One of China’s Top Ten Fashion Designers - Liu Yang

A Fashion Prince Adored by Thousands of Fans

Source: Information Times August 18, 2013

By Deng Feifei, a journalist from Information Times

There are many nicknames for Liu Yang, such as “Fashion Prince”, “Idol Fashion Master” and “China’s Karl Lagerfeld (Lafabutte)”, etc. He is the “first person” in many fields: the first person who boldly showed the sexy fashion on China’s model T stage, the first Chinese male who shot photo album, the first fashion designer who made his debut as a star, the first person who held a large press conference of men's clothes in China and the first person who worked as a scriptwriter, fashion designer and actor, etc. He once caused a sensation and his story even changed many people’s destinies. This is Liu Yang, the first idol designer in China’s fashion circle. Liu Yang said, “It is not easy to be an idol, but every era needs an idol to fulfill the corresponding mission. A good designer does not only design the clothes but also design a lifestyle. I am glad that in recent days many designers appear in the fashion stage like stars, and it means that I have fulfilled my mission as an idol.”

We had been making appointments for nearly half a month and the interview with Liu Yang finally completed in a hot afternoon in Guangzhou when Mr. Liu made 2 hours in his schedule. We interviewed him in Liu Yang's studio in the T.I.T Creative Park. He just came from the clothes factory that day and dressed casually, though he was not as shinning as he was on the stage, he was friendly and easygoing. The original studio was just an abandoned workshop, but Liu Yang personally designed the studio, the furniture and even the stairs. There is a model in white evening dress sitting at the door to welcome the guests. The model’s light lip color perfectly matches with the white tone, which give a peaceful atmosphere.

The tranquil environment accords with Liu Yang’s current life. He just declined many works and invitations and went on a vacation in Toronto and Vancouver for half a month. He was far away from the busy life and enjoyed the sunshine and beach every day with his friends there. The fresh air in natural environment makes him peaceful. He said, “Nowadays, people are losing their souls in fast life. The whole fashion circle is also missing its directions, and there are fewer classical design works. So I need to slow down and get inner tranquility to think the positive meanings of life. Now I am not focusing on earning money, and my greatest task is to write a book about my experiences of fashion design for more than 20 years to offer some guidance for new generation of designers.”

A Magazine Carved Out His Way to Fashion Design

The smartness and intellect of Gemini incisively and vividly reflected on Liu Yang. He showed his talent for fashion design when he was a child. At first, he made clothes for cats and dogs with waste cloths. When he was 7 years old, he showed his boldness: he stole his mother’s red kerchief when she went out and tailored it into a pair of shorts, then he asked an aunt in neighborhood to stitch the shorts, and ornamented the shorts with white strings from the mouth-muffle. This was his first design for children’s fashion pants. In other families, a child of such an action would take a beating, but Liu Yang’s mother did not get angry and even reward him 5 cents. “My mother is a daughter of a painter, so she may have her pursuit for beauty. She once washed the labor cloths white and cut 2 ribbons to make a pair of sandals or dyed urea bags black to make clothes, which was rather fashionable at that time.”

With mother’s “connivance”, Liu Yang became bolder on his way to beauty pursuit, while his veteran father was very dissatisfied at Liu Yang’s “worthless dressmaker works” and even flied into a rage. “There was no concept of ‘fashion designer’ in China at that time, and the so-called designers were just dressmakers that were not respected by others. I was good at fine arts then, and my father wanted me to become a writer. But I was not willing to give up my hobby, every time I turned to my mother when father punished me…”

In such a dilemma, one thing decided Liu Yang’s life direction: He saw a book. “It was in Xinhua Bookstore that I saw the first fashion magazine in China - Fashion. It was then that I realized that fashion was so interesting. The models could show the clothes! So I decided to become a fashion designer.” Before long, ambitious Liu Yang got his opportunity. In 1983, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts recruited students in Henan. “They only intended to recruit 8 students in the 5 provinces in middle-of-south, and it was even hard than becoming the Top 1 Student in college entrance examination! Only two students were enrolled among the thousands of students in Zhengzhou examination center, and I was one of the two.” Then Liu Yang became one of the university students of fashion design major in Guangdong Province. “Fashion was an emerging industry at that time in China and the teaching was also an exploration.”

On the day when leaving home, Liu Yang’s mother said to him, “Study hard, so that you could be an excellent design technician in Henan No.2 Printing & Dyeing Mill.” To the elder, becoming a design technician is decent, but this is not Liu Yang’s pursuit. “I said to my other, ‘I won’t teach a fish to swim and you will be proud of me one day’!”

A First Show of Blood and Sweat

Some people may think Liu Yang is lucky, but Liu Yang knows his current achievements are not just luckiness. “I am lucky, because my families love me and many friends helped me. However, it is my talents and endeavors that make my current achievements. They called me workaholic and I really did. I paid a lot for my success.”

Liu Yang won the first prize, the second prize and two third prizes in the First China Young Fashion Design Contest and caused a sensation. “They all sail, ‘What a terrific guy! How could he always be the winner?’” But these honors did not make his first personal fashion show easier. “I roughly estimated that a fashion show would cost RMB 80,000. RMB 80,000! You know, in those days, a ‘ten-thousand-yuan household’ was amazingly great. One of my teachers bought a house with RMB 20,000, and he was a rich man at that time. RMB 80,000 might be equal to RMB 80 million in current days, and it was an astronomical figure for me in my whole life.”

Liu Yang was determined to hold a fashion show though he had no money. He borrowed a sewing machine to tailor clothes and sold them on the street (export goods for domestic sale), and later on, he was even arrested for his job of “unlicensed street vendor”. He lived in a rented room of 8 square meters. There was no bed in the room, and the window was broken and covered by a transparent plastic cloth. He took showers in the public restroom. “That public restroom became the symbol of my house, and the journalists came to interview me said they could find my room when seeing the public restroom!” He always took simple meals - the cheapest instant noodles and preserved pickles. “A former classmate of hometown once came to visit me and I proudly intended to treat him. But later on I habitually said to the shopkeeper ‘Give me a quarter of a kilogram of vegetarian fried rice noodles!’ My classmate immediately corrected me, ‘Fried rice noodles with beef in the said amount, my treat!’ It was so embarrassing.”

It was in the small room covering 8 square meters that Liu Yang completed all the works for his first personal fashion show. He worked crazily and lived frugally, but he only saved over RMB 9,000. But many friends were touched by his perseverance and helped him to find venue and sponsorship, and then they collected enough money to hold a fashion show. At that time, Liu Yang suffered from gastrorrhagia because of his long time eating disorders. He had a sharp stomachache before the fashion show, but his tighten his stomach with strips of cloth. Fortunately, his fashion show held in the Oriental Hotel made a hit. Peng Li, Gong Haibin and other China’s top models performed in the show. Next day, many mainstream media and even overseas media reported extensively on the show and praised Liu Yang’s talents. Taiwan’s United Daily News once commented like this, “Liu Yang becomes the limelight in mainland China.”

Success costs a lot. Liu Yang collapsed on the backstage after curtain call. He had serious gastrorrhagia and received treatment in the hospital for half a year. Liu Yang said that he may be frail-looking in appearance but extremely tough in heart.

“A Mission” to be An Idol

Apart from his success of career, Liu Yang is also eye-watching on other aspects. In primary school, he was the “excellent model of learning-from-Leifeng” and dressed in bell-bottoms and red shirt; in university, he was honored one of “National Top 52 Students of Arts Excellent in Character and Learning” with yellow hair and dressed in red trousers; after being famous, he was one of “Guangzhou's Top 10 Outstanding Young Persons” with the hairstyle of African wild-curl up. He wrote teleplay and acted it, shot MV and even shot a photo album. In current years, besides his role of spokesperson of Guangzhou image advertising film with Zhong Nanshan and Zhang Dandan, etc., he was invited to be the image spokesperson of international brands… “I would like to tell you that fashion design is an exciting job and a fashion designer can be a tailor and shining star at the same time.”

Bell-bottoms, dyed hair and wild-curl up are common in current days, but those are “a defiance of world opinion” at that time. Take his “golden hair” for an instance, one of his respected teachers once said to him, “I prefer being blind than to see your hair.” But the “golden hair” cost Liu Yang a lot of money. “I asked around and be told that a barbershop near Nanfang Dasha could dye such a hairstyle. The barbershop was mainly visited by foreigners and rich men, a hair coloring cost RMB 25.” At that time, Liu Yang’s monthly living expenses were RMB 18, but he “threw” RMB 25 earned from home tutoring for over 2 months and dyed his hair. “I dared not to go back to university from the front gate and climbed over the wall. Next day, my hair caused a sensation in the university. Teachers hated to see my golden hair, but they could do nothing with me, because I did not violate any laws or regulations and I did well in my study. Most schoolfellows said I was worshipping everything foreign.”

After becoming famous, Liu Yang was awarded one of the “Sixth Guangzhou's Top 10 Outstanding Young Persons”. The Youth League Committee persuaded him many times for his Africa wild-curl up. “They said, ‘Since you are an idol for millions of youth, you’d better had your hair cut.’ What’s the image of a ‘good youth’ at that time? They wanted to see a youth in blue trousers and white shirt with a red tie and short hair. But I was a fashion designer and I needed to keep my eye-catching image. The era had to show its inclusivity. I preferred my golden hair than the award. At last, I agreed to tie my hair. I was more fashionable than others though wearing the most conservative clothes. White trousers, blue suit, white tie, blue shirt, pony-tail, the ribbon and glorious flower of outstanding youth against my chest and the welcoming people made me so different, and I felt like that I was inharmonious with the surrounding environment. But I still walked ahead with a head held high, because I knew I was a model and changing some ideas.”

Liu Yang’s insistence on his personal image relates to his certain experience. It was before his fame, and he came back hometown after graduation and was not understood by his families. His father had been angry with his major of fashion design, so when he came back home, his father moved the table out. He asked why, and his father said, “For you to tailor clothes, at least you could earn some money, better than painting.” I knew that’s his satisfaction and incomprehension. Even my younger cousin scorned me, “It is not a big thing to study in the university, you still come back and become tailor Liu. It is not a decent job! Study in university to become a tailor? What’s to be proud of?” I was grieved at that time, and I decided to change people’s ideas about tailoring if I became famous one day, to let them know fashion designer is a lofty profession.

More Popular than Gong Li

Actually, handsome guys were not that popular in 1980s or 1990s. “In those days, men could not be good-looking, they needed to be cool. Handsome guys like Ken Takakura were popular.” But in those days, long-haired Liu Yang was also popular among maids. “I was young and had a good image at that time. My friend shot a photo album of me and published it, and then I instantly became an idol. Some fans said that I resembled Qi Qin.” Liu Yang said with a smile. “I was reported in Guangdong TV Weekly, Girlfriend, then Chinese Youth, Beijing Youth and East Star.” Liu Yang was an idol fashion designer at that time and some media commented that his presence “fills in gaps between the tailors and stars in China”.

“I once went to Donghua University to attend the International Fashion Festival to communicate with Ungaro, an internationally top fashion master. Students tightly packed the stairs, cheering and screaming my name. They may felt amazing, because China finally had her star fashion designer, who was as excellent as western designers. The security personnel lined up a wall and I could not interact with the students. I remember that the security personnel said, ‘We even did not see such a sensation on Gong Li!’”. Letters transferred from press and magazines to Liu Yang like snowflakes and he had to arrange personnel to reply those letters. “A disabled fan from Shandong deeply impressed me, he was very excited about my reply and wrote to me like this, ‘I thought you were too high and proud to reply a disabled, but you sincerely replied me and encouraged me. I suddenly felt the blue sky and the goodness of life. You lifted my spirit and raised me up.’ I never expected my influence before. It was then that I realized the power of an idol and carefully replied my fans. I helped many people and financed some people to continue their study. I sensed the joys of giving.”

After starring the TV series Clothes Blowing in the Wind (Feng Qi Ni Shang) and shooting the photo album Image of Liu Yang, Liu Yang earned greater popularity as a star. There were so many die-hard fans and some fans even waited for him near his home for more than a month. “I was lucky to be a star at that time as a fashion designer.” Surely, Liu Yang did not neglect his fashion design when taking the “improper jobs”: in 1994, he held China’s first large conference of men's clothes; in 1995, he was honored one of “First China’s Top 10 Fashion Designers”, and in the same year, he was awarded one of “China’s Top 5 Fashion Designers” with Wu Haiyan and Ma Ke, etc. by Japan’s Asahi Shimbun; in 1997, he successfully held three personal fashion shows in Leipzig International Expo Center, Germany and became the first Chinese fashion designer that make a hit in Europe; in 1998, he successfully held the “Dances With Wolves - Liu Yang’s Septwolves Men’s Clothes Conference” in China International Fashion Week and got “Jinding Award” of Second China’s Fashion Design.

In the current popular saying, Liu Yang is not only an idol, but also an idol of quality. Contrary to his fashionable appearance, he is rather conservative inside. “I have been preserving my moral integrity for over 20 years in this circle. I never go to the places that are not supposed to visit or want to know the things that I shouldn’t know. I have been studying and working. Being a model is great but also loses a lot. I am fashionable in appearance but conservative inside, and I may be very conservative on some aspects, such as filial piety to parents and the elder, sincerity to friends and loyalty to love, so I never had an affair over these years. Some people may think a person of fortune and fame certainly will involve in an affair. That’s wrong.”

Long for “Tranquility”

Nowadays, Liu Yang is far away from the image of eye-catching “golden hair” and “wild-curl up”. “I am glad that in recent days some designers make their debuts as stars, it means that I have fulfilled my mission as an idol.” But a Gemini person won’t stop exploring new things, so Liu Yang set another goal: “My greatest task is to write a book about my experiences of fashion design for more than 20 years to offer some guidance for new generation of designers.”

Liu Yang revealed that he would settle down and slow down to think about the meaningful things in life to complete an elaboration. “I would gradually reduce public activities to get the tranquility to write my book.”

Under the impetuous background of the whole society, some fashion designs are rather superficial. “Some national dress designs are rather stereotyped, actually, national features are just the whole atmosphere, and we still could blend some western elements. I have been exploring a method to blend Chinese elements with western elements. It’s OK for designers to use the classic patterns, but they should never just represent them in appearance. Take my Feast in the Moon, the show that I won the Creative Award for China’s Fashion Designers, for an instance, people did not see too many Chinese elements, but everyone could sense the Chinese elements. The background music was the classic The Moon Represents My Heart, which was rearranged by a musician and me, and some audience even shed tears when I sang the song for curtain call. We did not have exaggerating gongs and drums, but the audience sensed the perfect blend of Chinese connotation and western romance.”

“Some media said, ‘In the noisy and annoying fashion weekly, only Liu Yang’s fashion show clarified our eyes.’ I love that comment. I hoped my show would touch the audience’s souls and set a good example for new generation of designers. Both in China and western countries, many designers are not able to settle down to create good works, so we seldom see classic fashion shows. The designs in 1960s and 1970s are so classical, for example, the black pretty evening dress on Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is still fashionable nowadays. That’s classic! But look the fashion designs in current days, I feel ashamed, even ashamed of those works designed by famous designers.”

Good Works Are Conversations with the Soul

Liu Yang’s “tranquility” not only be represented in his lifestyle, but also be represented in his works. “I don’t like those complex designs, a good design indeed in a dress of simplest lines. A line displays a lot.” Liu Yang displayed a design called “The Heaven” to journalists. The design is Liu Yang’s recent elaboration that will be exhibited on “Reflection of Time - Art of Fashion in China during1993-2012” in Beijing Today Art Museum next month. “The dress has two layers of organza and it is shining inside. When the model is dressed, the figure of Buddha on the front of the dress will perfectly blend with the model, and the dress is shining inside with the model’s paces and then the aura appears.” Liu Yang tried many times and used a lot of clothes in order to display the perfect effect. “I love simple design. Complex and packed designs tend to be superficial and vulgar, only simple design represents the radiance of wisdom.”

Liu Yang thinks that the fashion design is a design of lifestyle, and the designs reflect the designer’s lifestyle. “Nowadays, life is not easy for everyone, why shall we make things complex? I advocate a healthy, graceful and fashionable lifestyle. Human beings and clothes are inseparable, we designers should help people find spirit in clothes and live easier.” Therefore, Liu Yang’s designs are “tranquil”, his is studio “tranquil” and his life in Canada is “tranquil”. “I feel leisure and relaxed in Canada, because the pace of life there is slow. Every time when I got impatient, my friends would remind me, ‘Danny, relax. Don’t rush.’ So I just enjoyed the sunshine and sea breeze on the beach, got together with friends, visited various art exhibitions and thought of my future in slow life. I am clear about the direction of my life.”

The life of return to nature proved to be effective on Liu Yang - the most obvious effect is that his “young appearance”. Unfamiliar people think that he may be aged about 30, but he has been working as a fashion design for more than 20 years. “In foreign countries, they guessed that I was in my twenties or thirties, and I told them that my nephew has been in his twenties or thirties. People often ask me how to retain youthful looks, and I was joking to say that people with the surname of “Liu” all look young, just look at Liu Xiaoqing.”, said Liu Yang with a smile, “Actually, healthy lifestyle and keeping mentally young are the secret of retaining youthful looks. Nowadays, people dwell very heavily. Sometimes I make fun of my students, ‘You are post-90s students, why do you look as old as me?’.”

Then, the Liu Yang of no aura of “idol” has a new mission: to be an advocator of healthy lifestyle. “Armani said he was selling a lifestyle rather than selling clothes. I agree with him. We designers are advocating lifestyles, so we need to practice what we preach. That’s our responsibility. My current responsibility is to advocate a slow, quality, caring, eco-friendly and healthy lifestyle. Then I will settle down to write my book and give some guidance to new generation of designers and people around me. I appreciate Ma Ke’s value of life. She said people were exploring their origins before the age of 30 and thinking of how to disappear in the following years. She earns her fame, but she prefer to peaceful life than presence in the magnesium lights. This is the lifestyle I am longing for - live gracefully and work gracefully.”

“I met a teacher from a textile university in a fashion show, and she said to me, ‘May I hold you, Mr. Liu? You changed my life. I become a fashion designer because of you.’ So now I just hope one day in my oldness, a person would say to me, ‘Mr. Liu, you make me feel peaceful, and I am doing a more meaningful job because of you.’ I think it means a lot to make people feel peaceful.” The sunshine of afternoon in Guangzhou was slanting on Liu Yang, the light and shadow made me involuntarily think of Vancouver’s beach sunshine described by him.

Personal Profile:

Liu Yang majored in Fashion Design and was graduated from Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. Now he is the Vice Chairman of China Fashion Designers’ Association, Chairman of Guangdong Fashion Designers’ Association, Council of Asia Fashion Union, Standing Council of Sino-American Association of Fashion Design and master tutor of Guangdong University of Technology.

Awards & Honors:

In 1988, Liu Yang won the first prize, the second prize and two third prizes in the First China Young Fashion Design Contest and hit a record high - won most prizes at one time in national fashion design contest.

In 1990, Liu Yang successfully held his first personal fashion conference “Liu Yang’s Fashion World” in Guangzhou. He was the first Chinese designer who displayed sexy clothes on the fashion stages in mainland China and caused a sensation.

In 1992, Liu Yang won three fashion design prizes at “Beijing International Fashion Festival”, and in the same year, his works were published in the Appreciation of China’s Fashion Designs.

In 1994, Liu Yang held China’s first large fashion show of men’s clothes and opened up a new era of men’s fashion show in China.

In 1995, Liu Yang ranked the first in the “First China’s Top 10 Fashion Designers” list.

In 1995, Liu Yang was awarded one of “China’s Top 5 Fashion Designers” by Japan’s Asahi Shimbun.

In 1996, Liu Yang wrote and starred the TV series Clothes Blowing in the Wind (Feng Qi Ni Shang) and was responsible for the fashion design and editing of the TV series.

In 1996, Liu Yang established Guangdong Liuyang Art Creation Co., Ltd.

In 1996, Liu Yang successfully held three personal fashion shows in Leipzig International Expo Center, Germany and became the first Chinese fashion designer that make a hit in Europe.

In 1997, Liu Yang was awarded one of “Global Outstanding Young Fashion Designers in 1997” by the fashion magazine ELLE.

In 1998, Liu Yang successfully held the “Dances With Wolves - Liu Yang’s Septwolves Men’s Clothes Conference” in China International Fashion Week and got “Jinding Award” of Second China’s Fashion Design; in the same year, he ranked top 1 of “Fourth China’s Top 10 Fashion Designers” and separately won the first prize of Commercial Ranking of 1998 China’s Fashion Designers and Media Ranking of 1998 China’s Fashion Designers, as well as the China’s Fashion Award - Best Men’s Fashion.

In 1999, he was honored one of “Guangzhou's Top 10 Outstanding Young Persons” by Guangzhou Municipal Government

In 1999, he was honored one of “China’s Top 50 Influential People in Fashion Industry”

In 1999, Liu Yang won the first prize of China’s New Police Clothes Design issued by Ministry of Public Security.

In 2000, Liu Yang held China’s first large fashion show of high-end occupational apparel and opened up a new era of China’s high-end occupational apparel fashion show.

In 2005, Liu Yang successfully held “Baby - Liu Yang - Tuzama Children’s Fashion Show” - China’s largest children's fashion show at CHIC in Beijing.

In 2009, Liu Yang won Creative Award of Japan Asahi Kasei・China Fashion Designer Creative Award.

In 2011, Liu Yang was received by President Hu Jintao and became the China’s first fashion designer that was received by President.

In 2012, Liu Yang was awarded Asia’s Most Influential Fashion Designer at the “2012 Anhui TV Station Asian Fashion Festival of the New Silk Road”