Dutifully I dot the i’s here: We’re talking tea-silk. Beijing renter Kathrin von Rechenberg came to the capital 14 years ago in her quest for that No. 1 flirty fabric. With her contempo take on tea-silk, the question beckons: How do we cross our style t’s?
Launching in 2004, Von Rechenberg in those days drew in a mostly expat clientele since China’s nouveau riche fashionista was busy fostering her deep love affair with the Karls and Miuccias of the world.
Before her (still ongoing) 14-year-long residence in the City of Smog, German-born Kathrin von Rechenberg spent eight years living in the City of Light. Whilst gliding down Montmartre, she worked for Dior, Lacroix, et alli, after graduating as a fashion designer from the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. She then got her first Chinese entry stamp at a time when, in trendy terms, Louis ruled the alleyways and “Local” was considered foul instead of fabulous.
How times have changed. As the Chinese market matures, local styles and fabrics are experiencing a comeback with a mighty vengeance. Under present circumstances, there is much development potential for independent fashion labels such as Rechenberg and its tea-silk creations. With its true colors to be spotted in the details, stitching and shapes, this label — quite the ironic terminology as Von Rechenberg doesn’t care for name tags — offers creations that are made to be worn, not to be locked away in a closet. As God and Gucci intended.
The following interview with Von Rechenberg was conducted by Rome-raised, Beijing-based Chiara Sassu. The two spent a lazy afternoon at the Rechenberg atelier-slash-boutique where they enjoyed some of Beijing’s natural — I do mean the real “green” deal — luster and a fashionable one-on-one. Ladies of leisure, take it away!
Sassu: Kathrin, what brought you to Beijing 14 years ago?
VR: “The reason I came to Beijing is actually the tea silk. I fell in love with this natural fabric because of its beauty and because of the skills and time required to produce it. My suppliers are two small producers based in the Pearl River Delta and they still go about the fabric’s processing in the traditional way, i.e. by hand, which has been the same since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The silk fabric is dyed 30-40 times with organic plant ingredients and laid out flat in the open air to dry in between dyes. Covering it with river sand leaves it with a characteristic dark sheen. Just before giving it the finishing touches, the silk is washed in tea. This whole process can only be done in Guangdong Province because of its weather/air conditions.”
Sassu: Other than its interesting processing process, what is so special about this fabric?
VR: “It’s beautiful, it carries a natural luster like that of the pearl — which increases with time, I must add. Moreover, the fabric consists of a single layer, but the two sides to that layer have different colors: Rusty dark red and uneven black. This aspect definitely sets the tone for the design: You don’t need to add any lining simply because you want to show the precious character of the fabric, hence you tend to explore the double-faced options. Looking in from this perspective, the fabric has been a source of inspiration to me. Last but not least, it becomes softer and softer the more you wash it. My creations are made to be worn, not to be locked up in a wardrobe.”
Today, I actually get more and more wealthy Chinese customers – they are done with the famous and commercial brands and on the lookout for exclusivity.
Sassu: How would you describe your part in the fashion playbook?
VR: “Generally speaking, I don’t like name tags. I could tell you I was a designer, but this doesn’t define what I actually do. It just doesn’t include the craftsmanship that I’ve been developing my whole life. I’d rather introduce myself as an artisan whose core activity lies in the care for details, stitching and shapes. But then again, I’m also a creative figure. I have all these creations in mind and I then find a way for them to come out of the brain and onto the body, so to speak. I think the most appropriate way to describe my daily job is to compare it to that of a sculptor. I sit down, with a mannequin in front of me, and start off by draping fabric around it. I learned about this particular approach to design when I was in Paris.”
Sassu: How is the market responding to your collections?
VR: “I’ve witnessed a big shift in clientele over the past 10 years. In the beginning, I was only working with foreigners, i.e. the wives of diplomats or top managers in foreign companies. Today, I actually have more and more wealthy Chinese customers. They are done with the famous and commercial brands and on the prowl for exclusivity. This is the reason they enjoy visiting my atelier and buying a piece that they know is only sold right here; it’s their new definition of luxury. Plus, they are eager to rediscover their traditional culture.”
I hope to find more natural fabrics that can become new wells of inspiration for me to drink from.
Sassu: What are the challenges you face right now?
VR: “At this very moment, China offers a huge market and I can see that there is a big development potential for independent fashion labels such as mine. The point is that I’m not sure about how to fully grasp this opportunity, how to make my brand better known and more available to more people. It takes a lot of work across many different platforms and you might end up going in the wrong direction. Having said that, it’s a risk I’m willing to take to get more and more women dressing in Rechenberg.”
Sassu: What is your dream for the future?
VR: “Becoming a world-famous designer has never been my goal. My dream is simply to always be able to things perfectly so that my customers can always pick out my design from a line-up by its pervading care for the details. Also, I hope to discover another natural fabric that can subsequently become a new source of inspiration. This could keep me evolving as a designer and could uncover the potential for a new line of products.”
There you go. The leisurely afternoon dialogue teaches us an important lesson in style: When in silk, keep it simple. Consider those t’s crossed.
This interview was originally conducted by Rome-raised, Beijing-based Chiara Sassu. You can find the Chinese and Italian translations, plus an additional few pics of her flirty fashion fabric haven afternoon, on her personal lifestyle blog right here!
Additional editing by Elsbeth van Paridon.
Featured Image: Chiara Sassu.
Photos: Chiara Sassu and Rechenberg Studio.