In Da Club


Left: A model at the show. (Photo: UCCA) Right: Designer Zhang Da. (Photo: Lee Ambrozy)

STRIPES WITH PLAID (or checks, or flowers . . . ) are sometimes just more of a good thing. Zhang Da, one of China’s rare self-funded fashion designers—already well known for his flat-cut “O-shirt,” two discs sewn together with holes for arms and head and so forth—took pattern-clash to the extreme on Sunday, August 15. Beijing’s fashionistas, who keep up with local design and architecture cliques, gathered over weak tea and hot water served in stainless steel cups in a side room of the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art for the fastest fashion moment in the East, the launch of Zhang’s 2010 autumn/winter collection of his Boundless label.

“I don’t need to think what to put on, and I can wear his clothes for any occasion,” said Cui Qiao, the tour de force leading UCCA’s education and public programs, who has overseen more than three hundred events just in the 2010 calendar year to date. She was off to her next event, a salon-style media function, just minutes after the crowds had cleared from this, the first-ever UCCA-supported launch for a Chinese designer and an affectedly humble affair.

The fashion event’s sex appeal diminished as more than three hundred guests strode past a narrow house by Erwin Wurm and an oppressive installation by Zhang Huan (featuring a train salvaged from the wreckage of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake), before stepping into the glamour-stifling atmosphere of institutional fluorescent lights. Clumped in the center of the room was a fortress of battered furniture (reportedly from the collection of artist Wang Jianwei). The launch had generously been scheduled from 3:30 to 4:00 PM, but the room was still sparse twenty minutes after the hour. Hipsters lined the walls, guarding their seats on the tattered sofas and wooden crates scattered around the perimeter.

Left: Musicians Li Daiguo on pipa and Vavabond. Right: UCCA's external art director Guang Yu (left). (Photos: Lee Ambrozy)

Somewhere during the evolution of the Mao jacket to acid-wash Levi’s and finally to Gucci (or its local imitation, “Cucci”), the breaking wave of the mainland’s fashion industry left a tidal pool of native designers (Zuczag, Wang Yiyang’s Chagang label, Zhang Da) determined to create fashion leisure wear amid encroaching luxury malls. These trendsetters oppose the kitschy glam of the mainstream, and aim for originality, with Chinese characteristics. They prefer pluck, speed, frugality, and androgyny.

At precisely 3:33 PM, the room was filling fast, fashionably late being, apparently, three minutes. Architect Yong He Chang and his wife, Lü Lijia of Atelier Feichang Jianzhu, who have their own small label, smiled weakly at the encroaching “post-’80s” crowd who were frantically snapping digital photos, before designer and fashion devotee (à la Comme des Garçons) Liu Zhizhi herded them to the front of a thickening crowd. The models were friends of the designer and staff from UCCA, who, it was said, had been doing yoga together in preparation for the show. They began circling the room to a blend of live pipa and electronics, music curated by sound artist Yan Jun. The models smiled and nodded to their friends in the crowd; some of them took up enameled porcelain bowls filled with snacks that had been placed in the open drawers and cabinets, and began to pass them out to the audience.

“We were originally supposed to just be ourselves, but right before the show they told us to perform,” said one of the models, graphic designer Meng Ke. “It was okay until the models started pretending to wipe down the furniture,” commented another. Housework might never succeed in marketing fashion, but if not for their bright colors and polka dots, the models would have blended in with the audience.

Left and right: Views of the show. (Photos: UCCA)

“That’s my favorite,” said UCCA art director Guang Yu, as he pointed at the actor/theater producer Xu Ang standing in the middle of the runway, gesticulating in front of a microphone while clothed virtually head to toe in discordant psychedelic autumnal flower prints. A certain moxie is necessary to wear these designs without looking like you’re on the streets in pajamas, as the Shanghainese famously do.

The room cleared out just moments after the models left the floor, a Beijing minute upstaged by the New York minute, as busy professionals scooted off to the next Sunday afternoon engagement. Maybe they realized they were the show themselves, and got bored. The cleaning staff rushed in, pulling up cords and snickering as they ate leftover snacks still sitting on the runway. The successful orchestration of the anti-spectacle was achieved. Socialist fashion with Chinese characteristics had made its debut.

Lee Ambrozy