If you cannot afford a pretty dress, what do you do? Learn to make your own. And if you choose to step into the world of design, how do you stand out? Be better than the best.
This steely determination to chart her own destiny has taken a girl born into a poor family in Changhua county, Taiwan, to the glitzy fashion world, carrying her own label, Shiatzy Chen.
Unlike those who berate fate for their lot in life, Wang Chen Tsai-Hsia, the oldest of seven children, stopped studying after primary school and learnt to sew to help her family make ends meet. It is this same can-do attitude that has taken the brand — Shiatzy in Mandarin signifies “neo-Chinese chic” — from Asia to Europe.
“Sure, we have challenges. It was very tough when we started in 1978. In business, you have to overcome every situation. Don’t blame. Keep doing. Keep on doing,” says Chen, 69. Wang is her husband’s surname. “He [Yuan-Hong] takes care of the business and finance while I do the creative part.”
Doing involves starting from point zero, with a blank sheet. To fill it, she turns to her roots — Changhua has a rich cultural history — and picks out threads to weave “scenescapes” into her designs.
At the Shiatzy Chen boutique in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur recently, the creative director and brand innovator spoke through an interpreter. At a pop-up store to coincide with her visit, an artisan sat embroidering cascades of flowers that have become a brand signature, surrounded by garments that make you step up to examine and feel the fabrics and embellishments, then find words to describe what you see — elegant, dramatic and lavish.
Oriental images and motifs, such as bamboo, jade, calligraphy, lace, porcelain and snuff bottles inspire designs that meld traditional elements with modern aesthetic. Rich fabrics, refined workmanship and attention to the tiniest detail show on the outfits, which look classic yet contemporary.
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