Young fashion designer stitches his way to international catwalks
Updated 22:15, 04-May-2019
By Feng Yilei, Liu Youzhi
Chinese designer Zhang Yan, whose work has just hit New York and Chinese catwalks, has unraveled stereotypes about men in needlework and high fashion.
Impressed by the aesthetics of ancient Chinese embroidery on regal costumes displayed at a local museum, the designer integrated its unique way of presenting images into fashion design, to make traditional embroidery wearable while maintaining its classical beauty. 
The 25-year-old said he particularly hopes more young people can develop a love for embroidery.
 Models present the new collection of "Fusheng." /SUNCUN Photo

 Models present the new collection of "Fusheng." /SUNCUN Photo

While Zhang's glorious gowns are made of ethereal embellished fabrics, his success was the result of sweat and tears. Handling the tiny needle properly in his big hands wasn't an easy job for Zhang in the early days. 
Though many think embroidering is meticulous women's work, Zhang believes the spirit of craftsmanship has nothing to do with gender when it comes to technique or inheritance.
What's more? When he first engaged in embroidery, Zhang said that his friends and parents dissuaded him from pursuing it, thinking that it had no future or development potential. 
"Chinese cultural stuff probably wasn't yet very well accepted at that time," he explained. 
Zhang said he had learned from several senior artists about different forms of embroidery and spent nearly all his money. 
Zhang Yan practices embroidering. /CGTN Photo

Zhang Yan practices embroidering. /CGTN Photo

Once when he failed to get the desired pattern from senior embroiderers, the young designer realized that this intangible cultural heritage can only be safeguarded via innovation. 
After three to five years of practice, Zhang said he has greatly improved his work in terms of texture and detail. His designs quickly gained attention. He first made a name for his sophisticated embroidery on cheongsam – a traditional slit dress with a mandarin collar – and participated in New York Fashion Week and China International Fashion Week early this year.
His last show called Fusheng, literally "a floating life," featuring glimmering fabrics, intricate embroidery, oriental silhouettes and a dreamlike atmosphere, is about how adults find their childhood courage. At the curtain call, about 100 children in all kinds of authentic Chinese clothing came up to the front, amid thumping, clanking music. 
Many audience members burst into tears at the scene, which Zhang named as his most moving breakthrough moment. "It was like, finally, Chinese culture has touched the deepest, most tender part of their hearts," he added.  
Embroidered cheongsam is seen in Zhang's studio. /CGTN Photo

Embroidered cheongsam is seen in Zhang's studio. /CGTN Photo

Zhang said he even asked one of the children if she had a preference for the Snow-White style and the girl replied by telling him that she liked traditional Chinese clothing very much, which made him feel honored. "Just like when an athlete gets a medal and the Chinese national flag is raised for him, we bring Chinese designs to the world while the foreign media has given us some positive feedback. I feel most encouraged by being recognized. Not only Chinese people like my work, but many abroad do as well."
The designer's next stop is Paris in September. He is planning a show named after Chinese literature "Classics of Mountains and Seas." Zhang said it will bring ancient China's geographical culture and literary culture, including some Chinese myths, to the world's fashion capital in the form of clothing.
As to more and more young Chinese designers developing like him, Zhang told CGTN that his motto was "stay enthusiastic, stay interested and keep moving on." 
"I think as long as what you are doing is good and right, in this age of the internet, you will soon get your fame," he added.
(Cover: Child models wear the new collection of "Fusheng." /SUNCUN Photo)