Whether we’re talking astrophysics or fashion design, education is mandatory — with the admitted zest of fingerspitzengefuhl added to the latter. Temper made its teaching rounds and bumped into Raffles’ Dedrick. One dose of didactic design data coming right up!
“I’m all for the people of a nation with such an extensive history telling us a story that we have ignored for so long — or that we have chosen to dismiss due to some unfounded notion of cultural superiority.” Steven Dedrick
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once taught us that “the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education”. Coming from the highest moral heights of Dr. King’s crusade to end racial segregation and discrimination and descending into the — by comparison — Sodom and Gomorrah that are the oft morally depraved depths of fashion may seemingly require quite the leap of faith, yet the term “education” underlies the ideology of both. Whether you’re homeschooled, self-taught or Raffles-raised, the development of knowledge in your niche — however miniature it may be — is key.
As China Fashion is entering its apprenticeship, many aim to up their disciplinary game and an education in design has subsequently started to lose the feather-ruffling “morally corrupt” tag it initially received from those growing up in the Cultural Revolutionary days (1966-1976). The art of fashion design has risen from the depths of “PG” to the bliss of “PA” — Parentally Acceptable.
As design academies are popping up across the Middle Kingdom, with the famed Raffles group extending its branches from northern China all the way down to Guangzhou in particular, I for one decided it was high time once again lift the levels of “wisdom”…
We join Raffles Design Institute Beijing’s latest lecturing addition Steven Dedrick for a little Q&A on the New Made In China, Rafflings and reverence.
Having worked in the fashion industry for some time and even trying his hand at running his very own small store, Dedrick decided ’twas the season to grow up and went in search of a stylish teaching position. With the Raffles family spreading its wings, Dedrick initially assumed he might be placed “down under” in Guangzhou, yet eventually ended up in the rough diamond that is Beijing as a Fashion Design Lecturer, teaching a number of courses — the content of which depends on both “the general need and my limited skill-set”, duly quoted and noted — at the city’s Raffles Design Institute.
The mix of students on Dedrick’s attendance sheet is a widely varied one, ranging from youngsters who hold an interest in design to “older” people who have always been fascinated with fashion/design and now have the actual opportunity to pursue that attraction. All true Temper-styled teacher’s pets par excellence, I dare say.
Dedrick, enlighten us!
“I am personally very interested in the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative in which China says to the world, ‘We are here…and we are no longer your cheap workshop. Deal with it.’ HA!” Dedrick
Temper: What’s your vision on the budding Chinese designer scene?
Dedrick: I have to admit that I have only just started to pay attention. That is admittedly a rather sad thing to say, but also an indication of how those of us in the so-called West are trained, i.e. “not exactly encouraged” to take Chinese design seriously. From what I have seen, it is as promising as anything else around. My little Western eye and sensibility (plus my age!) spot some of the stuff and think, “Oh dear!”. Nevertheless, that is perhaps just me trying to get used to the novelties and changes charging in at breakneck speeds!
Temper: “The New Made in China”
Dedrick: I’m all for it. I’m all for the people of this nation with its extensive history telling us a story that we have ignored for so long — or that we have known about and chosen to dismiss due to some unfounded notion of cultural superiority. I also think that regardless of what we subjectively think about what comes out of China design-wise, it will be fun to have our eyes adapt to a “new'” vision, a new look. As far as quality is concerned, then, I know that this aspect is now improving and/or may well be redefined. The Primark, H&M, ZARA generation wouldn’t know quality if it hit them in the face, so I cannot imagine that they are going to turn their noses up at anything — hailing from anywhere…Ever!
The changes in China’s social climate reflected in the work of the various artists and designers who tackle topics that may have been beyond the pale for them only a few years ago.
Temper: How does the new legion of post-80 and -90 Chinese artists reflect a shift in the China’s cultural zeitgeist?
Dedrick: That’s a big one! I have to admit that I have not read enough to really talk knowledgeably about this topic. From the little I have picked up, I think that the one thing which has had a profound effect on the changes in Chinese society is the one-child rule or “suggestion”. You may also have heard the tales of how prices in the clothing industry over here have gone up for a number of reasons, one being that there was no longer a “surplus” of youngsters to actually do those jobs. This meant that after the Chinese New Year celebrations had come and gone, young people went looking for jobs that paid more and consequently did not return to the same factory they had worked at before they rung in the new year. Ergo…wages had to go up to in order to keep the employees in place — literally.
These younger generations now have a sense of worth as employees, indeed, but also as people! This phenomenon, coupled with China’s “opening up”, has contributed to the cultural zeitgeist. The fact that there is something akin to a middle class that travels the world and has access to so much information, especially when compared to some 30+ years ago, also contributes to this new social climate.
All the aforementioned is reflected in the work of the various artists and designers who tackle topics that may have been beyond the pale for them only a few years ago! The late photographer Ren Hang is one such example. I think the younger generations (those with means, I must add) feel like there lies a far greater potential for them in life — going far beyond their parents’ wildest dreams…
Temper: The evolution of China Fashion.
Dedrick: I hope the Chinese will begin to appreciate their local designers and give them the sort of reverence they save for labels coming out of Europe. When I look at the students we have at Raffles, I notice that they are very keen on streetwear looks and labels (Off White, BOY, A Bathing Ape) and those images at times influence their work. On the other hand, they are also very aware of the prestige and heritage labels, mostly stemming from Europe, which in turn also influence them — both as people as well as as designers.
I can imagine that the China Fashion scene may first have started off as a sort of copy-paste game translating these labels into the Chinese market or, more befittingly so perhaps, filtering the looks of these labels through a “Chinese” sensibility, if you will. Either way, I do think this scene overall is a very young movement. The 17-year-olds who come to my class wearing Moncler jackets and Miu Miu shoes adorned with Swarovski crystals are exactly those fashion aficionados whom these European labels are gunning for as well as those youngsters who will spearhead the evolution of China Fashion — and actually give that phrase some meaning! Their parents probably don’t really care. [Amen.]
The post-80s and -90s contribute a whole lot to the New Made In China label, but the response to this new label and the work of the creatives is being hampered by the prejudice and ignorance of those outside of China.
Temper: Education and contribution
Dedrick: With my very limited [says a rather dramatic Dedrick — insert evil grin emo] knowledge, I would argue that the post-80s and -90s contribute a whole heck of a lot to the New Made In China label, but the response to this new label and the work of the creatives is being hampered/tainted by the prejudice and ignorance (an actual not-knowing coupled with a not wanting to know) of those outside of China. “Made In China” still stands for cheap and/or copied and/or poor quality and/or the product of semi-forced labor in the eyes of many non-Chinese in the “West”, I would say. The contributions of these post-80 and post-90 designers/creators/thinkers are often still not exactly falling on open ears or into welcoming arms. There is still a willingness to be dismissive of China and that which is Chinese. I think of the “if a tree falls in the forest and no human hears it, does it make a sound?” type of foolishness.
The West believes that until it has given something its blessing, it really doesn’t count… No matter how good it actually is. So I would say this new Chinese generation is contributing quite a lot of good stuff to the New Made In China label, yet the people they may hope to reach, act like they don’t want to be receptive to the work or message.
I am personally very interested in the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative in which China bluntly says to the world in general and the West in particular, “We are here…and we are no longer your cheap workshop. Deal with it.” HA!
I am quite sure Europe and Europeans scoffed at the idea of the U.S. as an upstart nation having the gall to state it had anything remotely associated with style, savoir faire, bella figura, class, heritage, etc., to offer after WWII.
Temper: Any parallels to be drawn between China’s current designer scene and past Western eras?
Dedrick: Hmmm…I really should read up on my fashion history a bit more often! [insert evil grin emo once again] I would say that it could be compared to the United States’ development — as a land for fashion. I am quite sure Europe and Europeans scoffed at the idea of the U.S. as an upstart nation having the gall to bluntly go and state it had anything remotely associated with style, savoir faire, bella figura, class, heritage, etc., to offer when American design began to mean something after WWII, at least within the borders of the U.S. of A — think Norman Norell.
I think that there is a point for comparison here: A powerful nation with the means to do everything and anything, including the power to bring forth fashion designers of international renown, has to first prove itself on the world’s creative stage or at least wait for the world to pay attention and take them seriously enough to find a place for them in the pantheon of creators and stylists already present. For example, nobody speaks of “American Couture” because… Well, why would they? Nevertheless, people do speak of easy, clean American sportswear. Why? That’s what the Americans can do and do best. Chinese designers too will (have to) find their niche and, at some point, the world will get it and acknowledge it… I think!
Education leads to contribution resulting in evolution. A fact that applies to both the highest of social morals and the lowest of fashion moguls. Design your own future!
All images come courtesy of Raffles Design Institute Beijing
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