A renaissance in local traditions and, in turn, the rise of a new contemporary Chinese identity is becoming a key issue among many young creatives living in the capital. When it comes to defining the core features of Chinese style, the link between nature, a growing need for a simple life and echoes of Taoist philosophy seems to be an essential recurring theme. Exploring the sprouts of this new emerging identity, CH visited the studio of Beijing-bred and based fashion designer Su Guangyu.
Born in the northeast of China but raised in the luxurious postcard-perfect island of Hainan, he studied fashion in Guangzhou. When “pure theory was getting too boring” he decided to drop out and find a job in one of Hong Kong’s haute couture ateliers. After a few years spent mastering tailoring techniques and learning about fabrics, he moved to the capital in 2010 and launched his own line.
Guangyu’s approach is down to earth, focused on simplicity and in some ways critical of the pretentious and ostentatious attitude widespread in the fashion world. “The traditional Chinese approach to fashion design is more focused on practicality, on the tailoring work, on the idea that you craft a piece for a specific purpose. I’ve seen many young designers who have been studying abroad, and it seems that they’re over-concerned about creating a flashy aesthetic concept, but then they often lack of expertise when it comes to tailoring,” Guangyu explains.
Guangyu’s earliest interest in fashion came from military uniforms. Almost his entire family was working for the People’s Liberation Army and soon he became familiar with all the different ranks and uniforms. “I loved the idea that what you wear has a symbolic meaning which is related to your role, to what you really do. Every detail is specifically designed to fit a purpose, without any redundancy; colors are simple and saturated,” Guangyu says. This purist idea of simplicity and an attention to the fundamental requirements of daily clothing are met with a fascination for the richness of nature. In his childhood, a trip to the tropical city of Sanya on the south side of Hainan, the lush world of plants and flowers left a lasting impression.
His latest F/W14 women’s collection is inspired by the traditional art of penjing (also called penzai or potted landscape). The parallel between miniature plants and his crafts is not merely based on an aesthetic analogy, but rather on the relation between a craftsman and his creations. “The penjing master can choose the right vase, can bend a tree to obtain a specific shape, but the final outcome will always combine his skills with the contingency of nature,” Guangyu says. “I try to approach tailoring in the same way, I rely on a few structural elements and allow the fabric to fall on the body with the fortuitous simplicity that comes from its intrinsic features.”
Behind this approach that hints at the interpenetration between man and nature, determination and fortuity, Guangyu oversees every detail in his studio. Nothing is outsourced and every garment is crafted in-house, in limited numbers at no more than a dozen pieces per design.
Images courtesy Su Guangyu