Once known to the world as the land of cheap labor, poor manufacturing quality and counterfeit goods, a younger generation of local designers has in recent years started to announce their brands as ‘made in China’ with a sense of pride, thanks to the nation’s rising status in the fashion world. In honor of International Women’s Day, here’s a look at some of the powerful, talented women who serve as an essential driving force behind the country’s increasingly discerning taste in style.
1. Liu Wen, Model
Born in Yongzhou, Hunan, the 30-year-old world-renowned supermodel started her career in fashion in the mid-2000s, and has since worked with almost every high fashion to casual and streetwear labels one can name. Thanks to her versatile look, Liu has had many firsts and broken many records in her fruitful decade-long modeling career. In the Fall 2009 ready-to-wear season, she booked a whopping 74 shows over the four major Fashion Weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris, and remains as the record holder for the highest number of shows ever walked by a model of Asian descent in a single season. That same year, she became the first Chinese model to ever walk the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (and has since returned multiple times in the following years). More recently, in March 2017, she became the first Chinese model to ever appear on the front cover of the US edition of Vogue.
2. Guo Pei, Couture Designer
Named one of the World’s 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine in 2016, the Beijing-born couturiere famous for her traditional Chinese imperial court-inspired designs, which have been featured at some of China’s most high-profile events, including a white gown decorated with 200,000 Swarovski crystals worn by singer Song Zuying during her performance at the 2008 Olympics closing ceremony. Her name became widely known in the West after Rihanna appeared on the red carpet of the 2015 Met Ball in a trailing yellow gown designed by Guo (the one that some hungry commenters referred to as an omelette or jianbing). That same year, a few of the designer’s dresses were also prominently featured at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass. “The gowns I produce for events like the Olympics, or for some of my clients, don’t really represent me as a designer,” Guo told That's, somewhat humbly, back in 2014. “In a way, I’m just a seamstress, a serviceperson who does what the customer wants.”
3. Angelica Cheung, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue China
Dubbed by the media as China’s Anna Wintour (they do have the same haircut and job title, after all), the Beijing-born fashion journalist was just 39 when she was brought onboard to oversee the launch of Vogue China back in 2005 – one of the youngest editor-in-chiefs in the publication’s long history. Since the launch of the Chinese edition of Vogue, Cheung has since been an integral force behind pushing for more opportunities for Chinese models and designers of Chinese descent to showcase their talent on the global stage. In a 2015 interview with That’s, she said, “I’m not in [the fashion industry] for the glamor. Those who are don’t last very long… I’m in it for the ride – the people you meet, the things you achieve and the reach you have. That’s what has given me an edge compared to other editors.”
4. Chen Man, Photographer
The 37-year-old Beijinger’s work has graced the covers and centerfold spreads of glossy fashion magazines and billboard ads for luxury brands around world, but her interest in photography didn’t materialize until halfway through her graphic design studies at the acclaimed Central Academy of Fine Arts. “Painting was my main interest,” Chen told That’s in a 2014 interview. “I wanted to be an artist, but it wasn’t a financially sustainable career.” During the formative years of her photography career, Chen developed her signature style in her shots, relying heavily on Photoshop retouching to create an avant-garde, painting-like aesthetic that drew criticism from traditionalists. “Other photographers didn’t see me as their peer as my shots resembled paintings; artists didn’t think I belonged to their world either because I worked for fashion magazines,” Chen told us. “[But to me,] capturing an image is not just recording real life, but creating a surrealist expression of art.”