What is the concept behind Mukzin? “Young Chinese people don’t understand their cultural heritage, perhaps because until a few years ago traditional Chinese design was styled in an old-fashioned way, but I use traditional Chinese imagery and craft in a modern, irreverent way. For example, I’d give a qipao sportswear detailing and a diagonal zip that can be opened to reveal shorts or leggings.
“I launched the label with my husband, George Feng, in 2014. The name, Mukzin, is the Cantonese pronunciation for Mi Shan or ‘secret fan’. ‘Secret’ refers to China’s 5,000-year history while ‘fan’ is a typical Chinese cultural symbol. I am from Dalian and it is a way for the brand to connect the two regional dialects.”
Hangzhou has a history of silk and textiles. Is that why you are based there? “No, it is because it is the most connected city in China, with big internet firms based there. I was so impressed when I visited a friend there. We were sitting by West Lake when she ordered a Starbucks by phone and it was delivered five minutes later. Nobody uses cash; it’s all done by mobile and it opened up a new world to me. You can sit by West Lake in a classic qipao and use a mobile to order things. It is the merging of two worlds, old and modern, that I like.”
What is the concept behind the spring/summer 2019 collection? “I was inspired by the packaging of traditional Chinese medicines like Tiger Balm. In the mid-19th to 20th-century, Western hospitals were being built in Hong Kong and pharmaceuticals imported and so the Chinese were learning about packaging design and were influenced by Japanese graphics. I have used these as prints in the collection [above], although they may require some sense of humour to wear if you understand what they say, as I have played with the characters.”
What are your feelings about cultural appropriation? “It is great to see brands like Gucci using Chinese and Japanese paintings and dragons in their collections. Everyone knows these influences are from Asia but Western designers use them differently. I, however, deconstruct elements that Chinese people don’t necessarily realise come from their culture, so the interpretation is unexpected and different.”
How is the Western consumer reacting to your aesthetic? “At first, I wasn’t sure if Western people would understand my brand because of my use of Chinese characters and culture. However, the pan-Asian style is becoming more popular and New Yorkers want to try something fresh. Maybe half the store’s customers are Asian but models like Gigi Hadid have bought my dresses.”