Iris Wang. Rockoco Chic.

I cannot believe this designer/tailor is not yet on the blog. So I shall trot to it, then! Iris Wang may hail from the freezing northern Chinese city of Harbin, home of the renowned annual Ice Sculpture Festival, but this woman’s got the burning-hot blood of an entrepreneur running through her veins.

 

Wang is also blessed with a flamboyant Rococo-esque personality and similarly-inspired designs, which have helped her overcome her parents’ initial opposition to her career choice, navigate the jagged-edged jungle that is the fashion industry and thrive against the Banks fierce competition it harbors.

 

In doing so, Wang has created her own brand and, in the self-conscious fashion that becomes so many designers, named it “Iris Wang”. Fake it ’til you make it would be the motto here. 

 

In the beginning, there was Jingju

 

Wang did not originally set out to become a fashion designer in the normal, or whatever constitutes normal in my blood-orange book, sense of the word. Instead, she started out studying costume design– Beijing Opera costume design– to be more hem-precise.

After graduating from design school and landing a job as an assistant-designer in a big (-shot’s) studio, (a big shot who shall remain anonymous for the length of this piece), Wang had a taste of the bittersweet nectar known as “creating your own vision”.

Eventually, she decided to take the plunging neckline and forge her own adventure, all by her lonesome, admirable self. She set out to create a seemingly simple tailored style, including men’s tailoring- a craft that, for anyone who has never watched Project Runway, requires even more detailed structuring and precision than women’s design- featuring the all-important details that lend a garment its designer edge.

What’s more, coming from a costume designing background can prove very tricky for any creative mind, no matter how talented they are. Avant-garde and costume are only one flinching seam apart. Faced with such daunting challenges, Wang, guided by her entrepreneurial instincts, cut against the grain.

 

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Wang’s take on Rockoco Chic.

On the second day, there was Rococo

 

This 18th century artistic movement, which roughly translates from the French word “rocaille”, meaning “rock and shell garden ornamentation”, originated in Paris (where else?) and is characterized by asymmetrical forms, elaborate ornamentation, vivid pastel colors and, where painting is concerned, light-hearted subject matter.

The style is quite over-the-top, and I’m being euphemistic here, but if used as an inspiration and, furthermore, incorporated in a smart way into the detailing of a garment, it has the power to add a playfulness and wittiness to the simplest clean-white collared shirt.

Rococo rooms used to be decorated as complete works of art and that aspect is exactly what comes out in Wang’s designs; from the overall simplicity of her work to the intricate, surprising detailing she believes in. This detail, despite its intricacy, is not as overbearing as Rococo, and some fashion design out there, can sometimes be.

Yet, Wang has also found inspiration in early Byzantine architecture- talk about being specific- and, from a purely clothing perspective, from the tight and rigid structuring of Britain’s Victorian-era styles. Simplicity is key in all the aforementioned.

At the modern end of the spectrum, Wang is a great admirer of a number of Chinese designers who are currently making a name for themselves in several western fashion Walhallas, such as Shiatzy Chen. 

 

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A young Mao Zedong clad  in that elusive jacket.

On the third day, there was China’s crossroads-style

 

The beauty of Chinese designers is that they, more often than not, see the potential for fabulous fashion fusion which can result from the blending of both Chinese and Western elements. They are also adept at adding that decorative touch- without going overboard.

Unlike their western counterparts, who, with all due respect, of course, lack that deeper understanding of Chinese culture and (fashion) history, Chinese designers naturally possess that first-hand knowledge of, and inspiration from, both continents. 

As we have already seen, Wang has an extensive knowledge of global art history and, in addition, uses her own national heritage extensively in her collections. From China’s earliest recorded dynasty, the Shang Dynasty (上朝代, ca. 1600BC-1000BC), with its simple rougher designed tunics boasting narrow cuffs and use of primary colors such as red, blue, yellow and green, to the uniformity, and androgyny, of the Chinese 1960s Mao-jacket with their straight lines and cuts, it is obvious that history flows through Wang’s collections like the Yellow River does through northern China.

 

Wang’s other fashion founts of wisdom are Lagerfeld (classic with a twist, never goes out of style, not even at 85), McQueen (flamboyant would be an understatement methinks) and Balmain (calm, cool and collected).

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In the land of the blind…

One hope Wang cherishes for Chinese designers in general is that many of them will, at some point, take a step away from their dress-forms, take a good long look and then diverge from the path of over-designing. Once you take away the fringes, all that’s left is the design(er). This is what separates the auteurs from the also-rans.

On a different note, Wang emphasized that whenever people discuss China’s minority fashions, they tend to overlook the Han minority, to which 90 per cent of the Chinese belong.

According to Wang, the modern clothing that the Han nowadays wear, still pales in comparison to the sadly disappearing fashion craft and styles of China’s other 55 minorities. 

 

Wang hopes to be a part of creating a more sophisticated look for mainland China and just continue doing what she loves: Creating clothes. Well Iris, on this final, more biblical note, just remember: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.”

 

Photos: Iris Wang