Slowly working my way back to the catwalk, while tottering around the city to catch a glimpse of Victoria Beckham, I'm striking a pose at a crossroads where fashion meets lifestyle.
I always assumed the Netherlands wore the crown of Bicycle Heaven, until now, that is. Apparently, according to Ed Hung and Michel Sutyadi, founders of urban lifestyle brand NLGX, that title belongs to Beijing, and their designs, in keeping with their fashion-meets-lifestyle dynamic, are both stylish and practical for the city's residents. NLGX describes itself as a heritage-inspired urban lifestyle products design company. Born and raised in the U.S. and Germany respectively, and both having family histories rooted in China, Ed and Michel share a diverse background. Their western take on design, combined with an understanding of Chinese culture, helps them get that right blend of heritage, style and edginess. Their designs are inspired by the graphics, materials and colors of traditional Beijing, such as the famous Nanluoguxiang area. And after seeing the latest designs for their Kommute line, aimed at the trendy urban cyclist, even my 6 inch heels might soon touch a bike pedal in a city where I generally do not cycle.
Urban chic gets ready for takeoff
Now, on the verge of opening up NLGX's third store, located in Beijing Capital Airport's Terminal 2 (the company already has Terminal 3 in its waist pocket), Michel, the brand's creative director, took some time out of his frantic schedule to meet with me.
Once upon a time, in a hutong far, far away… The one and only original NLGX store. Copyright@NLGX
We met at the original NLGX store in Nanluoguxiang, at that time yet to resemble a Vogue spread, which opened up four years ago. Michel arrived by bicycle, sporting his own light grey Kommute bag. (I love self-promotion.) Launched at the beginning of 2012, the Kommute line targets the urban cyclist and consists of bike-friendly hoodie jackets and a series of backpacks, all designed to be functional on a bike, but stylish enough to wear around while not riding. NLGX wraps all that's urban into one. Like its designs, the store itself has a very bright and fresh industrial feel to it, which makes for a beautiful contrast set against the backdrop of traditional Beijing. The first items that caught my eye were the newly-arrived funky recycled bags. Random Western or Chinese woven newspaper bags of all shapes and sizes: Leather briefcase-style designs for the more classically-oriented among us, and gorgeous shoulder bags made of thin, somewhat faintly powdered pinkish, strips of Chinese newspapers for yours truly.
A Kommute backpack, irresistible to the fingertips, and, ohlala, la Pinkish Pièce de Résistance. Copyright@NLGX
(Re)Cycling, preserving, creating
Once again, Beijing-based creative Wunderkindern are taking an ecological stance. ECOuture (thank you, Currie Lee) is an often-spotted phenomenon on the global fashion scene nowadays. Simply look at H&M's recent eco-friendly glamour collection, boasting starlet outfits made of sustainable materials, including organic cotton, hemp and recycled polyester. I would assume, however, that it's always a challenge to incorporate an independent sense of style into these collections without looking like you've just attended a Kumbaya singing hippie fest at Chaoyang Park (yes, I know, different tie-dyed strokes for different headband-loving folks). But fashion and Beijing just seem to be a natural fit. China's rich ancient traditions and cultural heritage are immensely inspiring. But at the same time, Ed and Michel also wanted to make a statement about the new and modern lifestyle developing within China's urban areas, so they added modern elements to their designs as well. The combination, that mixture of old and new, is what makes NLGX's designs so specific to this unique period in Beijing's history. It is not surprising, then, that the NLGX slogan became "Preserve… Create", highlighting its goal of preserving the past, while creating the new.
A Muenster design school graduate, Michel described how NLGX is essentially a China-centric brand. The company's first T-shirt design read"不拆" (bu chai or "do not destroy") on the front, and had "Preserve…Create" written on the back. All NLGX creations are inspired by this tagline. Aside from the newspapers, the company also uses a recycled paper-wool-woven fabric, which is simply heaven to touch. Don't even get me started on the delicate wallets, in basic modern bright colors, made from this material. Perhaps as a result of having grown up overseas, Ed and Michel prefer more simple and subdued designs and cuts rather than the overly-flamboyant styles that are often seen in local Chinese designs. These two former Beijing-based students have come a long runway from just putting a simple reinforced newspaper "grocery" bag on the market. Even though NLGX is an urban lifestyle brand, and thus designs might seem a bit sporty for Valentino lovers, it is undoubtedly a cool high-end street wear brand, possessing an easygoing air. I personally hope Michel and Ed will release a line of wristbands and gloves. (You already sell flat caps starring the trademark newspaper format guys, so I'm just trying to think outside the column here.)
The fabric may be recycled, but the creation is not: recycled woven newspaper shoulder bag. Copyright@NLGX
Asia rocks the street scene
Primarily boasting Asian, Japanese and Korean, influences, Beijing street wear is undergoing a constant process of evolution. A stroll through the area proves that Nanluoguxiang is very much an experimental fashion scene. To quote Michel: "Young Beijing hipsters tend to throw things together, which leads to some very interesting creations. You see all these different subcultures inspired by American, European and Japanese fashion. Other trends are long gone in the West, but just emerging and becoming popular in China, so sometimes it feels like you're living in a time capsule. There are no rules to fashion here."(On a micro-mini note: the overall 2012 Spring/Summer collections are actually also about the clashing of patterns. So if you've ever felt that need, 'tis the season.)
While Beijing street wear may not yet possess a cutting-edge style like that of its neighbors, it encourages the young urban Beijingers to express their individuality. With the exceptions of Vivienne Westwood, Marc Jacobs and several other like-minded masters of course, Western eyebrows would be raised if you strutted down the street flaunting your hottest mish-mash outfit at 3PM. But for me, that boldness is precisely the beauty of a developing urban scene like Beijing's, which is exploring its options on all levels. It's all about having some fun with it. And Victoria only knows what dazzling designs may come from that.
Fashionistas United, I'm telling you:
NLGX is the place where you can get your other half a trendy gift which you can borrow!
PS: NLGX has an online shop that delivers to your doorstep (by bike courier I suppose) across the globe.
The Address: 33, Nanluoguxiang Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing.
The Website: www.nlgx.com