Taiwan fashion was the debutante at its own ball last week. The
coming-out party featured more than 40 of the country’s brightest and
best designer talents, backed by the Ministry of Culture.
inaugural Taipei Fashion Week at the prepossessing Taiwan Traditional
Theater Center (臺灣戲曲中心) was a triumph of form over function. Since the
goal was to be seen and heard, rather than sell clothes, this could be
counted as a win.
Fashion lovers, dressed almost uniformly in
black, congregated in droves for the shows, which ran for four days from
Dec. 6-9. Their images filled the evening news cycles and there was
decent coverage in the local press. Inevitably, there was a lot of big
talk about a brand-new era for Taiwan design.
Yet the shows, full of vim and invention, lacked a certain substance. The focus on being “culturally kinetic” and Taiwan-centric was kind of dated, a bit like constructivism in the desire to package local art and design for social and commercial purposes. Laudable enough, but more lipstick on the same pig if you’ve seen it all before.
This is not the first time that Taiwan has tried to push itself
forward as a fashion hub … far from it. Previous attempts have foundered
on a sea of government indifference and a shortage of talent emerging
from design schools.
According to industry insiders at Taipei Fashion Week, these shortcomings have been corrected, and the local clothing design industry is now mature enough to reach out and make an impression, even if it is a “David versus Goliath battle” to take on the major players in the global industry.
It’s an entirely different situation from 15 years ago, when rich old
ladies were the mainstay of Taipei’s fashion world, since they were the
only ones who could afford couture, which was the only game in town.
Today, say the optimists, the playing field has leveled and streetwear is king. Meanwhile, boutique labels from talented young designers are “fighting to be heard,” plugged into an emerging and increasingly lucrative Asian fashion aesthetic.
In addition, those in the know contend the nation’s president is
emphasizing innovative industries and there are fresh investment
opportunities, which can make the most of existing advantages in
technology, design and textile production.
international publisher Conde Nast, design media guru DFun and the model
management company Eelin Entertainment combined to provide much-needed
expertise and gloss. In this they were backed by the coffers of both
city and central governments.
Most importantly, there seems to
be a determination to make Taipei Fashion Week an annual fixture on the
events calendar, a bit like the Golden Horse Awards (金馬獎), which have
become an important regional event for the movie industry.
In October, Taipei Fashion Week Part 1 descended on Xinyi district near Taipei City Hall. Amid the deafening din of traffic being held up, local and international brands presented runway shows for their Autumn/Winter season collections – followed by a pop performance from Jam Hsiao (蕭敬騰).
The idea was not only to create a splash, but also a springboard for
the Spring and Summer (SS19) collections featured at Taipei Fashion Week
Part 2 last week, in Shilin.
The opening show was the hottest
seat in town and set pulses racing with a performance from opera great
Liao Chiung-chih (廖瓊枝). It was a tech-forward, culture heavy production
from director Li Xiao-ping (李小平), which set the tone for the runway
shows that followed.
main theater set had a Möbius strip, figure-eight inspired design
featuring an idealized landscape of Taiwan; while the experimental
theater set had an in-the-round element that created a crossover space,
blending sound, light, static and dynamic presentation. It was all very
cutting edge, without being avant-garde enough to put off any of the
many dignitaries in attendance.
It was heartening to see that
Taiwan’s fashion divas mostly set aside their petty rivalries to
participate and put the country on the world’s fashion map. Longstanding
brands such as CHARINYEH and Isabelle Wen (溫慶珠) stood up and were
counted, along with the “Queen of Knits” Gioia Pan (潘怡良), who has won
multiple awards and participated in major fashion weeks around the
It was disappointing not to see Shiatzy Chen represented,
since the company practically defines the neo-Chinese chic movement and
is a major fashion group, after being founded by the Changhua-born Wang
Chen Tsai-Hsia (王陳彩霞) in 1978.
it quietly, but everything would have been perfect if Jason Wu (吳季剛)
had turned up, as it was rumored he might. The Hugo Boss art director,
famed for making Michelle Obama’s dresses pop, apparently had
“scheduling commitments” – but don’t be surprised if he makes it next
Never mind, up-and-coming or 3G (third generation)
designers included May Hsu (徐明美) from the playful, “cat-friendly” brand
Hong Chubby and Sabra Andre. Mao TC, who graduated from Royal College of
Art London in 2016 and works with faux fur, previewed an outstanding
but street-ready collection. Meanwhile, new labels like Fyber Former and
its Tyvek paper wares pushed the fashion envelope.
of the week included the “Non-Traditional Materials Fashion Show,”
which looked at new kinds of fabrics, many of which are produced in
Taiwan. The “Indigenous Fashion Show” was bright and loud, as expected,
but also showed that a new and more sophisticated aesthetic is
developing. Should be worth watching.
The “Traditional Arts
Fashion Show” covered high couture and was obviously inspired by Taiwan
opera and puppetry; while the “Hakka Fashion Show” looked to the future
as well as traditional cultural elements.
experienced director Robbie Yan (嚴孝銘) of Eelin Entertainment commented
after the shows that he was happy not only with his own productions but
also Fashion Week as a whole, calling it a colorful fusion of Taiwan’s
many cultural strands, and “a real mix of old and new.”
Taipei Fashion Week got a glitzy launch and next year’s edition should be worth watching to see where it goes from here.