One of China’s best-known couturiers, Shanghai-based Grace Chen got her start in 1995 at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, an institution that boasts Michael Kors and Calvin Klein among its alumni. After graduation she worked at fashion houses Zum Zum and Halston, before honing her eveningwear skills at Tadashi Shoji in Los Angeles.
Why is she famous?
In 2009 Chen decided to strike out on her own with a couture label that combined her American design training with her knowledge of the China market. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, she explained that most foreign designers do not understand Chinese people’s body shape, colour tone and aesthetics. “I felt that it was more and more important for me to come back and make clothes for the Chinese people. I can see things more deeply for the Chinese consumer – as well as what is global,” she told the newspaper.
Her designs – classic and tailored – appeal to many A-list celebrities like actress Lin Chi-ling and Liu Xiaoqing, as well as some of the country’s most high-powered politicians. Zhang Qiyue, the Chinese consul-general in New York, and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying are also Chen’s clients.
Why is she in the news?
With her business growing rapidly, the designer has just hosted a show in Paris, while a flagship store in Shanghai is also in the works. “Our sales exceed those of other Chinese couturiers, apart from Guo Pei [Guo designed the gown singer Rihanna wore for the Met Gala this year]. But in two or three years we might become the biggest in sales terms in the whole of China,” she told the South China Morning Post.
In terms of emerging as a global brand, Chen admits that Chinese designers have some way to go. “From a high-end apparel design perspective, domestic designers still have a lot to improve. Even though Chinese people are quick to learn, there is still a lot of catching up to do when it comes to commercial operations and branding,” she told CBN, a Chinese newspaper.
Nonetheless CBN calls Chen the Coco Chanel of China, although her name in Chinese translates more directly as ‘wild rose’.
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