China's Ji Wenbo breaks into Milan
CREATING menswear is more complicated than making clothes for women, says fashion designer Ji Wenbo, who combines Asian aesthetics with European luxury to produce minimalist garments.
"It seems simple, but, on closer inspection, intricate work has actually been applied," Ji says.
He became the first Chinese designer to be included in the official calendar of the men's section of Milan Fashion Week, presenting his spring/summer 2014 collection on the runways last month.
"Menswear, being made of little details, balances and imperceptible changes in taste, fires my creativity," he adds.
"To make women's clothes, you just have to give reign to fantasy...With menswear, you embrace all the limitations, but (those) are what actually drive creativity to the maximum level."
Ji was born in Changchun, Jilin province, 56 years ago and ranks among China's most lauded designers.
"To showcase my work (in Milan) to an audience like that and to gain exposure to a wider audience is amazing for the future of my label, as well as the Chinese industry itself."
Ji's garments integrate East and West, with flowing trousers and spiffy jackets.
This season, he was partly inspired by the easy simplicity of Zen monks' vestments, mixed with modern tailoring and a strong sense of cut and drape.
Spirituality has always been the driving force of his sense of style.
"For this season, behind the design concept of my new silhouette, there was a philosophical idea which refers to a Chinese expression, she de - 'the hand that gathers'."
He adds that it has its origins in Chinese Chan, the precursor to Zen. She means "to lend"; and de is "to gain", he says.
"(It means) you have to lose first if you want to win thereafter. It is a way of life and is widespread behaviour in Chinese culture," he adds.
Ji favours black and elegance in his collections.
"Black means neatness and tidiness to me," he says.
His latest collection features natural fibres, especially silk and soft cottons, as well as innovative techno fabrics, all with detailed embroidery.
The Ji Wenbo fashion-house headquarters are in Fujian's coastal city Xiamen. His factory in Shandong province employs 1,000 workers. The Ji Wenbo Fashion Agency has a design laboratory and a research laboratory.
The brand also has 100 boutiques spread across Asia, with the bulk in China. It plans to expand to Europe soon.
Many, like Ji, would want to do the same.
But what do Chinese brands have to do to move forward?
Chinese brands are working to gain international exposure but are held back by a lack of international commercial appeal, Ji says. He hopes that will change.
"We need to do more - invest in brand building, education and communication, and then expand incrementally," he says.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK