Winning designer Huishan Zhang adds esteem for 'Made in China'
Huishan Zhang has scooped up the Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize, launched in 2010 and the first fashion award given by a major hotel chain.
The Chinese-born, Central Saint Martins-trained designer, who produces his entire collection in China, beat three other finalists - Brazilian Barbara Casasola, Latvian-Israeli combo Fyodor Golan and New Zealander Emilia Wickstead.
Blending classic Eastern lines with Western wearability, Zhang won over the 20 judges with a presentation of highlights of the first five collections after launching his business in 2011.
His couture "Dragon Dress" had to be remade for the Dorchester presentation because London's Victoria and Albert Museum had selected it as a permanent piece in its T.T. Tsui Gallery, making him the first Chinese contemporary designer to receive the honour.
Originally working with couture and moving towards ready-to-wear, he uses intricate lace and embroidered detailing on sweet, modern dresses that have quickly seduced buyers from London, Paris, Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, as well as Joyce in Hong Kong and Shanghai. He recently picked up Barneys in New York and Beverly Hills as stockists.
The 31-year-old from Qingdao says his win "gives people another perspective on what 'Made in China' means". His collection is made in Qingdao, where his mother helps oversee production in what he describes as "an intimate family-run business".
"Winning this award means so much to me. I have been receiving texts from buyers and potential buyers, congratulating me. It is going to help me build the business on an international level, so this is an incredible opportunity," he says.
The prize includes £25,000 (HK$311,000), a stay at one of the Dorchester Collection hotels and mentoring from a selection of judges.
Zhang's prize money will be invested in his next ready-to-wear presentation at London Fashion Week in February. And to think, he entered the competition at the last minute. "I only saw the announcement on vogue.com the day before entries closed."
Previous winners include Canadian Thomas Tait, US jewellery designer Anndra Neen, and French designers Annelie Augustin and Odely Teboul of Augustin Teboul, who have since received much media attention.
The Dorchester Collection prize is open to young fashion businesses (no younger than two years and no older than five) in countries where the collection has a hotel. Even though the chain doesn't have a hotel in China, Zhang was eligible for the award because his business is based in London.
This year's finalists provoked a healthy debate among the judges, who included accessories designers Vivia Ferragamo, Rupert Sanderson, Stephen Jones and jewellers Lorenz Bäumer and Stephen Webster.
"It is such a breath of fresh air to see such motivated young designers that really care for fashion and have done so much research on fabric, cut, and design in order to create their collections," says Margherita Perico, a fashion consultant and one of the judges.
Webster says Zhang "deserved to win because, creatively, there were incredible things going on with his clothes, and as Stephen Jones reminded us in the judging room, we were not voting for the best designer in the world, but for the designer with the best potential."
Jones was equally enthusiastic. "The best person won. And for the Dorchester Collection it brings something new to their brand: they have taste, elegance and are passionate about what they do."