Touching Stories—Liu Yang

Fashion Times, written by Tian Zhanguo, May 13, 2005

●Dreams—let Chinese menswear be known all over the world.

●Design concept: only when you devote all of yourself to your works will they have a soul.

A good designer does not only design clothes, but also designs a lifestyle.

—Liu Yang

To write about a person, in addition to his life experiences, there are other things that can portray him better. That is, his appearance, thought, works, job and friends. So only Yang is one of the representatives of the Chinese contemporary designers, and his personal experiences have been analyzed and explored by most media. There is no need to recall his developing journey from when he entered the fashion design community until now. Instead, we can get to know him better and understand his life better as a designer of the new generation if we look from another perspective.
When we get closer to Chinese fashion designers, it is essential to be objective and calm, because we are not facing a miracle, not heaven, not hell, but a real person.

What Is Liu Yang like
Liu Yang is tall, handsome, gentle and talkative. His hairstyle changes a lot. With his remarkable talent and various images, he has influenced a generation of young fashion designers. He is the first idol of fashion design masters in China. His images have become the representatives of design ideas and features of different periods.
At first, I heard of Liu Yang through his works. Many years ago, I was deeply impressed by his special Goldfish and Straw Plaited Apparel. The first time I saw LiuYang, He was winning the "Golden Top" award. He was wearing a headscarf, looked very handsome, young and impetuous, and very proud of being a designer.
The first time I interviewed Liu Yang was after the show "Shian Neo Scent of Woman" was finished. Though exhausted, Liu Yang was still smiling big. Behind the his affinity I could sense his hubris.
While my contact with him gradually increased, I gained a better understanding of him. Liu Yang is very easy-going, unassuming, and emotional and a good communicator... He works hard, pursues perfection, and sticks to principles. He is compassionate. Although he is not interested in fame and fortune, he has to face them now.
Liu Yang has many friends and is popular among them. At the “Tumaza" fashion show, many old fashion celebrities who had been out of the public's sight for many years, made a special trip with their children to see his show in Beijing. Not only did their efforts move Liu Yang, they also moved many people at the show. Every time Liu Yang comes to Beijing, he always invites all his friends to eat his favorite "boiled fish” dish with him. To everyone, it is a great pleasure to enjoy the delicacy while listening to his humorous and sincere words at the dinner.
He is a person in pursuit of extreme perfection. He pays much attention to details and is strict with himself too. One time, he even paid with his own money to change his neighbor's tree because he thought it was too ugly. So it is the same with his work. At every fashion show, he wants every detail to be perfect, from small buttons and wires, to the whole fashion concept. He works day and night, and tends to every work, including work of a director, models, choreography, music, lights, speeches, pictures, gifts, tickets, invitations. Finally, his body can not handle it and has to get on strike to protest. He unconsciously robs everyone of their jobs, but he gets respected because of this.
Some people said Liu Yang is a symbol of fashion, and he himself joked that he misled a generation of people into the designer career. Perhaps it is due to the influence of his behavior and avant-garde image. Years ago, he said, "it is an aesthetic misunderstanding of the 1980s that a man should have traditional thick beard and eyebrows, strong muscle build, solemn expression and inexplicable anger." Thus came the "Nth men" concept: men can dress to present their personalities. This theory explains why the current fashion designers and working men in the fashion industry, including himself, wear braids and headscarves.
In fact, in the fashion design industry in China, over the years, Liu Yang did hold his show often, but every time he did, people’s reaction to it was great. He is one of the designers who fully express their self-perception of life. A designer can be good discovering, thinking, summarizing, and making breakthroughs. From his design works, we can see his perception of life, beauty and nature. That is often what the audience demands.
Lin Yutang wrote in his book that "the things Chinese people hide in their hearts, only through their arts can they be recognized". Peace and harmony are the characteristics of Chinese art, which originate from the mind of Chinese artists. An artist overlooks the world from an elevated ethereal level with a high degree of peace and extensiveness. He integrates this spirit into his works.”

Liu Yang's works
I remember two years ago, Liu Yang and I chatted at the Beijing Hotel. We joked at that time that his works "Goldfish Apparel, Straw-plaited Apparel" influenced two generations of clothing practitioners, including journalists as I was one of them. But only when he talked about the creation process at the time did I know that his creative works were the accumulative result of his painstaking efforts and hard work.
Over the years, I have seen a lot of Liu Yang's works: men's, women's, sportswear, business wear, children's wear, many of which set trends. But he himself may forget that the popular "no bra style" on the T stages in China is what he started at the Germany show in 1996, leading to the practice of models not wearing underwear at a fashion show. Therefore becoming a jargon of women's wear show: tudian (salient points).
How should we describe his works? Perhaps as a saying goes, "Natural beauty of lotus rises out of clear water; Jade's beauty cannot be achieved without being carved". An elegant temperament gently flows out from plainness. That is his style. At the same time, behind this elegance hides an imposing energy, conveying his tranquil and passionate attitude toward life.
When talking about differences between the Chinese and foreign high class fashion designs, a critic precursor of the fashion industry pointed out that the foreign fashion designers may be born in an aristocratic family, so their customers are aristocrats, and departure and landing points are both high. Most of the domestic fashion designers do not have that kind of aristocratic life experience. In accordance with the theory that "art comes from life, but dramatizes life", they are not able to design works like their foreign blue blood counterparts. However, he, Liu Yang, also mentioned a special case, inheriting a kind of elegance from his family so that his works still have the same characteristics. Whether it is men's wear, women's wear or children's wear, Liu Yang‘s design works reveal the high class elegance of the Cognitariats, who were his target customers at his just-finished "Tumaza" fashion show: children of white-collar class families having received higher education.
If a designer's works want to be appreciated by the audience, their aesthetic innovations such as color and shape are important. But the more important elements are the pride, humor, beauty, solemnness and cheerfulness that these works bring us when we listen to, and watch the touching works. The same goes with emotional resonance of the fickleness of human nature that the designers express through their works. Liu Yang is no doubt one of the few designers in the country that are able to arouse viewer's emotions. Therefore, his works touched many people.
A clothing brand owner in Guangzhou once said that Liu Yang is a color expert. In the Chinese fashion design industry. Liu Yang's use and master of color is different from the visual impact of Zhang Zhaoda's heavy use of ink, different than the Wang Xinyuan's generous and realistic rendering, and different than Wu Haiyan's gentle and delicate detailing. His utilization of color is non-deliberate, and natural. His fashion creation is the external manifestation of his thinking.
The aesthetic principles of the Chinese culture are "Be natural and plain" and "Recover one's original simplicity". Liu Yang's understanding of his design philosophy is like this "Only when you devote your whole life to an art creation, will your work have a soul."
Culture is a product of leisure, and the Chinese people have had years of abundant leisure to develop culture. Over the many years, designers had enough time to drink tea, while calmly observing life. They can extract the true meaning of life from the tea. They have enough time to discuss events of all times and all countries, carefully appreciate the achievements of human civilization, and study a series of changes in art and life. Through the long past, they see themselves.

Liu Yang in his spare time
For a period of time, Liu Yang once disappeared from the fashion design industry in China. He was not seen at any show or other activities. He won the "Golden Top Award" in 1998, He said at that time he started a new “him” and the young and frivolous him no longer existed. Alone, he flew to the United States. He first chose to be alone on top, then self-cultivate quietly. This choice puzzled many people.
Liu Yang said, “Chinese people have a saying that everything has a limit.” That is, when one reaches his top, he should make a screeching halt. For so many years I have output my knowledge, so now it is time to get some input. In my opinion, if one wants to be an international professional fashion designer, one should go abroad and experience different lands and cultures in this world "He chose a unique road of self-breakthrough.
Liu Yang went to F. I. T-lectures, carrying a large bag. He lingered in the artist Broadway and artist villages of various exotic cultures; stopped at the New York Seventh Avenue appreciating the hustle and bustle of the famous fashion street. He exposed himself to a variety of different arts, and developed his own design thinking in the new environment. That was Liu Yang's biggest gain in the U.S.
In his leisure time, he re-perceived and appreciated the nature of life and living. That is one of the reasons he retired from the fashion business a few years, and then once again became a fashion pioneer.
When talking about his experiences abroad, he said the most memorable one was the only time he shed tears: the sun was setting. He drove a convertible car on the way home, overlooking the city and the vast sea. Manhattan’s myriad twinkling lights deeply touched him, this passionate young man who gave up his fame, and left his loved ones. The pop music in the car was playing, "the world is filled with love, so the children won't cry". The buildup of his emotions immediately turned into two streams of tears. He was moved by the beautiful view? Moved by himself? He said he did not know his feelings at that time He might be unfamiliar with the new place or might be feeling a sense of loss. Maybe it was the success, his feeling lost, releasing his feelings, or missing his loved ones...In these mixed emotions, he let the wind blow on his face filled with tears. That was the first time Liu Yang released his emotions freely. He is such a mild-mannered fellow, a life-loving person, and a perfectionist rich in emotions.
Long ago, Liu Yang was famous for being avant-garde and different. He designed clothes, shot pictorials, starred in TV drama, wrote songs, made MV... In each work he sought a breakthrough, playing a lead role for the later. Indeed, designers need to have a breakthrough to make better creative works.
However, during the period of Liu Yang's self-cultivation, China's fashion industry was rapidly developing. A large number of new brands and designers were leading the development. In the fashion circle, people were fond of the new and tired of the old and little publicity means to be forgotten by the audience. At the same time, the market system was gradually changing so people were used to looking forward, and forgot to look back. Media and audiences were accustomed to pulling stunts, and they paid much less attention than before to designers who immersed themselves to creating brands. The early China's Top Ten Designers and even the Golden Top Award Designers have been forgotten for the same reason.” Where are the yesterday's Top Ten” became a very serious topic.
A famous Italian designer said that fashion industry is a huge Vanity Fair. As a Buddhist theory explains, one goes through the vicissitudes of life, sorrows and joys, however, at the end, life is but a dream. In this Vanity Fair, maintaining a peaceful mind and sense of being nonchalant to fame and fortune is one way to transcend oneself and stay out of the swamp.

Today's Liu Yang
Now, Liu Yang has many titles including Famous Senior Fashion Designer Living in United States, Council Member of China Fashion Designers Association, Council Member of the US-China Fashion Designers Association, China Fashion Designers Association Arts Committee Chairman, President of the Fashion Designers Association of Guangdong Province, President of Guangzhou Model Association, and visiting professor of many American and Chinese universities.” The elderly has his own responsibilities". Now his responsibilities are not just limited to one field.
Liu Yang is committed to doing something for fashion designers. “Because I myself am a fashion designer, so I understand the pains and joys my job brings. I would like to fight for some rights and interest for the designers.”
Most of his work is focused on the supervision of designers and the design training. At present, impatient anxiety for quick success prevails in the fashion design community. Young designers desperately participate in competitions, hoping to gain fame and fortune quickly. They jump from one enterprise to another nonstop. Liu Yang said: "The enterprise values not so much what awards a designer has won; instead, it values more what he can bring to the enterprise. In order to do his work well, a designer needs to accumulate experiences. No success can be made overnight.”
Liu Yang now spends most of his time each year in his own country China, and cooperates with enterprises in his unique way. He has quietly and successfully helped many brands. While helping enterprises to enhance their comprehensive brand strength, he is also working to build his own senior designer brand " Reflash " and medium and high-end "Fabre" men's wear brand.
"Creating one's own brand is every designer's dream, but not everyone can do it. I also stumbled many times, and sometimes I got discouraged, but very fortunately I met a good business partner. Creating a designer brand is not as simple as doing a show. One also needs capital, management skills, and a team of talents..."
Over the years, the cooperation between domestic fashion designers and enterprises has been hyped. Liu Yang was called “Meteor Camp”. One reason is the unique partnership between enterprises and him; another reason is that owing to his fame, his whereabouts attracts people's attention; and he was also in the United States, and the time gap and space difference is another reason. Compared with many current designer studios providing services to enterprises, the cooperation between them has no essential difference. The only difference is the one between individuals and groups, nothing more. Thanks to the unique collaboration model, and successful cooperation with enterprises over the years, and providing revolutionary upgrade to brands like "Septwolves", he is able to maintain good relations with many brands he once served.
The designer-enterprise cooperation bubble that started in 1997 has shrunk to nil. As to the relationship between designers and enterprises, until now, there is no a clear standard for judging what is wrong and what is right. Brands and designers develop in many directions, so their relationships are also diversified. Only time will tell their merits and demerits. Liu Yang said, "The value of a designer does not lie in the time he spends in an enterprise, but rather in the things he brings to the enterprise. A designer's value can not measured by the length of time, nor can a designer of prominent personalities be measured by a common standard.”
Fashion design is the same as other artistic fields in that they are the characterization of the ideological and cultural state within a nation or region, during a specific period. Only a designer that has a good grasp of people's ideological and cultural needs can create a fashion work that follows the trend of the times and the aesthetic taste of the people. Fashion design is a product of the culture of the times. Only when a designer grasps it, and is able to accurately express it with a variety of techniques can he guide the fashion and trend style. When we recall some details of the development of the domestic fashion industry, we find that in these many years it is not easy for any designer or brand. However, it is the many years’ down-to-earth work that helped a brilliant generation of designers like Liu Yang make achievements today.

Postscript: To write this article, I have waited more than two years from late 2002 to now. I requested several times to interview Liu Yang, but was declined politely every time. He has been waiting for an opportune time. On this year's CHIC his "Tumaza" children's wear show once again moved the industry, but strangely I did not know how to write about it although during the CHIC I have talked with him a lot of times. Maybe it is the over-familiarity with a person that prevents me from being able to write about him.
In fact, I have hoped to re-describe not only Liu Yang, but also other people including Zhang Zhaoda, Wu Haiyan, Wang Xinyuan, Wu Xuewei. The actions of these people standing on the top of Chinese fashion design community after they reached the pinnacle of the domestic design industry are worth pondering.
In contrast with their relative quietness is the young generation designers' showing off, individualism, and their faster pace of development. The younger generation is the outstanding one of the times. They have access to more information, more opportunities and a better environment. It is reasonable for them to carry forward their young and spirited personality. But, compared with the older generation, the journey they have taken is too smooth, and they accumulate too few experiences; so when faced with fame and fortune they are inevitably impetuous. However, they are in the same era as their precursors and they learn from the experiences competing with them in the market, so maybe that would give them some inspirations. Taking this opportunity, maybe we can generalize a pattern of Chinese fashion designers' development in the 1990s. Does not a saying go like this "forget the past means betrayal"?