Chinese designer Zhu Chongyun talks about plans for Krizia fashion label
Shenzhen-based and a successful, self-made woman, Zhu says she will introduce the Milan label to China and 'take the good things about Brand China into Italy'
At Milan Fashion Week in March, at a packed presentation on the edge of Milan's Giardini Pubblici, the fashion crowd crammed into the darkened, futuristically set venue. They were all curious to see what a Chinese designer would do with Krizia - one of the labels that, together with Versace and Armani, established Milan as the Italian powerhouse of fashion in the 1980s and 1990s.
Zhu Chongyun, a successful self-made woman who is chairman of Shenzhen Marisfrolg Fashion Co (she has a Forbes estimated net worth of US$1.3 billion) and a designer of some 20 years' experience, bought Krizia early last year for what was reported to be about US$35 million.
Shenzhen-based Zhu is one of China's wealthiest entrepreneurs as well as an accomplished designer. She marked her first collection with a show based on the 1972 Russian art house sci-fi film Solaris, which mixes past with present and has a theme of rebirth. Models emerged from fibreglass cocoons into rays of light - a metaphor for the rebirth of the brand.
Dressed simply for her design debut for the label in a minimalist floor-length black dress and glasses, Zhu says she aims to recapture the spirit of Krizia and that the DNA of the brand wouldn't change. "She is independent, very strong and a very modern woman with lots of self-confidence," she added.
Zhu's designs featured the long dark silhouettes, black leather and jodhpur-shaped trousers indicative of the founder Mariuccia Mandelli's collections for the label, and also the animal's eye talisman present in every Krizia collection - reinterpreted on this occasion as an outline or pupil on futuristic-looking white capes and coats. There were shimmering jacquard coats and dresses, suggesting the direction Zhu is heading with the collection, but only a few examples of the asymmetric sweaters that recall Mandelli's personal passion for knitwear.
Mandelli, who founded the label in 1954, was renowned for her '80s power dressing and strong-shouldered silhouettes. At one stage it looked as though Alber Elbaz would succeed her before he went to Lanvin. Mandelli is now in her 80s and has long since been relegated to fashion's sidelines, so it was time for the label to be reborn under new leadership.
Zhu originally trained as an engineer and is more familiar in China for her namesake Zhuchongyun fashion label and 400 Marisfrolg stores. She says she chose Krizia because "not only is it an important brand in international fashion, but because the style, the taste and aesthetic is very in line with my personal taste".
The acquisition of the brand included its vast archive.
"I only saw some items from the 1990s collections and they excited me. I like the series with animals a lot," says Zhu of Krizia's talismanic creatures. She liked the idea of retaining the signature tiger's eye as "something that protects the brand".
She has been quick to quash fears in Italy that she would move production to China. She aims to uphold the savoir faire of the historic label. It seems those at Vogue Italia were at least convinced enough to host a dinner for her during fashion week. It generated extensive positive coverage in the Italian media, fascinated by this Chinese woman in their midst.
Zhu has no plans to scoop any more brands in Italy. She has her hands full with moves that include refurbishing the store on Milan's Via della Spiga and a five-year programme of openings in major Chinese cities: "We are going to take Krizia into China and," she adds with a smile, "we are going to take the good things about Brand China into Italy."