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After Revolution, Fashion Evolution


From Winter 2011 issue
With its churning garment factories, there’s no doubt that China plays an important role in the textile industry. But Juanjuan Wu, a spunky assistant professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Design, sees a very different future for China’s role in fashion: as perhaps the next fashion mecca.

An exhibition opening October 2 at the Goldstein Museum of Design, Mao to Now: Chinese Fashion from 1949 to the Present, will showcase the latest, hippest designs from contemporary Chinese fashion designers. Based on Wu’s book Chinese Fashion: From Mao to Now, the exhibition is informed by her scholarly research, her former life as a fashion magazine editor in Shanghai, and her personal history as a woman who grew up (and got dressed) in post-Mao China. Her book, a 2010 release from Berg Publishers, is the first English work on modern Chinese fashion from a Chinese perspective.

The book and exhibition cover several key historical periods. The pre-Maoist dynastic period, from 1912 to 1948, shows the Chinese look some westerners will recognize: sensual qipao dresses with Mandarin collars and dramatic side slits, Tang-style jackets with flared sleeves and frog closures. All that went away during China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, when men and women—who perhaps wanted to blend in smartly rather than stand out from the crowd—folded into asexual gray or army green youth jackets. The focus of the book, and the forthcoming exhibition, is everything that’s happened in Chinese fashion since 1976: the pop culture–inspired clothes and hairstyles, the irreverent “cultural” T-shirts, and in particular, the rise of the boutique fashion designer.

“We’re going beyond what you would normally think of,” says Wu. “People might know the Mao suit or the qipong. But they don’t know about all the indigenous fashion designers, the art, the creativity, the authenticity that is very much alive in China today.”

Though Wu explores the work of many designers in the book, the exhibition gives special consideration to four: Liu Canming, who is such a successful fashion designer he’s often introduced as the richest professor at Donghua University; Wu Haiyan, who is now adding home furnishings to her popular collection; Wang Yiyang, who showcases his line, Zuczug, in some 40 boutiques across China; and Zhang Da, an experimentalist designer known for two-dimensional cuts that create a somewhat sculptural look on the body.

“These boutique designers cater to China’s nouveau riche, who now find it cliché to wear European brands and are looking for something special to prove their taste,” says Juanjuan Wu.

All the featured designers except Zhang Da will be in Minnesota to kick off the exhibition during a weekend of lectures and events, including a fund-raiser for the Goldstein at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis on October 4. The exhibition itself will feature 16 couture garments from the rising-star Chinese designers and eight more historical pieces loaned from the fashion museum at Donghua University and private collections. “Fashion is about changing ideas and changing culture,” says Yongwei Zhang, director of the University’s China Center, co-sponsor of the exhibition. “And there are few places in the world that are changing as quickly as China.”

Mao to Now runs October 2, 2010, through January 17, 2011, at the Goldstein Museum, located in McNeal Hall at 1985 Buford Avenue on the St. Paul campus. For more information, visit http://goldstein.design.umn.edu or call 612-624-7434.
—Alyssa Ford

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