I’m just back from a wonderful trip to South-East Asia, visiting my family for Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore and then heading to Vietnam for some relaxation and exploration.
Chinese New Year is an amazing time to experience Asia. It’s like a concentrated version of its already vibrant self, with brightly coloured decorations filling every street and an even more enthusiastic than usual focus on feasting.
I didn’t realise how much the Chinese influence would also be felt in Hoi An, the town where we stayed in Vietnam. There is a large ethnically Chinese population and so they fully embrace Chinese New Year too, adorning the whole town with paper lanterns for the entire Lunar New Year period. Even the tailors, where my mum and I got some dresses made, spoke my dad’s family dialect – very useful for bargaining power.
From a style perspective, I discovered a new bond with my grandmother over our appreciation of printed trousers. We can’t really communicate as she doesn’t speak English but we can point and smile at each other. There was a lot of pointing and gesturing over the fact that my Topshop printed trousers were almost identical to her traditional Chinese silk pyjamas.
My grandmother has her ‘look ‘down to a tee. She wears the same style of outfit (see below) every day, simply changing the fabric and pattern to suit the occasion. She carries it off with a grace and elegance that belies her 95 years of age. I’ve got a lot to learn from her. It’s the ultimate capsule wardrobe.
My Chinese grandmother with her on-trend printed trousers
She doesn’t know it but my grandmother is so on-trend right now. It makes sense – as the shift in world economic and cultural power heads East – that Asian style should be influencing the catwalks of the world’s fashion hubs. It doesn’t take a trained eye to see that the shows from the recent London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks were filled with Asian-inspired silhouettes, fabrics and prints.
Even the most French of the fashion houses, such as Balenciaga, are explicitly looking East. Their recent appointment of the Chinese American Alexander Wang is no coincidence. As the Guardian recently pointed out, “ Wang, who speaks Mandarin, has a high profile in China where his own-label already has a Beijing flagship. There seems little doubt this is part of his appeal to PPR.”
And indeed, Wang’s debut show for the label, had a much more structured, Asian feeling to the silhouette – a significant departure from the slouchy, New York style of his own label.
Balenciaga, A/W 2013 (image from Vogue.co.uk)
Other labels such as Kenzo also have designers of Asian descent at the helm (the amazing Carol Lim and Humberto Leon) and although they don’t take it too literally, there is no denying the influence of Asia on their collections. Their Paris show earlier this week had some pieces that wouldn’t go amiss in my grandmother’s wardrobe. I love the polka dot blouse and skirt combination below that feels ever so subtly oriental but also very modern and fresh.
Kenzo A/W 2013 Paris fashion week (image from vogue.co.uk)
In addition to European labels experimenting with Asian influences, there’s also the home-grown Asian brands gaining global recognition. Singapore label Raoul got a hit of publicity when the Duchess of Cambridge chose one of their dresses for her Asia trip, but it’s been gathering a legitimate fashion fan base for a few years now.
I made a lunchtime dash to one of their stores in Singapore and picked up a lovely silk blouse. If I’d had more time, I would have tried on practically everything in store. The silk printed trousers below are so muted and lovely.
Raoul silk trousers and top
Being back in frosty London, it feels like there aren’t many opportunities to embrace all these lovely, light printed silks and bright colours. But Spring is just around the corner and I’m determined to get out of navy and black as soon as possible. Watch this space.