Designs on China: Fashion and Neo-Orientalism

Some of the best exhibitions are hypothetical - when time, money and resources are limited ideas rarely get beyond the portfolio stage. Still, some of these concepts are truly experimental and deserve to be further explored. At the London College of Fashion MA Graduate Show in Victoria House I came across fashion curation student Jun Deng's hypothetical exhibition on 21st century designers' interpretation of the Ming dynasty's blue and white designs for clothing and ceramics. By juxtaposing the designs of Chinese and Western designers with traditional Chinese artefacts Jun Deng exposes how traditional motifs have been appropriated and perceived by different individuals.
Roberto Cavalli's dramatic blue and white dress from his Autumn/Winter 2005 collection is a cocktail of Chinese motifs, including: a dragon, red stamp-painting and the curvilinear silhouette of a Ming vase. Standing against a backdrop of a Chinese painting, the gown is a stand-out piece, creating what Jun Deng terms a Western 'orient impression' rather than truly engaging with the symbolism inherent in Chinese design.
In contrast, viewed through Eastern eyes, Chinese designer You Jia's blue and white fish-tail dress for the aquatic awarding ceremonies at the Olympic Games of 2008, is representative of the wearer's femininity and the sports' watery element. In Jun Deng's exhibition, the gown is hung from a lantern (see above image), a basic symbol of Chinese culture with auspicious qualities. From a design perspective this display method also enables a continous view of the gown's wave-like construction and embroidery. Throughout the exhibition, display methods serve the three-fold purpose of showcasing the objects; enlightening the public about Chinese culture, and exposing its relevance to today's designers.
According to Jun Deng, Chinese as well as Western audiences need to appreciate the beauty and symbolism of traditional Chinese designs. Since the Cultural Revolution of 1966, when Mao proclaimed that all traces of old, imperial China should disappear and the destruction of cultural artefacts on an unprecedented scale was launched, many traditional art-forms have been threatened. Although those days of radical extremism have passed, Jun Deng is concerned that the new generation is growing up on a diet of Americana, ignorant of the traditions that have shaped China for centuries. He believes that exhibiting the work of fashion designers who innovate through tradition would inspire China's younger generation and encourage them to take pride in their rich artistic heritage rather than slavishly imitating the West.
Further details of Fashion and Neo-Orientalism can be viewed at showtime.arts.ac.uk/JunDeng

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