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Tailoring Young Dreams

Art college students and graduates surprised the 15-member jury for the CCTV (China Central Television) Models and Fashion Designers Contest that ended last week.

"Teachers were students of yesterday and these students are designers of tomorrow," said Li Dangqi, vice-dean of the Fine Arts School of Tsinghua University and chairman of the jury, comprising five persons from the fashion industry, five from the fashion media and five consumers.

With the theme of "joy," 30 out of 1,060 collections made it to the contest's final round.

All of the 30 collections in the final were designed by the students or new graduates from fine arts schools.

"Their designs still bear a certain student's trait but they fully displayed their," said Li.

Li Xin, assistant president of China Fashion Designers Association, and a member of the jury, said: "The students' cutting-edge ideas and expressions are more unconstrained than some of the professional designers."

'Grass in the Desert'

Ma Kai, 21, a junior student at the Fine Arts School of Beijing Union University, won the gold prize with his collection "Grass in the Desert."

The work, including four women's dresses and one mens' wear, were made of wool, gauze and some synthetic fabrics. Grey with a brown tone, casual yet bold, the collection was cool and unconventional.

"Ma was bold and innovative to express 'joy' by imbuing his collection with the colour brown in contrast to most designers who chose red or other bright colours," said Li Dangqi. "Red expresses joy well but it does it too directly.

"Ma's collection was unique and attracted all the judges' eyes at first sight."

Of course, the first prize did not mean Ma's collection was perfect. The five judges from the fashion industry said the man's suit was flawed.

Li Xin pointed out it was not in perfect harmony with the women's dresses, both in colour and material.

Ma himself also admitted "the professional designers have very critical eyes."

The wool used to make the long overcoat for the man was dyed in mixed colours of blue, white and grey.

"But the mixed colour came out far removed from the ideal colour I originally designed," said Ma.

Talking about his inspiration, the shy and honest-looking student gave a frank answer, saying: "I cudgelled my brains for a whole week for the ideal. I believe the flash of inspiration results from quantitative accumulation.

"Actually, I didn't expect to win the prize. In this gathering of master-hands, I'm nobody, and even in the school I'm not a top student."

Born into a common worker's family, Ma was sent to learn drawing in the children's palace by his parents. "But I was naughty and often played truant in the drawing classes at the weekend," he recalled.

Despite missing some classes, his interest in arts grew unconsciously. After graduating from high school, Ma applied to art school and hoped to learn oil painting. However, he was assigned to learn fashion design.

At first, Ma, with the dream of becoming an oil painter, was disappointed and unhappy.

"I did not adapt to the school environment since there were only two boys, including myself, among 27 students studying fashion design," he said.

However, Ma finally decided to take things as they came. And now his biggest disappointment has turned into success.

"My interest in fashion design was developing imperceptibly, like my interest in fine arts," he said.

"As I learned more, I enjoyed it more.

In his spare time, Ma often goes to the library to look through the fashion magazines to follow up the latest trends. John Galliano and Alexander McQueen are among his favourite designers.

Ma adores McQueen's "brilliant creativity and technical mastery." "He is only 31 years old but has risen rapidly through the fashion ranks to become one of the leading lights of international design," according to Ma.

Yet becoming a master designer like McQueen is not the only dream for Ma. The ambitious young man wants to design his own catwalk shows, his own boutique and his own fashion corporation.

'Green vs red'

Wang Liang's collection was considered the best by the five judges from the fashion industry, though he was finally awarded the silver prize, because the judges from the media and the consumers had different tastes.

The collection comprised leisure knitwear for women with delicate bias-cuts. Some details of army uniform were used in the women's dresses ingeniously.

"The contrast between red and green is striking but in harmony," said Li Dangqi. "It's difficult to blend these two colours but Wang succeed."

According to Wang, as he started to design, Wang Xiaojie - his colleague at the Grand Show Fashion Designs Company - suggested he use the contrasting colours.

And the idea happened to meet his long-term plan to design a women's collection based on the army uniform.

"Women might look bold and lovely in such dresses," Wang Liang said.

Li Xin said she liked the collection, because "it offers an aesthetic message in appearance and function, and may become popular in the market."

Wang's consideration for the collection's marketability is the result of his one-year work experience in the fashion design company after he graduated from the Fine Arts School of Tsinghua University.

He paid more attention to the market than the other students.

Different from other men who usually hate window-shopping, Wang said he often strolls in the streets to observe what common people wear, and visits small boutiques and large shopping malls to learn the market.

"A good designer should have business sense as well," he said.

Before entering the fashion world, 28-year-old Wang was teaching drawing in a primary school in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province.

By chance, during his leisure hours, he read some Japanese fashion magazines. "Such magazines were in short supply in Shenyang, so they were really fresh to me and impressed me immediately," Wang said.

To date, Japanese designers exert a significant influence on him, and Issey Miyake is his favourite. "I think innovation is the first element for a good designer, and Miyake is such a genius inventor," Wang said. "Many of his original design vocabularies, such as pleats, have become global."

Worshipping the masters, Wang's dream is to develop his own brands featuring an avant-garde style. "We Chinese designers need to create our own brands rather than play second fiddle to Western designers and manufacturers," he said.

'Original Green'

Zou Pin, 23, looked tired in the workshop as she was swamped with her new collections for the International Young Fashion Designers Contest in Paris this month, shortly after the CCTV contest.

Zou, now in Paris, is a senior student with the Fine Arts School of Tsinghua University. She won another silver prize at the CCTV contest with her collection "Original Green."

Her women's collection featured bright green and white, described as a lovely style brimming with youthful vitality.

The judges agreed the five dresses were in perfect harmony and the entire impression was nice, though the designs had a strong student's sense.

"Zou's green is really eye-catching," Li Xin said. "It is difficult to use such bright colours well. Usually the designers prefer safe tones such as black, brown or light beige, yet Zou is bold."

Zou explained: "I like nature, and green is the purist colour representing nature."

As for the material, she chose light and soft silk, gauze and mohair - all highly permeable.

"It is important for dresses to look good and be comfortable," she said. "Giorgio Armani, one of my favourite masters, bases his vision on the common people in the street, believing clothes should be made to be worn not just seen."

Zou's interest in fashion designs might originate from her natural fondness for beautiful clothes when she was a little girl.

"I was fascinated by my mother's and sister's fashion magazines, as my little pals still liked picture-story books or cartoons," she said.

Dreaming of becoming a fashion designer, Zou, a top student in high school, transferred to a fine arts class and eventually entered the Fine Arts School of Tsinghua University.

At first, the young woman from Zibo, East China's Shangdong Province, was not the top student in the department, but the short and slim Zou did not worry. She said: "I was confident I had the sense for fashion and I could work harder than my classmates."

She spent most of her spare time in libraries, workshops and countless catwalk shows in Beijing. Every semester, she won the scholarship for outstanding achievements in her studies.

"She is one of the most diligent students in the department now and has the potential to develop and mature in the future," said Li Yuanfeng, director of the department.

Despite her achievement, Zou did not appear very satisfied with "Original Green."

"The final image was not the same as what I designed," she said. "Some materials I chose did not fit the designs well."

She had other people make the pieces in her collection according to her designs. "But they did not fully understand every detail of my designs," she said.

"I have paid more attention to learning designs and I haven't trained as hard in tailoring.

"Sometimes I have great ambition but little ability, so I will take this as a lesson.

(China Daily December 17, 2001)

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