Laurence Xu's part in Paris couture week shows Chinese designer's global vision
It's been 18 months since Laurence Xu made his impressive debut in Paris at the haute couture collections in July 2013 with his exquisitely embroidered cocktail dresses and jumpsuits, the colourful summation of thousands of hours of delicate handwork at his atelier in Beijing.
Last week he returned to the Paris catwalk with his second presentation of hand-painted and vividly embroidered cocktail dresses and gowns inspired by the extraordinary Buddhist frescoes that decorate the caves in the Dunhuang region of northern China. Xu might find international admirers but when it comes to clientele his classicism and unfaltering Chinese aesthetic can be limiting.
Xu is an ambassador of Chinese traditions: embroidery and brocades are part of his design DNA and he has invested in a large studio of artisans to keep these traditional skills alive. Nevertheless, it can still take 10 months or more to embroider this richly picturesque collection of 20 or so gowns. It's an investment of passion and dedication resulting in exceptional pieces such as in a jumpsuit covered in a fine filigree of gunmetal and gold beading and a gown with a laser-cut leather bodice embellished with embroidered rosettes.
You could draw some comparison with the way Chanel has supported the Métier d'Arts in France investing in Lesage (embroidery), Lemarié (flowers and feathers), Maison Michel (hats) and so forth for its haute couture and pre-autumn collections, but such is the financial power of Chanel and the size of their ateliers, Lagerfeld can produce a collection in a mere six weeks.
Xu, although famed for his work in Chinese costume dramas and dressing the likes of actresses Zhou Yun and Fan Bingbing, has a much smaller atelier and therefore has to be more patient. His is a fledgling business that proves there is potential in China to rekindle the level of craftsmanship demanded of haute couture.
Xu has a very classic, structured interpretation of couture and all he needs to do now is fine-tune his elegant '50s-style couture silhouettes and bring more lightness and modernism to his vision.
Off the catwalks, he was not the only Chinese designer with a presence in the French capital. Grace Chen, a Shanghai-based couturier the South China Morning Post reported on recently, was one of a group of Chinese designers, including Siv Zhang and Kilin Chen, presenting pre-autumn looks at the "China in Paris" exhibit at Rue du Mont Thabor.
Like Xu, Chen - with her lovely evening dresses and chic daywear - is a perfect example of how Chinese designers have grown in confidence and are now looking beyond Asian shores for business.