Chinese fashion designer Chi Zhang is Beijing’s rising fashion star. Unlike many young designers in China, he decided to find fame in the West before conquering home turf. At 16 he moved to London and later completed a masters in fashion at the Istituto Maragoni in Milan. In 2007 he presented his first fashion collection in London, which earned worldwide acclaim from media, industry and fashion buyers.
In 2008 he took a risk and moved back to Beijing, inspired by the city’s new energy. He rose to fame as a stylist for popular TV show Happy Boy all the while honing his aesthetic. Today his designs have become a favourite with local celebrities including Kevin Tsai, Huang Xiao Ming and Chen Kun
Chi was in town recently for Hong Kong Fashion Week to showcase his spring/summer 2013 collection. We caught up with him to find out how he is redefining the way modern Chinese men dress.
How would you describe your style?
I started to design clothes because I wanted to design for myself. I know what men want to wear so my brand is all about my personality, my DNA, my lifestyle. I love rock ‘n’ roll, electronic music, dark stuff. I like to combine what I like into my brand so my clothes attract people with similar aesthetics.
Why did you decide to come back to China in 2008 after achieving so much success in London?
Money! When you first begin a business, it’s not just about the design – you have to control the budget and worry about selling. The cost of running a business in China is a quarter of what it costs in London. Besides every other brand is trying to tap into this huge luxury market in China, so it felt silly not to come back because I know the Chinese market so well.
Is your style inspired by China?
A major theme in my style is displacement – it is my signature. I like to combine East and West and you can see the Eastern influence in the materials I use (usually silk). Like the city of Beijing, it’s a combination of luxury and rebellion. At the same time it’s very hard to define what contemporary Eastern style is. Most Chinese designers are still searching for that answer.
Would you consider yourself a Chinese or European designer?
Beijing is my home and I am 100 per cent Chinese. At the same time Europe gives me plenty of inspiration, from the lifestyle to the clothes people wear. Of all the cities I have lived in I like London the best. Different cultures interact and collide and it brings you inspiration continuously.
What challenges do you face as an emerging designer in Beijing?
It’s the cultural capital in China so it’s the best place for designers. The media are supportive, but I wish it was more systematic and efficient. Fortunately I am always getting inspiration from my life in Beijing.
Tell us about your latest spring/summer 2013 collection.
It’s inspired by mechanics and speed, and the things men adore and want to conquer. I transform hard geometric lines into clothes so there are plenty of motorcycle jackets and leather elements. There is also this mixture between soft and hard materials. It is quite different from my previous collections – before my design was powerful but had feminine qualities. Now I have eliminated the feminine.
Which celebrities best represent your style?
Johnny Depp, Chen Kun, Huang Xiaoming and Hu Bing.
What designers inspire you?
Antonio Berardi, Ralph Lauren, Jean Paul Gaultier and DSquared. My clothes match well with Rick Owens and Ann Demuelemeester.
How do you want to see your brand develop?
I would love to try my hand at women’s wear. Also for men’s, we are extending into knits. Eventually I want to build a lifestyle brand like Armani or Roberto Cavalli. Your lifestyle will attract people with similar dreams.
If you weren’t a fashion designer, what would you be?
I would do something art-related. I don’t ever want to be restricted so I’d choose any career that allows me to be free. I might be involved in automobile production – I like product design, and I love the shape of cars.
Compiled by Rachel, Yang Jia