Tieling Young Man Showed Chinese Fashion on New York Fashion Week
Jan 20,2023

Putting the fine golden thread through the silk, drawing the outline of geese flying in pairs, moving the round pearl across the fingertips and then threading silvery thread through its hole, a gorgeous scene of spring sunrise in April was woven vividly. With the last pearl nailed, the 28-year-old young man Zhang Yan rubbed his eyes and shook out the embroidered garment for closer inspection. This was his debut outfit for the 2022 China Fashion Week and he has named the show Hear the Snow at the Top of Kunlun Mountain. Zhang Yan and his team have been working on this show for months.

From his debut at New York Fashion Week in March 2019 as the “youngest designer of Chinese costumes at NYFW” to his current status as a popular designer of Chinese fashion among insiders, Zhang Yan, a young man from Tieling, Liaoning Province, has created countless impossibilities with his love for traditional Chinese culture.

Zhang Yan, a post 90s, has always loved drawing, beautiful clothes and bright colors. When he was in junior high school, Zhang Yan dreamed to be a fashion designer and make the most beautiful clothes when he grew up. In 2012, he was admitted to the major of art of Shenyang Normal University. The Shenyang Cheongsam Association was looking for a designer in an overseas contest, and Zhang Yan seized the opportunity.

Zhang Yan used to go to the Liaoning Provincial Museum to find inspiration. One day, Zhang Yan walked into an exhibition hall with traditional Manchu costumes and embroidery crafts. He found a new world which lingered in his memory even today.

Zhang Yan was completely overwhelmed by the dazzling traditional costumes, such as the unique patterns on lapels of the bodice and the beads on the high-sole Manchu style shoes. He was impressed by exquisite traditional handicrafts and profound clothing culture. He determined to pass on the traditional Chinese culture and arts.

Zhang Yan believes that there must be innovation when spreading the traditional culture. “We need to give the ancient, deeply rooted cultures new lives by coming up with an innovative and chic way, so that people can feel the collision of the old and the new!”

Zhang Yan first made some innovation: the traditional cheongsam did not have a floating yarn, but he chose to add it. He thought that such an innovation would allow young people to appreciate the beauty of the Chinese cheongsam. “The combination of traditional culture and fashion” became his initial design direction.

“Many designers make garments to wear, but for me, it’s to tell stories.” Zhang Yan said he was telling Chinese stories.

At New York Fashion Week in 2019, Zhang Yan named his first show “Born Fearless”, at which a stunning display of traditional Chinese culture impressed the audience. His debut was later described by foreign media as “a mysterious force from the East”.

Today, Zhang Yan’s designs have the traditional Chinese patterns presented through traditional techniques and intangible cultural heritage technologies such as beading, Gold-plated embroidery, Liao embroidery, Xiang(Hunan) embroidery, Nanjing Brocade and K’o-ssu (silk tapestry with cut design). Zhang Yan is keen to use video clips to show the designing and making of Chinese costumes, and he hopes that more people will see the beauty.

Since 2019, Zhang Yan has been invited to world top fashion shows including New York Fashion Week, China Fashion Week and Shanghai Fashion Week, etc. He has done dozens of Chinese fashion shows in the past four years. He said he remembered clearly at Paris Fashion Week, a local man came up and gave him a bear hug after the closing, saying that Chinese clothes were quite charming! His beard was so scratchy that Zhang Yan wanted to laugh, but he was moved to tears.

Zhang Yan is busy flying all over the world or on the way to various fashion shows. What’s more, to prepare for a big show, he cannot sleep well for several days on end. However, he said he was very happy. His greatest wish is that he can make “the quintessence of Chinese culture” no longer mysterious to foreigners and make the tradition a “China Chic” in the eyes of the young with his own efforts.

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