angel chen is the baby face of the chinese fashion boom
We catch up with the Shenzhen-born designer at the center of China’s fashion youth-quake.
Photography Courtney DeWitt
At 24-years-old Shenzhen born, London trained and internationally based designer Angel Chen has done a lot with her 9000 odd days on earth. Since leaving China to study at Central St Martins when she was 17, she interned for gown queens Vera Wang and Marchesa before launching her own eponymous line in 2014 at Shanghai Fashion Week. Two years in, her work has ascended to the Parisian and New York runways and racks of Opening Ceremony and Lane Crawford.
Angel's collections are bold: the color palettes and attitude are a pastiche of romantic BDSM, cult 90s Japanese magazine Fruits and John Galliano circa 00s Dior, which is no coincidence as Galliano also happens to be her design hero.
Like many young Chinese designers her work also explores the space between East and West. Her latest collaborative project with Swarovski and Lane Crawford was a dress inspired by traditional Chinese medicine in which embroidered threads and Swarovski hot-fix crystals represent acupuncture points on fabric made from medicine waxed paper. People are clearly taking notice of her ability to slip between worlds, she was recently named as one of Forbes China's 30 under 30.
i-D caught up with the shaven haired, cherub faced talent to talk about why she's adamant that it is, "truly the year of China."
Chinese fashion is drawing increasing global attention and excitement—is it a good time to be a young Chinese designer?
Yes, the customer is now mature; not in terms of age but education, they have been exposed to a lot more, both within mainland China and from overseas. The consumer is savvy. There is a great curiosity amongst the youth and a thirst for new Chinese labels whose design and quality are competitive with international brands. I have great Chinese retailers and there is a strong sense of excitement about this new wave of young designers. I like to think of my label in global terms.
In 2014 you graduated from Central St Martins and started your line. Do you consider the brand to be born in China or the UK?
A bit of both, the creative design was done in London and all the production in China. It was a whirlwind—I graduated then moved back to China. Starting the label happened quickly, my first season I showed in New York, Paris, and London. I'm now technically Shanghai based but seemingly traveling everywhere from Europe to the USA.
Did you always want to start your own label or were there houses or designers you dreamed of working for?
I always wanted to work for Galliano, he is a huge inspiration. But then he was gone and I couldn't see anything exciting, so the natural thought process was to launch my own line.
Being picked up by Opening Ceremony seemed like a seminal moment, tell me about that?
That was last year in Paris, then they also came to check us out in China. They've been coming to Shanghai Fashion Week for a few years which is equally great for them and the designers. They are doing a special project called The Year of China showcasing a different designer each month, because it truly is the year of China!
You're certainly an example of that, two seasons in you're growing at a rapid rate.
China is going through a boom with regards to young brands but it has taken a long time to develop that mindset and support, it didn't happen overnight. It's only now that I feel there is a platform for a long sustainable status in the industry, before there was no real infrastructure at our level.
There is a lot of talk about how the fashion education of the Chinese consumer has only just been cemented, Angelica Cheung at Vogue China has been vocal about this.
Yes and it's not just the consumers and buyers, it's the media, designers, stores, manufacturer, sales agents—everyone is thinking in unity instead of the push/pull battle that existed before now. The whole industry is flourishing together; it's reminiscent of what happened in Tokyo so long ago, that type of collective foresight is just happening in China.
Do you have a good relationship with your fashion contemporaries? It feels like if a label is getting particular shine, the other designers see that as being collectively good for everyone.
Yeah, I have a relationship with everyone. Some are more intimate because we studied together or hung in the same circles in London, others I've met through mutual sales agents or fashion events. It's very supportive we all realize that it's a great time to be a creative in China.
Text and portrait Courtney DeWitt