We’ve heard the phrase “art is dialogue” time and time again, but what exactly does the saying mean? During the rise of the Impressionist movement in the West, emerging artists admitted finding inspiration in Eastern visual art like Japanese block printing. What’s interesting, however, is that these block prints were actually recognized by the Japanese themselves as failed attempts at imitating Western art. While art continues to advance and take new forms, it still features an cyclical aspect of borrowing, recreating, and imitating. In this, we can say that art really is a dialogue between the East and the West.
These trends we’ve seen in visual art can similarly be applied to what we are witnessing now in the world of high fashion. Everywhere we turn, a new designer is coming out with a lookbook that features the classical beauty and aesthetic of Chinese design – be it evident in cuts, prints, fabrics, or silhouettes. The oriental influence is slowly but surely making its way into these lookbooks and onto runways under the guise of high fashion and haute couture.
This is not a new fad. Yves Saint Laurent FW 2004 is the first collection that comes to mind when thinking of the first instances of Chinese influence in high fashion. But this season even more and even bigger names are taking to the runway with their own personal spin on oriental inspiration. Designers like Emilio Pucci and Haider Ackermann fuse modern minimalism and dynastic luxe to create uniquely Chinese-looking designs. Pieces are decadent with oriental lavishness – dragon prints, tailored satins and silks, impressively particular golden flower details – all in deep jewel-toned hues of red, purple, and blue.
As Western designers have borrowed from the Chinese, native Chinese designers also have taken some lessons from the West. Take for example, Guo Pei, who has already been compared to fashion powerhouse and couturier, Alexander McQueen. Currently reigning as queen of Chinese haute couture, Guo Pei is revered locally and internationally for her strikingly extravagant, crystal-studded, and impossibly detailed statement dresses and bridal gowns. But even she has admitted to awareness of the dialogue that exists in high fashion, owing inspiration to French designers, French cathedrals, and the French people. She even cites Yves Saint Laurent, whom I’ve already identified as one of the first to begin flirtation with Chinese designs at the start of the millennium, as one of her key influences.
After all, fashion – like all art – is a dialogue and in order to move forward, we still need to look back to our past and look towards our neighbors. As with anything, a circular exchange of knowledge allows for a deeper and more multi-faceted understanding of what might have seemed so familiar to the native eye. This fact holds true, too, even in fashion and haute couture. It will be exciting to see how Guo Pei will continue to marry her knowledge of both French high end couture and dynastic Chinese fashion tradition. And it will perhaps be even more exciting to see what Western designers will take away from Guo Pei’s works, furthering the fashion dialogue.
By Stephany Zoo, cofounder and marketing director of Bundshop.
image credit: guo pei