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More than A Dress

2012-05-31 14:11:48        Chinese Films
With the end of the 65th annual Festival de Cannes, a number of Chinese film stars have left their mark on the red carpet. More than ever, the domestic fashion industry is receiving international attention, as more Chinese designers and actors are gaining global exposure.

But despite paparazzi flashes of fame, the appearance of Chinese actresses in jaw-dropping dresses is not enough to enhance China's cultural and design industry. With China catching up to the West, celebrity appearances are only a superficial aspect that must be cultivated to reflect a deeper design culture.

Second-tier designs

A dress should reflect the personality of the actress and films, said Chinese designer Qi Gang. He uses the example of Audrey Hepburn and her iconic Givenchy black dress, in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

"That was a masterpiece that captured a legend of an era," Qi said.

Perhaps closest to the domestic equivalent of Hepburn is actress Fan Bingbing, who will next appear in Iron Man 3.

Her 2012 Cannes appearance, in which she sported an updated hairstyle in the shape of the traditional bun, Chopard jewelry and an Elie Saab bag, captured the attention of photographers.

Designer Christopher Bu, famous for crafting the "dragon robe" previously worn by Fan Bingbing at last year's awards, was inspired by the shape of a porcelain vase from Emperor Tongzhi's period (1861-75) in the late Qing Dynasty and the images of the four historical Chinese beauties.

His painstaking efforts, coupled with Fan's beauty received positive feedback, gracing the front pages of fashion magazines. British website captioned pictures of the star as, "Fan Bingbing glows as a Chinese Goddess."

But one person or one dress cannot reflect the standards of a whole country.

Designing alluring attire is not only about producing a fashion icon, but also about creating art. For Chinese designers who put all their emphasis on expensive materials and ostentatious details, this will be a big challenge.

Chinese elements

Chinese elements and influences are a huge trend at fashion shows. Many international brands like Swarovski, Coach, and Gucci have incorporated the image of the dragon in their products, to commemorate the year of the dragon. But despite these iconic Chinese images, it's difficult to define what modern Chinese culture and design embodies.

"For designers, it is essential to understand where the brand came from. I am from China, so my inspiration comes from traditional Chinese culture and reproducing Chinese handicraft, using Chinese techniques. We need roots. With such a long history, there's a lot we can learn from the past," said Zhang Zhifeng, president of the Chinese brand NE·TIGER.

Young Chinese designers however, have a hard time identifying and incorporating their roots.

Masha Ma, a young Chinese designer, was signed by the Chinese editions of Vogue, Marie Claire, and Elle. She finds it difficult to explain what a truly "Chinese" aesthetic means.

"It's true my aesthetics were shaped by my Chinese roots, but I wasn't really brought up with the Mao suit jacket."

Wang Tianmo, a young Chinese designer who studied at Central Saint Martin's school of fashion in London, won acclaim following her graduation show last year. Her style inspiration is drawn from London, but she is optimistic about learning from her roots.

"I want to learn the handicraft [of] Chinese minority groups...It just takes time."

Silk and embroidery aside, China has other unique designs to offer to the world. Many French and Italian designers welcome Chinese trends.

Chinese designers must balance inherited traditions and creative innovations. Concentrating too much on cultural elements leads to cliché designs and ideas.

"This is why many Westerners think that every [Chinese person] is a 'Bruce Lee,'" said Hu Sheguang, a designer at Chinatex Corporation.

Film stars without films

Chinese actress Gong Li, who was an award present guest at this year's Cannes, once said that she wouldn't grace the red carpet if her films were not nominated for film festivals.

But it seemed that most of the Chinese mainland actresses who appeared on the Cannes red carpet this year were only there to show off their glorious dresses.

Mike Goodridge, a reporter from Screen Daily described Cannes as a "tasty cocktail of glamour and art."

For Chinese film stars, there might only be the former.

A running joke this year is that when reporting on the Paris Fashion Week, many foreign publications accidentally labelled actress Li Xiaolu's photo under Fan's name, suggesting that though Chinese stars attend these events, they are still largely unrecognized.

Cannes should be a place where celebrities speak through films and talents, not just their clothes.

As actress Zhang Ziyi said last year, without films, Cannes is colorless. The best way to look good on the red carpet is to wear a beautiful dress, while promoting an actual film.

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