Unassuming, intelligent, well spoken and driven to change the world’s perception of China – Huishan Zhang is the perfect example of what a young upcoming Chinese designer looks like today.
Last month, Mao Suit had the pleasure of interviewing Huishan Zhang while overlooking the most iconic symbols of modern China – The Olympic Birds next stadium and Water Cube. Huishan spoke with the ease and demeanor that only those supremely confident in what they are doing are able to.
Born in China and based in London, Huishan Zhang’s studied at Central St. Martins and received training at the couture atelier of Christian Dior before launching his own namesake brand in 2011.
His proudly ‘made in China’ couture AW2012 and AW 2013 collections were displayed at London Fashion Week and he is currently in the running for the Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize. Regardless of his placing, Huishang Zhang is destined for success on the global fashion scene.
What did you have in mind when deciding to launch your own brand?
This dream of mine started a long time ago. I was living in New Zealand and had this idea that I wanted to study at Central St Martins and wanted to set up a brand. So I decided to leave New Zealand and get on with my future. From day one, even before I graduated, I had this vision and knew I wanted to build this brand in the future.
For other designers and brands like Shanghai Tang and Vivienne Tam etc. doing this kind of [Chinese aesthetic] thing, their name becomes associated with certain demographics and they have found great success there. But what I wanted to do is target a much higher market – the highest market. I want to push my own ‘made in China’ brand and name ahead by doing things that haven’t been done before.
Because it hasn’t been done before, this dream of mine has been a bit controversial. Things such as the ability to manufacture to extremely high levels of craftsmanship in China weren’t easily accepted or believed, yet I managed to do it. We faced lots of issues when building the brand, but obviously there is always chance to succeed so I tried. I’m also very lucky to have me the right people to support me through the years.
Do you prefer to be described as a ‘Chinese’ fashion designer, or just simply a fashion designer?
I’m proud of being a Chinese designer, I was born here and even though I live abroad, I hold a Chinese passport. Actually I’ve had a long relationship with the West. I’ve studied and lived in London for seven years, so its like my second home, but I’m 100% Chinese.
The design stage we Chinese are facing isn’t so obvious. China is really open nowadays and there are lots of opportunities. On one hand everybody comes to China, yet on the other hand there is the contradiction of many Chinese also leaving, Overall, I see myself an international fashion designer, who was born in China and doing business internationally and who is representing a new generation of Chinese people.
China’s influence is growing and everyday it’s in the news for its economy or cyber attacks etc. Living in London, what is your sense of how people perceive China and how you are part of building the new ‘brand’ China’?
People are obviously interested, but they don’t really have a chance to get close up until they come here and there’s always a big room to break the stereotypes of China and what Chinese culture is. This is one of the higher standards I’m aiming for with my brand – to represent China well in a contemporary way and show what the modern Chinese people are doing.
It’s very natural and responsible for me, to put a ‘made in China’ label on my clothes, and in doing so, I’m trying to reshape what people think of Chinese brands. The brand Huishan Zhang is not only representing myself, it’s also representing a piece of history, heritage and craftsmanship. It’s something that we are really proud of taking to the West.
How long until we see Chinese designers really making a splash internationally?
I think that according to the rate of progress here in China, we are developing at a speed much faster than any other country has witnessed before. I only established the Huishan Zhang brand in 2011 and now, in less then two years time we are selling in seven different countries and 14 top privileged stores around the world like Nieman Marcus, Beams in Japan, Joyce in Hong Kong and Harvey Nichols. So we built up very quickly and that’s the speed we believe we can do and we work really hard day and night to achieve it.
Obviously in China itself the luxury market isn’t really mature enough, but customer’s sophistication level is very high already. After the Cultural Revolution, my parent’s [and their generation’s]wardrobe was full of all the same things. Only now are Chinese starting to appreciate something new and going across the ‘Gucci, Hermes and Prada’ bridge. Then they will quickly move to another level of wanting something unique and representing themselves.
Now is the coming golden age for Chinese designers. It’s a positive trend and we know if we work hard we are going to be fresh and grab the world’s attention.
What is stopping everyday Chinese people from wanting to wear Chinese brands instead of Western labels?
It’s really just the confidence level of what ‘made in China’ stands for. Funny enough, even for Chinese people there is a misunderstanding of what they want that isn’t necessarily about the products or something peculiar from Chinese culture. Its just that the manufacturing side of the fashion in China was commercially successful for such a long time, so that’s simply what people focused on [and didn’t bother to make well designed and high quality products].
China has so much heritage, but recently we have just been chasing commercial success. This country is still moving forward fast, but on the other hand people are trying to slow things down and find what are the most important things for themselves and for their life [besides just economic growth].
Chinese want a lifestyle they appreciate and that’s why for me to promote this brand as ‘made in China’ is so important. Obviously there is a certain time we need to wait, but you know, since many Chinese designers have already been accepted by the big market outside China, the Chinese market, will come very soon too.
How important is it for the development of Chinese brands that the First Lady and celebrities wear and promote them?
Yes that matters a lot. We never had a First Lady before. Now we have one and she really represents the same values as us and shows the Chinese brands that she loves. I think it’s the right time to show how much China can share with the word, rather than threatening the world. We want to do very softly and we want to share ourselves and not just take all the time.
Where do you want to take the brand?
I think I’m storyteller. I tell a story to the West about what we see in China. Even what we see today in Beijing will be different from tomorrow, or in another city. For me I want to share what I see in London as well. So this diversity is something to celebrate and appreciate and be proud of.
So my dream is to build up a lifestyle brand that can represent an interesting side of life and that can tell more stories, not only through fashion, but also through other ways.
Thanks to Huishan Zhang for taking the time to speak with Mao Suit, and I hope you find it within yourself to expand into menswear sometime soon. For more on Huishan Zhang visit his website.