Born in Guizhou and raised in Hong Kong and the UK, Jing Zhang has served as the South China Morning Post’s Fashion Editor since 2010. Often seen attending fashion shows in New York, Milan, Paris, London and around China, Zhang has interviewed and profiled industry giants from Donatella Versace and Ralph Lauren to Stella McCartney. Here, she tells us about the joys of covering China’s emerging fashion scene as well as the most memorable interview that she has ever done.
How did you become a fashion editor?
I always enjoyed writing, so I started off freelancing and doing general features for different magazines. Then I became Managing Editor of WestEast (a fashion, culture and arts magazine) when I was still in my mid-20s, which was a huge learning curve. After four years of that, I became the Fashion Editor at the South China Morning Post, and started learning more about the journalistic rigor that comes with being in newspapers. Although fashion is my main beat, I still write the occasional arts, culture or lifestyle story and profile people outside of the industry – two of my favorite interviews were Malcolm Gladwell and Zaha Hadid.
Does your education background in anthropology and psychology help with your current line of work?
It’s all related. I think there are very few things that aren’t helped by having a Psychology degree. It allows me to understand why and how people consume fashion: why they buy, what they feel and what they want to express. With my Anthropology MA – which was in visual and material culture and covers art, design and fashion – it gave me a great theoretical armory with which to unfurl the deeper issues within fashion and other creative industries.
Which designer did you enjoy interviewing the most?
In terms of aesthetics, he’s not my favorite designer, but my most enjoyable and memorable interview was actually with Ralph Lauren. He’s such a legend, I didn’t expect him to be so candid, warm and a total sweetheart – our interview actually ran 45 minutes over. And after five decades in fashion, he can see beyond the smaller, meaningless industry oscillations. People sometimes forget that apart from creating a quintessential billion-dollar American brand from nothing, Ralph Lauren also created a whole new lifestyle.
Is there anyone that you haven’t interviewed but would love to?
Miuccia Prada, because I’d really like to pick her brain. She’s managed to be a cerebral powerhouse and a commercial success story, as well as being at the forefront of young, relevant trends – that’s no small feat. And I like designers who aren’t so myopic and draw references only from within the industry, but Miuccia is always looking outside to life, to culture, to film and to art.
How’s covering the fashion scene in China different from doing so in other places?
The Chinese fashion scene is so big and influential in many ways, but in other ways it’s still quite young and trying to find its feet. This brings together a huge, highly equitable marketplace with great opportunities for startups as well as the big brands. The shift from being the world’s manufacturing hub to a more creative-led scene is fascinating. There’s also the opportunity for China to make its own rules and shift the global fashion model away from a Western centric formula.
How has China’s fashion scene changed over the past seven years, since you first started at SCMP?
It’s matured a lot... and there’s been some truly great talents emerging and breaking out into the global scene. The likes of Masha Ma, Uma Wang, Xander Zhou, Helen Lee, Ffixxed, Jourden and the young Xu Zhi have made real waves abroad and in China. I’m looking forward to seeing other brands, like By Fang, reach greater heights. What has surprised me is the growing variety of brands as the market fragments and matures, ranging from wealthy couturiers like Grace Chen, to millennial start up streetwear labels.
What’s your favorite fashion item at the moment?
I’m obsessed with my pink, furry lapelled, Dries Van Noten quilted coat – though I will have to wait until winter [to wear it again]. I’m always carrying my black Diorever bag as it’s a chic and timeless exercise in very clever bag design. A bonus: it fits my MacBook Air.
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