Shanghai-born and NYC-residing Zheng Zifei (郑子霏) aka Jenny Zheng in name alone promises some glorious fashion and lifestyle showers. Temper gets up-close and personal.
Disclaimer: The rain- and shower- references merely refer to the designer’s Chinese name and in no way intend to downplay or mock the havoc Hurricane Irma currently wreaks across Florida and its neighboring states.
Self-professed “square” and lifestyle designer Zheng enjoys submerging herself in the analytical side of our collective bonfire of the vanities — digital age style.
Taoray Wang, Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, Lanyu, and the beat goes on, all of these can be considered New York Fashion (Week) veterans. This limited group is now expanding its numbers with an increasing figure of high-quality and eager Chinese designers bringing the best of their limited-edition goodies and multistoried talents across the pond. It’s the beginning of a new chapter in innovative design with many an eye-opening catwalk moment to come.
Accessories and lifestyle designer Jenny Zheng’s name is buzzing within the New York fashion and designer community. Being one highly versatile centipede Master of the Arts, Zheng on September 9 received the “Best Chinese Fashion And Lifestyle Blogger In NYC” award for her online undertakings in the past year. “Another one inhales the haughty dust,” you might think, but think again! This one has a design and digital trick or two up her sleeve.
Whereas many a designer or stylist or buyer or trend aficionada nowadays traces social media in all of its multitudinous fantastical forms to gain their own 15 minutes of fame, self-professed “square” Zheng enjoys submerging herself in the analytical side of our collective bonfire of the vanities — digital age style. A straight-lined stream of consciousness; that’s what it’s all been about for this monochrome-dressing dame. A forthright thought that is brought out in her designs.
With all of the above being just plush and posh, one question remains… Who exactly is this analytics-loving accessories designer? Temper puts this non-cookie-cutter Mode&Mesh cookie in the hot seat so brace yourselves for:
Ten Temper Questions with Jenny Zheng!
- Temper: Jenny Zheng. Who and what?
Zheng: “Firstly, I must (shamefully, perhaps) admit that I don’t actually consider myself to be a blogger. I’m a designer at heart, focusing on the creation of bags and hats, who happens to enjoy the occasional online sharing of her (life)style insights and experiences across the Big Apple – and apparently there are people out there who happen to like this ha. Additionally, I handle all social media and marketing aspects with New York-based China Institute, an institution that aims to enhance the American understanding of Chinese 21st century culture through the arts. And I’m really enjoying this job right now!
I launched my eponymous brand ZZF back in 2014. When I landed my first job in fashion PR and marketing, work took me to New York. Influenced by the people surrounding me here, I decided to give fashion design a go by taking part-time classes at Parsons, majoring in design. After finishing up there, I opted to get into bag design as I — during my time in fashion PR – had run into a Hongkongese factory owner during one fashion week who offered to manufacture a set of samples for free and subsequently encouraged me to take my design to the next level, i.e. selling it across different showrooms in New York. Basically, I sat inside that factory for two months and came out with a first real, authentically ‘shaped’ collection. I consequently applied my own social media networking and tools and thus the dice were cast. “
My designs fall under the lifestyle denominator. I enjoy style, individual style, style that is classical with a twist, style all the way!
- Temper: What is the Jenny Zheng brand?
Zheng: “Taking inspiration from other designers, working with them, learning from them, altogether lead me to expand my own design horizons, start buying my own fabrics, and so on. It’s all a matter of communicating and sound-boarding. Once I had gained the knowledge and confidence to test the waters and set out on my own, I felt so inspired by these other designers I had met with, worked with, interviewed with and became friends with, that I decided to try and delve into other branches such as that of millinery. My first one there was a red raspberry beret with a white leather trim. Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, all my designs fall under the lifestyle denominator. I enjoy style, individual style, style that is classical with a twist, style all the way!”
- Temper: Who is the Jenny Zheng client?
Zheng: “My client is the BAILING, the new woman. Women who enjoy life, who want to develop and have their own style, who dare to be creative, wo dare to OWN it, who are willing to design. For example, when I design, I give my clients the opportunity to alter the colors, adjust the shapes, make it their own! I don’t want to be a big brand logo, what’s more, I don’t want the logo to be visible on the design whatsoever! I want the wearer to own the(ir) creation! These women are their own boss.” [this is a first; we love]
- Temper: It may seem redundant, but still, think about it…. How does China sneak into your designs?
Zheng: “Well! Funny you should ask. Yes, it obviously does, given I am Chinese, but when you ask me point blank, I have no idea as to how exactly! My boyfriend, on the other hand, does. And points it out regularly. [Temper thanks Thee, Google-man Adam!] I used to get offended when he would say ‘Jenny, your stuff is very Chinese’ , given the previous derogatory Made In China connotation, but he rightfully identified the shapes of my bag designs to very much resemble that of classic Chinese architecture. I don’t put it in there consciously, but it’s there. Absolutely!”
- Temper: The Muse. Who and what?
Zheng: “I like old movies. Old Hollywood studio-era movies. They give me a, let’s call it a ‘straight-lined’ feeling. I’m an old soul, I suppose! [laughs] I also prefer 80s music, by the way ha. But going back to my earlier comment, I like straight lines. I like square shapes, no round stuff. I like black and white, monochrome dressing, straight up, straightforward. Maybe I’m a bit weird ha. So, yep, there you go: My muses!” [We’re all a bit mad, Jenny; no worries]
- Temper: China Fashion anno 2017: Any beans to spill?
Zheng: “There’s definitely a new crop of young Chinese designers coming in. I’ve seen quite a few at New York Fashion Week. [demarcation to be noted!] I have to admit to being amazed. One of my favorites, was a Parson’s graduate who had created an entire collection in white. What’s more, it was a teenage collection! It was unique. All white, no way of telling where she was from, just a feeling of being very impressed. You often can tell by a collection ‘oh, this one’s a Chinese or an Asian designer’, but then these others appear and they’re… Unique! Just unique! There should be no definition of nationality, just a mixture of different opinions and styles.
Unfortunately, money, in fashion, often still speaks louder than words, i.e. solid designs. It’s one darker aspect of the designer industry. Real talent sometimes or often doesn’t get a real chance due to a lack of funding. I hope more and more of these talented, real (Chinese) designers will get the chance. At this very moment, the China Fashion market is still maturing, but eventually those budding Chinese designers will have a dominant market of their own. Hope lives!”
There’s been a palpable shift in the perception of the Made In China label over the past three or four years; people have started to equate it to ‘innovation’.
- Temper: China Fashion in New York City: Brady Bunch vibes?
Zheng: “ Many of my friends here in New York are designers. We call ourselves a BAOTUAN (抱团) – where ‘hug’ meets ‘collective’ ! And we’ve taught each other a lot thus far. It’s all about mutual learning curves! We’re still a small group, but we got the power [laughs]! Seriously, though. There’s definitely been a palpable shift in the perception of the Made In China label over the past three or four years; people have started to respect it and are looking at all the Chinese newbies putting themselves out there and ringing in innovation. ”
- Temper: About China Institute: How do you, specifically, promote and help out young Chinese designers?
Zheng: “We have a strategy in place, alright ha! We have a wide array of options for the promotion of young designers. We help them set up the entire showcase event. We provide them with a venue; we offer them media resources (we have a massive media database); and we connect them to potential sponsors and advertisers. In sum, all the crucial factors in putting your brand onto the catwalk! We ourselves will be hosting a fashion show come September 23 [which Temper contributor cookie Jessica Laiter shall grace with her presence, i.e. cover] and come February 2018, we’ll be hosting another one featuring five or six different emerging designers.”
- Temper: What is the No.1 perk of being a young designer in New York City – as opposed to Shanghai, Paris, London, Antwerp, la dee dah?
Zheng: “The people. Their open-mindedness, to be specific. There’s no other fashion capital that carries within such an energy and is so welcoming towards new, no-name-yet designers and artists. The people in this city give you a chance to show yourself, to be seen. Analyzing the fashionable circumstances in places such as Shanghai, I, to give a personal example, wouldn’t stand a chance given the fact that money and a name still overrule innovation and creation. You have to reach a certain level of ‘stardom’, so to speak, before you can play with the big(ger) kids. Whereas here, in New York, you can play in the sandbox together with the other kids and their toys straight off the bat. It’s a somewhat magical match of fate, openminded-ness and fashion. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to give Shanghai a go and see how far I can take things there, but for now, New York remains my No.1 home-base.”
- Temper: Last, but not least and bringing it back to the beginning. What’s next in store for Jenny Zheng brand?
Zheng: “Bags, bags and more bags! And a Boyfriend Collection to boot. Because we all need to accessorize ha! Plus, I really hope to be a bridge between the U.S. and China and to show people of the world that Chinese design in the 21st century really is the New Made In China!”
A constructional approach to creation is very much a classical reasoning in design. It’s part of the Parsons basics: Construction leads the young grasshopper through the essential stages of creating a garment, from pattern cutting and draping a mannequin to sewing techniques, finishing and haberdashery. It’s the merger of visual skills, Fingerspitzengefuehl and the power of imagination. That power is one the up and coming tribe of Chinese designers entering New York most certainly possesses: The locking hands of an open-minded fashion culture and stream of consciousness. And that’s the final Temper analysis.
Contact Zheng via WeChat: jennyzheng117; Website: www.jennyzheng.org
Images: All images in this feature come courtesy of Jenny Zheng for ZZF and Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine.
Copyright@Temper Magazine 2017 All rights reserved
After tackling Beijing for some six years where she worked for China International Publishing Group, she spent a moment in time moseying down steep alleyways and writing about their fashionable and underground features in Hong Kong.
Van Paridon most recently managed to claw her way through a Europe-based academic endeavor called "Journalism". 'Tis in such fashion that she has now turned her lust for China Fashion/ Lifestyle and Underground into a full time occupation.
Van Paridon hunts down the latest in Chinese menswear, women’s clothing, designer newbies, established names, changes in the nation’s street scenery, close-ups of particular trends presently at play or of historical socio-cultural value in Chinaplus a selection of budding photographers.
Paired with a deep devotion to China’s urban underground scene, van Paridon holds a particular interest in the topics of androgyny, the exploration of individuality and the power that is the Key Opinion Leader (the local term for “influencers”) in contemporary China.