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October 20, 2017
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Models present creations by graduates of School of Design, China Academy of Art during China Graduate Fashion Week in Beijing. Source: chinadaily.com.cn.

China is seizing its place on the fashion map. Its international reputation is gaining weight year on year through China Fashion Week and a much sought after commercial market, which just this year has sparked interest from Fendi, Rag & Bone, Marchesa and Jil Sander.

A doll house dress presented during
the China Academy of Art show.
Source: rougedragon.wordpress.com.

Taking inspiration from the UK's Graduate Fashion Week (a now 13-year-old affair responsible for launching the careers of Christopher Bailey, Stella McCartney and Matthew Williamson, among others), China presented its first ever Graduate Fashion Week in Beijing from April 24 to 28.

Although China recently held its 21st Young Fashion Designer Contest in Beijing and spots are dedicated to fashion graduates at China Fashion Week, China Graduate Fashion Week casts a much wider net for up-and-coming Chinese designers. Organised by the China Fashion Association, China Textile and Apparel Education Society, and China National Garment Association, the inaugural event featured the work of a staggering 610 graduates from 22 universities across the country, including China Women's University (Beijing), Northeast Dianli University (Jilin), and China Academy of Art (Hangzhou, Zhejiang) - the school female fashion designer Yu Wanning graduated from. On the final day, the First Master Training Camp conference was held to teach graduates about the fashion industry and to give working opportunities to eight new fashion designers.

Despite Chinese fashion making waves with designers such as Guo PeiSimon GaoJenny JiUma Wang and Xander Zhou, the general feeling in the market is that China has fallen behind in the creativity stakes. Jing Daily explains, "While China's money has been an economic driver ... the next part of fashion's eastward tilt may be the rise of Chinese creativity." The Chinese fashion market is looking to appeal to a wider international market and these young designers may be the key to China's fashion future.

Judge Jesus Yeh encouraged students to make bold creations, Chinadaily.com.cn reported. Yeh believed the collection from the College of Design Art and Apparel Engineering at Xiamen University of Technology was, "a perfect combination of coherence, art ideas and market consideration." The collection, which was comparatively more commercial than others shown, featured sleek suits, rich fabrics and high quality tailoring.

Yang Bo Xian's award-winning
Ming Dynasty-inspired dress.
Source: blog.360fashion.net.

Meanwhile, the Zhongyuan University of Technology (Zhengzhou) presented a mix of brightly coloured traditional pieces, metallic sport luxe and a collection of bridal-esque white gowns with a brick chimney dress and rubber glove dress thrown into the mix. The collection's highlight was, undeniably, a show-stopping white-feathered gown, complete with an equally extravagant headpiece.

China Academy of Art presented a wide range of designs - from everyday, wearable pieces to the wacky. The collection included heavily structured garments - which models wore over their heads - as well as multi-textured gowns, sheer tops and even a pair of antlers.

A great number of the stand-out pieces came from Hangzhou, including a denim-fringed shirt accessorised with a barbie-doll belt, full sequin facemasks, a furry floral umbrella and a bright red knitted "barbie-mountain" atop a model's head. Hangzhou's colourful collections continued with Zhejiang Sci-Tech University's oversized colour-block coats, patterned tights, fluorescent braces and a costume fit for a modern Queen of Hearts. The colourful mix was broken up with dark coats and a black furry dress.

Classic art was an inspiration in some of the graduates' work and was seen in the collection from Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts with a noteworthy piece featuring a Wassily Kandinsky print on a clear plastic dress. The School of Arts of Soochow University (Suzhou) showcased a beautiful Monet-print long gown and matching structured jacket, as well as a shorter folded dress. Vincent Van Gogh's artwork also made an appearance in Suzhou University School of Art's menswear with Starry Night and Sunflowers printed on white suits.

Beijing Union University upped the creativity with a wide selection of structural pieces - some not for the faint-hearted - accompanied by knee boots, midriff-bearing crop-tops and some more traditional takes on design. There were also bright dresses (matched with fur-clad shoes), oh-so-girly baby pink creations and a fabric-bin body suit.

While China's money has been an economic driver ... the next part of fashion's eastward tilt may be the rise of Chinese creativity.

While most of the university shows were made up of individual pieces, some universities presented thematic collections. The catwalk show from Sino French Institute of Fashion Design (IFA) at the Shanghai University of Engineering Science presented a range of beautifully minimalist and structured pieces, from trouser suits to formal dresses. Hebei University of Science and Technology gave a nod to the sixties with a collection of bright swimwear with plastic jewellery and accessories. Keeping with a thematic colour palette for their womenswear, Suzhou Art and Design Technology Institute presented a collection of eveningwear. The catwalk was a sea of blues with elegant, embroidered gowns with long flowing sleeves and rippled fabrics worthy of any high-end collection.

Like the UK's GFW, awards were handed out for the best graduate designs and best universities. The prestigious China Fashion Design "Newcomer" award was won by Ying Suhui from Dalian Institute of Light Industry of Clothing Technology. Yang Bo Xian from the School of Arts of Soochow University was chosen as the best student designer (who presented a Ming Dynasty-inspired dress made complete with traditionally woven armour). Needless to say, the graduates of China's first Graduate Fashion Week made it their own. The creativity and diversity of the pieces goes to show that China's fashion reputation is heading in one direction - up.

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