Designer adds a little ooh la la

Updated: 2011-04-19 09:00

By Eric Jou (China Daily)

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Designer adds a little ooh la la 

Beijing fashion designer Yang Guanhua. FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY


Yang Guanhua is building a growing reputation based on her designs inspired by French style and luxury fabrics, Eric Jou discovers.

The clothes might look French, but the designer is very much Chinese. Designer Yang Guanhua, better known as Elysee Yang, imports the finest fabrics from France, Japan and South Korea, and uses the same materials as elite fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Cartier.

"My customers are usually well-educated, high-earning women, who desire a more rebellious look outside of their work wardrobe," said Yang.

Born in China and educated in France, the 36-year-old designer has been moving up in the Chinese fashion world since her return home in 2003.

"My style originally was very punk and rebellious, especially in the first few years when I just got out of school," she said. "It reflected my own rebellious nature, and my customers back then were primarily foreigners. As I have matured, my line is moving to a more refined style, which is more suitable for everyday wear, and more of my customers are Chinese."

She has two clothing lines, Elysee Yang and ZemoElysee, which she set up in France, and her designs reveal a mixture of punk and French luxury influenced by her idols Vivian Westwood and the late Alexander McQueen.

The Elysee Yang line is made-to-order haute couture, which start at 2,000 yuan, with evening dresses more than 20,000 yuan and wedding dresses more than 30,000 yuan.

Her second brand, ZemoElysee, is her ready-to-wear line, and is geared toward a younger crowd with prices around the 2,000-yuan mark.

"A lot of men ask me to make a men's line and many take my clothes and wear them but I'm afraid my style is very feminine," she said.

Yang was born and raised in China and credits her parents for her success. Her mathematician mother was a Tsinghua University graduate and her father was a telecommunications researcher. She said they provided a nurturing environment, which allowed her creativity to blossom.

"My father isn't like a typical Chinese man. He's very relaxed with a great sense of humor," she said. "I tested 47th in my class and my mom became angry and told my dad to discipline me. My father then asked me how many students were in my class. I said 50, then my father smiled and said, 'At least you're not 50th. It's OK'. He also said that if school made me unhappy he would support me for the rest of my life."

She said she didn't have much time for her studies because she was always too busy drawing.

Yang eventually found her fashion focus in the sixth grade, when she entered a design contest after a friend backed out. She won the competition and later enrolled at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, but found it hard to fit into the system.

"I didn't find my style in Beijing. I couldn't relax at that time and I didn't really like China's education system," she said.

"I failed a few subjects and graduated university without a degree. My grades in the core subjects were terrific but I didn't do as well in some general education classes."

Yang moved to Paris, which she now regards as her second home, and enrolled in L'institut Superieur des Arts Appliques, or LISAA, where she studied design and began to master the technical skills of tailoring. She also attained work experience at various design studios.

Her passion for all things French started in childhood and was enhanced when she learned to speak French. It was during her time in Paris that she also met her husband.

Leaving Paris in 2003, Yang and her husband returned to Beijing because her grandfather was ill. Yet, she was quick to continue her business interests, and two years later opened her Sanlitun boutique and began building her brand with small fashion shows, eventually making her Shanghai Fashion Week debut in 2009.

Yang said she believes China's fashion scene is advancing quickly. With more foreign-educated Chinese returning home with fresh ideas and new perspectives, the market is expanding rapidly, especially with more foreign labels looking for local designers to enter the market.

"I spent the past five years cultivating my brand and learning about the market and now I am working with investors to expand my brand," she said. "What I really aspire to be is like Yves Saint Laurent, where my style is classy but innovative."

(China Daily 04/19/2011 page36)

Designer adds a little ooh la la