashion because she needs it - she’s got nothing else to entertain herself with. Everything she wears is tightly fitted and shaped all over in a very Fifties way, because those are the styles she remembers from home."

"With Honor, she’s just arrived with her husband in Aden when the series starts, and she’s wearing this tweedy suit and she’s uncomfortable, mumsy and hot. But then when she gets to know Alison, she begins to emulate her style and her shapes and colours change as she settles into the community."

As well as kitting out the army wives, Carin was also charged with recreating the uniforms worn by Royal Military Police officers at the time, as well as what the local men and women of Aden were wearing. This last part, she says, was particularly challenging.

“There were hardly any references available of women from Aden in that period, presumably because women in that culture were not as forward as they are now,” she considers. “I was able to get in touch with some British ladies who had been out there with their husbands, though, and they told me about the different skirt shapes that they loved, as well as where they got their clothes. In those days women made their own stuff, or had pieces that their mum had made for them as they were young. The other option for new things was to buy fabric and take it to a market to get made up.”

The fact that the wives mostly wore bespoke clothing allowed for Carin to be even more creative than most costume design projects would allow, making almost everything we see on screen from scratch.

"I liked to think that Alison might have a dress that she’d brought with her from London, but then had three more made up in local fabrics when she got here," she says. "We shot the series in South Africa, and I was able to have a lot of special fabrics made there. For the locals, every fabric was sourced, dyed and then broken down to age it realistically."

"For Honor one of my favourite looks was a silk blouse that was hand block-printed - she wears that towards the end of the series. For Alison I loved the red dress that she wore on the posters. It's funny, though, that was actually a bit of old fabric I had bought to make a chair out of!"Read more at:evening dresses | short formal dresses

06:48 Publié dans fashion | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)