China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan has become a media and internet darling. She sparked fashion frenzy and a lot of national pride on her first state visit to Russia, Tanzania, South Africa, and the Republic of Congo.
Emerging as a global style icon, she has been described as stylish and modern, with some comparing her fashion sensibilities to Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
But you won’t find her wearing any foreign luxury labels.
The designer behind the first lady’s choice outfits is Ma Ke of Chinese fashion labels Exception and Wuyong. Ma, who is highly regarded within China’s fashion industry, studied fashion in China and London and has won numerous industry awards.
She founded Exception in 1996 with her now ex-husband Mao Jihong and went on to found Wuyong, her haute couture label.
Peng’s outfits, including her much talked about elegant black double-breasted belted coat and handbag, were from the Wuyong label. Want China Times reported that “the label had quietly hand-made nearly 100 outfits for the first lady over the past three months.”
Exception founder and CEO Mao Jihong once said, “Exception is Chinese in its core. We are all about being comfortable with ourselves and nature. We are not a show-off brand.” Wuyong uses traditional textile techniques such as a Chinese loom dating from the 19th century. Ma wants the label to redefine the meaning of luxury, not something defined by Western companies and standards but by timeless elements like “time, water and the human spirit.”
As a nationally famous singer, Peng is well aware of the power of media and image. Peter Ford of Christian Science Monitor wrote, “She has used fashion sense to project China’s soft power. Everything she wears is Chinese made and designed, and sometimes clearly designed in the oriental style. That is a marked contrast with the sense of style that prevails among most wealthy Chinese women, which tends towards well-known Western brands.”
By bringing domestic fashion brands to the forefront during her first official trip abroad, Peng has done more for these home-grown brands — giving credibility and changing public opinion almost overnight.
She has single-handedly raised national pride and confidence, which is a boon for domestic brands. The Global Times noted, “Chinese people’s confidence in their culture, including politics, is more or less related with their confidence in domestic brands. Many of them (China’s social elites) are the first followers of foreign brands. Social elites should contribute to promoting China’s brand-building efforts.”
photo credit: republic of korea