Milan Fashion Week isn’t just about Gucci, Prada and Versace. Thanks to White Milan, a biannual tradeshow held in Tortona, it has also become a platform for young fashion designers from around the world to connect with buyers and press. This year, Georgia, Portugal, and Belgium were amongst the represented countries, but it was China, with a dedicated pavilion called WhiteEast featuring the work of 17 designers, who stole the show.
Cynthia & Xiao
The design duo Cynthia Mak, 29, and Xiao Xiao, 29, hail from Hong Kong and Beijing respectively, and met when they shared a dorm at Central Saint Martins. After graduation Mak went to work in visual merchandising for Lane Crawford, while Xiao perfected her design skills on mainland China. Their contemporary fashion label, launched in 2014, is for young women like themselves, explains Mak, who ”love graphics and like to wear fashion with sneakers.” Xiao adds, ”Women in China are eager to express themselves. They’re not just into big brands anymore. ” The duo’s Spring 2017 collection was inspired by outerspace, and references Memphis design, thanks to pop patterns and metallic embroidery.
Xiaolu Liu, 28, launched her brand Deepmoss in 2013 after studying at Central Saint Martins. She now employs a team of 10 near Shanghai. ”All the production is in-house so that I can control the details,” says Liu who often employs handmade techniques. Inspired by the beauty of nature, the 28-year-old designer favors soft shapes, airy patchwork, billowing cotton shapes, and layering. This season, Liu was inspired by Persian architectural details and blanket patterns. ”My design is quite emotional and very 3D, which means that pieces look different from every angle, ” says Liu. ”[It is for] young women with old souls.”
Heng Shu Atelier
Heng Shu Atelier’s shoes are made entirely by hand using traditional Chinese shoemaking techniques with hand-carved heels in glove leather or fabric, which is distressed, embedded with lace, and topped with leather trimming. Designer Eric Ou launched his Shanghai atelier with two artisans in 2014, and takes two or three months to perfect each style. Because each shoe is handmade, no two pairs are exactly alike.
Jin Chong Yu, 33, was an opera singer before launching his label JINNNN on a whim. ”I wanted to attend France’s Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale, where Yves Saint Laurent went, but it was past the admissions deadline. So I did some drawings, sent them in, and the director asked me to come to Paris,” he explained. Then, one of his muslin experiments caught the eye of his friend, Shaway Yeh, the powerful group style director of China’s Modern Media. She requested a version made “in real fabric” to wear to a meeting with Karl Lagerfeld. Two years ago, he launched his own ready-to-wear brand, and is now branching out into eyewear, thanks to another crazy experiment. ”Everyone wanted to buy them, so I ended up producing them and we sold 1,200 pairs in the first month and last week Lady Gaga’s stylist called for a pair,” he explains.
Yang Yang, 30, launched her brand The Lawn earlier this year in Shanghai after leaving a design post at Uniqlo in Tokyo. For her own label, she’s interested in breaking down gender barriers, by playing with workwear silhouettes in abstract ways. ”I’m inspired by India. I took a trip there last year and I like the haphazard, rough way Indians, like the women on tea plantations, dress,” says Yang. "I guess I'm kind of a hippie.”
Fengyi Tan, 27, fell in love with transparent nylon knits after graduating from London's Royal College of Art. ”I’ve always liked stretchy, elastic fabric,” the designer explains. “My design is based on the interaction of the body in space and contemporary dance.” Feng’s nylon tube dresses and cardigans in harlequin check resemble spun sugar and are designed to be worn layered for a play of light and shadow.
Erica Chen chose Marchen as the name of her brand because it means "fairytale" in German. "Since I was born in March and my name is Chen I thought, ‘that’s me!’” she laughed. The designer’s Spring 2017 collection, her second, was inspired by the life and work of American painter Agnes Martin. ”I’m interested in the coexistence of her peaceful, simple work and the reality of her life, which was a constant struggle with madness,” Chen explains.