Tradition goes modern: Chinese designer reconnects the present and the past via Hanfu
By Cen Ziyuan

Hanfu, an ethnic dress of Chinese Han people, has a history spanning thousands of years. While many designers have been trying to restore its authenticity, others say it's best to leave it in the past.

Chu Yan, a fashion designer, is known for her work in recreating traditional Chinese garments. She also teaches at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology and runs a studio on Beijing's outskirts.

Her work includes designing the traditional Chinese wear Tangzhuang for world leaders participating at the APEC meeting in Beijing in 2014.

Chu Yan led a group of designers and designed world leaders' Tangzhuang at the APEC meeting in Beijing in 2014. /Xinhua

Chu Yan led a group of designers and designed world leaders' Tangzhuang at the APEC meeting in Beijing in 2014. /Xinhua

"An earlier project was about Dunhuang grotto murals. They are two dimensional. Later on, I worked on a collaboration project with Xi'an Museum. We worked with pottery figures. They are three-dimensional, unlike the murals. We have developed a better sense of what the real items may look like," Chu said.

Chu shared her belief in recreating these historical art pieces, and that is "to know where it comes from and to lead where it heads to."

Because of the technological advances, many argue that these new designs cannot be traditional Hanfu and only classical garments can be considered authentic. However, Chan says it's more complicated than that.
"Can we recreate something exactly like it was in history? We can do that. Our design, tailoring and production methods allow us to do that. But the difference is we use distinctive techniques and materials," she told CGTN.

Her talents aren't just limited to the recreation of traditional Chinese clothing. From scratch to final production, she wants to add a modern twist to wearable fashion with traditional Chinese elements.

"For me, as a fashion designer, the recreation of historical pieces is just part of our research," Chu said, adding that innovation is another part of the work.

In response to the claim that Hanfu should make a return, she says we do not need a physical attachment to honor the tradition and Chinese culture. Instead, young Chinese designers should have a clear understanding of the art history and give what's the past a new life.

"We cannot return to the past and there is no need to dress exactly the same as ancient Chinese people," Chu said. "Take the essence and discard the dregs." She believes young Chinese designers should take heed of this famous Chinese saying. "Honoring history doesn't mean you have to mimic what it looked like in the past. You have to excel," she added.

Also, check out the previous episodes of "Tradition goes modern": 

What the Chinese Hanfu clothing system is all about

Decoding what's not 'hanfu'

A brief history of Hanfu's styles