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Fashion in Hong Kong and China

With one foot in Hong Kong and the other in China, knitwear label Cynthia & Xiao’s niche appeal spreads far and wide

From simple silhouettes with feminine details to statement pieces with strong graphic elements, Cynthia Mak and Xiao Xiao have found their niche with knitwear that draws on the best of what their home cities have to offer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 November, 2017, 12:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 November, 2017, 5:05pm

Hong Kong and China were once seen as big fashion rivals, each vying to be the region’s style leader and trying to foster the best emerging designers. Times are changing, however, thanks to a new generation of designers who are embracing the best of both worlds to gain a unique advantage.

“We categorise ourselves as Chinese designers rather than saying we are from China or Hong Kong,” says Cynthia Mak of fashion brand Cynthia & Xiao. “We have two workshops, one in Beijing and the other in Hong Kong. Although the company is officially based in Hong Kong, a lot of the creative and production is done in China. This has enabled us to access the best resources from both places.”

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Cynthia & Xiao is the product of two minds – Hong Kong-born Cynthia Mak and Beijing-born Xiao Xiao. The two met while studying fashion design at Central Saint Martins in London, with Mak specialising in marketing while Xiao pursued knitwear. After graduating they went their separate ways, working in different sectors of the fashion industry. In 2014 they got back together when Mak invited Xiao to help her launch a fashion label.

“It’s so competitive out there so I wanted to find an area of the industry that wasn’t so crowded,” Mak says. “Knitwear was an interesting niche to pursue as there weren’t many brands that were specialists. Our line is quite different because we actually develop and make the fabrics from scratch so you won’t find them anywhere else.”

The duo’s first collection featured simple silhouettes with feminine details such as lace, but that gave way to statement pieces with strong, graphic elements. The industry immediately took notice – soon they were being selected as one of Asia’s top talents by Vogue Italia, while retailers such as Lane Crawford started stocking the brand.

“Every season we have a theme and the fabrics are developed from that,” Mak says. “Because we develop our own materials it means it takes much longer – say two to three months as opposed to one month if we just bought the fabric from a supplier. It’s good though because we are able to create a powerful, consistent theme with our collections.”

The brand’s autumn-winter 2017 range, for example, features rabbit and tiger motifs manipulated to look like camouflage. Meanwhile the upcoming spring-summer 2018 collection, which was recently shown in Paris, features quirky graphics including mushrooms doing yoga, a DJ owl, a tiger on a dirt bike and a rabbit floating on water.

Another of Cynthia & Xiao’s signatures is their use of handcrafted details, as seen on coats and dresses decorated with layers of handwoven crochet and netting.

“We spend a lot of time developing the fabrics and finding the right factory,” Mak says. “This to us is much more important than doing a big collection. Instead of doing 60 styles, we make everything as beautiful as it can be.”

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The brand has been well received by Asian audiences. Mak says China is its biggest market and they recently held their first runway show at Shanghai Fashion Week. They also work closely with the Fashion Farm Foundation in Hong Kong to showcase the brand at international trade shows in Paris and New York.

“We have a much better reaction in Asia in general,” Mak says. “We do want to expand more in China, but having a presence in Europe is still vital for branding. In the mind of the Chinese, it’s still important for you to be international – that mentality isn’t changing.”