By Stephany Zoo
In a society that typically has more money than class, it’s surprising that such a simple and understated designer as Ma Ke should be on everyone’s lips. If the name sounds unfamiliar rest assured she’s soon to be a household name. Ma is helping turn Peng Liyuan, China’s First Lady into China’s Jackie Oh.
Interestingly anti-consumerist and slightly ironic, she is the designer behind the brands Exception de Mixmind and Wuyong. Naming her haute couture brand Wuyong, which literally means “useless”, Ma says she wants to redefine modern luxury, drawing it away from “Western Materialism”, and towards more spiritual factors, as she believes that elements such as time, water and the human spirit are timeless [Ed.: *eyeroll*].
What does that actually mean? Both brands only use sustainable production, including traditional dying, weaving and embroidery techniques invented by the Dong People of southern China. The fabrics used by Wuyong are actually woven with Chinese loom technology dating back to 19th century. Furthermore, rather than going the route of ultra-elite and ostentatious, as many domestic haute couture designers have, Wuyong’s fashion shows are outside, open to the public and use a collection of modern dancers and tai-chi performers instead of models.
This ecologically and socially sustainable approach seems to have worked, as Exception just celebrated it’s 16th birthday, and Wuyong was the second ever Chinese collection to show at Paris Fashion Week. Furthermore, Exception has generated sales over one billion yuan in 60 stores in China. While many have attributed the First Lady’s coat and bag to Exception de Mixmind, industry insiders have pointed out that they actually belong to Wuyong. The brand has reportedly made over 100 outfits exclusively for Peng in the past 3 months. She will continue wearing them throughout her trip to Russia, Tanzania, South Africa and the Republic of Congo.
Hopefully, this trend of subtlety and elegance will take hold among the seas of heavily logo-ed bags and patterned trench coats, as “Peng Liyuan style” overtakes online stores and microblogs as one of the most-searched key terms.
As Time reports:
Peng has been likened to Michelle Obama — “modern, outgoing, intrigued by fashion,” according to the New York Times. There are hopes that Peng, who is a U.N. ambassador for health, may give a speech on AIDS during her trip to South Africa. Peng could be the soft-power presence China is trying to establish on the world stage.