Brief Encounters: Ping He

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 9:41am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 9:41am

Ping He is one of a new generation of Chinese-born designers based in London. She talks about being creative while growing up on the mainland and how the British system has guided her career.

"London is the most competitive place, and only the best can make their name in fashion here. I knew that I wanted my brand to be positioned at the luxury end of the market in terms of workmanship, prices and marketing.

I want it to be positioned next to Alaia and Lanvin. Harvey Nichols in London picked up my first collection for spring-summer 2014, buying 80 per cent of the designs, and we are positioned on the first floor with the big designer names. In the first month, we did £17,000 (HK$221,800) of business, which, for a new label, is very good.

Joseph Wan [the former CEO of Harvey Nichols] has been very generous to me; he liked my designs from the beginning and advised me to focus on marketing and how to get into a top-end department store.

I want this brand to be solid: to talk the talk. I am competing with labels that are anything from five to 100 years older than mine, and have more marketing power than me, which makes it a very competitive environment. But I have to follow my heart.

I was born in Zhengzhou in Henan province and by the time I was five I was doing Chinese pen-and-ink drawings and oil paintings, and had a good eye for colour. So my mother got me a private tutor. He said I had talent and she encouraged me. She wasn't a Chinese tiger mother: she is a free spirit and speaks her mind, and she never insisted I got good results at school.

I left when I was 16 to study fashion at Donghua University. My father found me a job at the university when I left, but I knew I wanted to come to England, to the city that produced talent like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano. I was offered a place in 2003 for an MA at the London College of Fashion, but I had to do a six-month English-language course, which I didn't fancy.

But Nottingham Trent University offered me an unconditional place, and I came straight away. I stayed in student accommodation with five English girls; on the first night we went clubbing at the Rock City venue in Nottingham. That is where I started to learn English.

During the summer months of 2004 I interned at Alexander McQueen working on fabric development. I didn't see a lot of McQueen until the time of the show, as I worked regular hours and designers don't, which I didn't understand at the time.

I then spent five years working for Aftershock, a bridge luxury brand, designing evening and special occasion dresses. It really helped me understand the market and business side of fashion, and prepared me for launching my own brand.

In late 2011, the opportunity arose to set up my own label, and I spent a year in Hong Kong working on it. Hand-craftsmanship and beautiful tailoring are my signatures. I have the production done in Beijing - I have the best pattern-cutter in Beijing. I do samples in England and Italy, but the Beijing ones are the best.

I met my husband Luke [who is English] while I was at university - he now works in fund management - and that was another reason for me to stay. We share a lot of interests that inspire me, like architecture - I like the cold war Soviet-style brutalist architecture - and alternative music.

We collect vintage vinyl records from the 1960s to the '90s. We love the music and the amazing record covers."

As told to Francesca Fearon