Hot up-and-coming designer Xuzhi Chen has landed his first show in Milan with the support of veteran Giorgio Armani, as China takes its place on the luxury fashion map. Sweet-faced Xuzhi, 24, who has been making waves in his home country, said showing at the prestigious Teatro Armani was "very stressful but really really exciting, I couldn't ask for a better opportunity than this!"
He is not the only emerging Asian talent debuting in the northern Italian fashion capital: this season has seen Anna Yang present Annakiki and Angel Chen -- dubbed the Baby face of China's fashion boom -- show off her eponymous label. Snagging the Armani theatre slot, though, is a huge boon: it's a launch-pad which has shot previous new designers to fame.
Xuzhi told AFP on Saturday that Chinese fashion fans -- who have boosted profits for established foreign luxury brands and served as a lifeline for many during the economic crisis -- were now clamouring for home-grown talent. "We've been economically booming for the past decades and now people are really hungry for creative stories and creations," he said.
Chinese DNA, London brand
The young designer, who has already made a name for himself with his simple silhouettes and textile and textural innovations, is on a roll after being nominated for the H&M Design Awards in 2015 and the LVMH Prize last year. He studied at London's Central Saint Martins, the label -- written as Xu Zhi -- is London-based and his design team is made up of contacts he made in the British capital, but Xuzhi is very in touch with his Chinese roots.
He is part of what has been dubbed by fashion bible Women's Wear Daily the "gang of six", a group of Chinese designers in their twenties who ventured abroad to study -- largely in London -- before setting up their own brands. The gang includes Angel Chen, Momo Wang, Xiao Li, and duo Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang. "We studied together, I was actually roommate with a few of them in college," he said. "It's really great to have a peer that inspires you and motivates you, and can be there for you and can understand what stress, what difficulties you are going through. It makes it a lot easier!"
The gang has shown together in the past and several members, including Xuzhi, will be at Shanghai fashion week in April.
All in the yarn
The collection unveiled in Milan took Xuzhi's skill in twisting and braiding yarns to the next level, creating a feeling of freedom and movement with long fringes swinging from skirt or jacket hems or covering dresses entirely.
"These are actually single yarn strings hand-braided and then stitched on one by one onto a fabric base, so every single piece you see is tailor-made. It takes about a week to do a top or a skirt," he said. Colours were midnight blues, silvers, yellows and white. Dresses were sleeveless, jackets and coats were given a rough and ready look with hanging threads, their hems left unstitched.
Braided yarns also appeared on sleeveless tops or trousers and were laid over painted brushstrokes to create the illusion they had been painted on -- think the textured surface of an artist's canvas. Asked what was next for the Xu Zhi label, the designer gestured at the backstage commotion following his show and said "it's really difficult to say with this having just happened, my head is everywhere".
International stardom may seem tantalisingly close, but for the moment another activity tops the to-do list: "Taking my team out for drinks!" (AFP)
Images: Miguel Medina /AFP