A good tailor may not be a good designer, and vice versa. However, Zhai Yanxin, at 25, is bold and confident enough to claim that he is both. And results bear him out.
The Harbin native's career as a fashion designer in Shanghai is in full swing these days. He is one of the most popular guest hosts of the daily fashion and style program on the city TV channel-Channel Young.
A month ago, his extravagant, 30-minute fashion show at the trendy street fashion hub Loft in the city center-site of his second city store-attracted hundreds of loyal customers, whom he affectionately calls his "fans." More than 60 one-of-a-kind sets of outfits, all decorated with shining Swarovski crystals, were displayed.
His latest ventures are his men's wear collection under his own label "Zhai Yanxin," and the opening of a wedding dress store in Wenzhou city in nearby Zhejiang Province.
Unlike most designers of his age, Zhai says that market is always his first concern. "No doubt every designer wants to create something artistically beautiful," says the Singapore-educated designer with a double major in fashion design and marketing.
"However, I always believe that you have to make money and be accepted by the market first. Without enough capital and regular customers, it is hard to survive in this ever-changing industry."
This is perhaps why his favorite designer brand is Dolce & Gabanna, which combines "artistic aesthetics" and marketing value.
The born businessman started his own company, Fashion Design Organization, three years ago when he was still a student. Today, the company owns four exclusive brands, "Zhai Yanxin" for both women's and men's ready-to-wear and tailored dresses, "Xiu Zhuang" (embroidery house) for wedding and ceremonial dresses, "T2" for designer T-shirts and "Tofu" for jewelry and accessories.
The company started as a tailoring store because Zhai recognized the demand of a well-off city women seeking "uniqueness" in their fashion.
"Even for my ready-to-wear lines, I produce no more than three pieces for each design," says the designer wearing a Vivienne Westwood sweater for this interview. "In that way my customers won't have to worry about their outfits competing with someone else's."
Like many homegrown designers, Zhai blends Western silhouettes and traditional Chinese aesthetics and details in his clothes.
"I have always had a deep interest in Peking Opera so many of my inspirations come from the opera costumes," says Zhai, who also started to learn traditional Chinese ink-wash painting at an early age.
He loves the vivid hues so often used in those theater costumes. In the latest collection, he uses a lot of bright colors such as rose red, emerald and lemon yellow even for winter.
He is also a worldwide traveler, visiting Europe and Japan regularly to learn about the latest trends and introduce his designs to overseas buyers. As a result, Zhai's designs can now be found in boutiques in Tokyo and Paris.
His focus is still on the tailored outfits, including cocktail dresses, formal evening gowns and wedding dresses. His six-story studio on Xietu Road in Xuhui District is packed with glamorous outfits that would exhilarate any woman. Customers are asked to choose their favorite, then Zhai and his team follow up with adaptations according to the customers' ideas and needs.
A tailored evening gown costs as much as 6,000 yuan (US$820), while a ready-to-wear cocktail dress is about 3,000 yuan.
The attractive, stylish designer is also a much-sought-after city hair stylist, whose clients include a long list of celebrities and stars, such as actresses Maggie Cheung and Zhao Wei and Taiwanese girls' band S.H.E.
"When I was 19, my dream was to set up my own label and company," Zhai says. "This dream has already come true. My next goal is to build a franchised salon around the country that boasts fashion design, hair dressing, beauty and spa services under one roof."
Check out Zhai Yanxin's work at:
Address: Shop 415-416, Bldg 1, 508 Jiashan Rd
Address: 318 Julu Rd
(Shanghai Daily January 28, 2008)