Ming Ma

Designing for 21st century women from Shanghai to the world

by Jessie Hu

“Ming Ma focused on balancing the unique sculptural silhouettes with effortless sensibility: aiming to revive the elegant ease of the contemporary women.”1 As written on the official Ming Ma website, the ideology behind this colorful, bold brand focuses on expression of the feminine grace. Moreover, from Ming Ma himself, he uses the words “elegant, dynamic and confident” to describe his style. Exactly fitting to such description, when you first take a glance at the designs listed on the website, you see the vibrant, dashing colors and the intricate floral prints. When you take a second look, you start to notice the structure and shapes of these pieces, the airy, puff sleeves, the delicately placed bows and the volumized hemlines. The structural designs of the clothing seem almost architectural through Ming Ma’s “strengths in 3D cutting and draping”.2

Born in WuHan, Ming Ma launched his label under his name in 2018 after studying in London at Central Saint Martins.3 Growing up in a family that was much more passionate about finance, Ming Ma could only dream of studying fashion in the future. His interests in fashion sparked when he flipped through magazines, magazines that revealed to him the infinite possibilities with clothing and fashion. Through watching interviews, he was also inspired by Louise Wilson’s perspectives on fashion, eventually motivating him to apply to CSM with no former knowledge of fashion. In London, the varied cultures and people influenced Ming Ma’s perception of fashion and the world, while his application for the MA taught by Louise Wilson was successful. Despite having spent his entire life learning finance, Ming Ma excelled in fashion by being critical to himself and following his heart with his fashion designs.4 After the founding of the label Ming Ma in Shanghai, a store/platform called Labelhood discovered the talented artist Ming Ma and his brand, bringing in his designs to the stores. Labelhood is a platform created by Tasha Liu in Beijing while they have established several stores in Shanghai as well. The platform collects designs from China-based designers who receive little recognition and fame, therefore, spreading the name of these underrated brands and influencing the China fashion market This discovery led to a blooming fame for Ming Ma and the label soon became well known throughout China and later across the globe. Now, Ming Ma designs are usually found on various online shopping platforms worldwide while they can also be purchased in Labelhood stores in Shanghai. Social media also pushed the fame of the brand with Ming ma’s instagram account @mingma_official.

When looking at the Ming Ma webpage, first we notice a page with only black and white colors while most of the space is left blank. However, once you click into the side bar to view the latest collections, you see a line of photographs of each runway look, all eye-catching with the colorful designs. Scrolling down the page, we see several photographs of models wearing the signature pieces with the letter Ming Ma written across the pictures. The website isn’t just one about fashion, but the incorporation of photography and other media art forms. This probably stems from Ming Ma’s studies at CMS, where individuality and cross-sectional studies are encouraged. The overall style of the website seems bold and mysterious all at once.

In the Spring/Summer 2022 collection, most of the pieces incorporate elements of flowers. We see lots of floral prints on the dresses and gowns while the runway looks include chokers with giant flowers hanging on the neck from them. The edges of the dresses can also mimic the shapes of flowers. For instance, this dress’ edges are shaped like the opening of a tulip. It’s parted in the middle while it encloses at the bottom. Since flowers have a history of being symbolic for elegance and gracefulness, using floral elements adds to the modern yet elegant appeal of Ming Ma’s designs.

In cosmopolitan cities and all around the world, as women fight for equality and start to break stereotypes, more women are pushing the boundaries and revealing their true self with bold choices of clothing, makeup and other expressions of identity. In Ming Ma’s pieces, one notices a lot of saturated, bright colors not seen in many other designers’ pieces that also aim for a show of feminine elegance. Ming Ma’s definition of femininity is traditional, yet with a demonstration of modernity. The contrasting colors may create the opposite idea of elegance, however, when they were put into Ming Ma’s designs, there’s an unexplainiable sense of coordination and expression of the female power. These designs are more than clothing, but an approach to break the feminine mold and an opportunity for women to step outside their comfort zones and attempt new styles.

SS 2022 collection. This dress is unique for the shape of the skirt that is similar to the look of a tulip. The skirt wraps around the body while it slits open in the middle like the way tulip petals are parted and open. The light blue bow on the bodice is a signature touch of Ming Ma in this collection. We can see bows similar to this one on other looks as well, but for each piece, the bow is decorated with different patterns or colors to match the look. The bright green color of the gloves create a contrast with the soft, less vibrant blue of the dress.

SS 2022. Both looks incorporated floral prints, black, ankle-length pencil skirts as well as “flowers” attached to the chokers as accessories. On the left, the bustier top features long sleeves with layered openings, covered in pink and purple delicate floral prints. There’s a pink rose made from fabrics on the neck, mimicking a rose that hasn’t fully bloomed yet, creating an overall elegant and graceful look. On the right, the tube top features pink and yellow floral designs while a skirt drips down on the right from the top. There is a pink rose and a yellow rose on the neck while the pink rose is more open, just like flowers when they are in full bloom. This look is more expressive and bold with the structures and color arrangements.

SS 2022. The left outfit uses a dimmed, light blue to match with a brighter, glittery gold as a skirt. The volumized and sculpted bubble sleeves demonstrate Ming Ma’s playfulness with the structures of clothing. The high-waisted, floor-length golden skirt grabs people’s attention as the golden element is continued with the golden rose necklace. On the right, we see another bow, but in a floral print with yellow, orange and blue flowers. The skirt drapes down the back and is open on the front, showing a sense of power and majesty while the off-shoulder design adds elegance to the look.

1. Ming Ma website. https://www.mingmastudio.com/info
2. Ibid
3. Generation T editors. The Gen.T Asia website. The Gen.T List. https://generationt.asia/people/ming-ma
4. Mayura Jain. Radii China. https://radiichina.com/china-designers-ming-ma/

Shanghai Designer Uma Wang: Clothing as the Art of Living

By Jessie Hu

Uma Wang
Uma Wang

In her 2022 Spring/Summer collection, Uma Wang set the theme as platonic love. She believes that the platonic relationship we have with our clothes happens when our clothes resemble our soul mate. “Clothing shouldn’t be a carrier of desire but part of the art of living…”  1 The idea is that clothing shouldn’t only match our aesthetics, but also our spirit. Our individual beauty and personalities should be able to shine through our clothes and we could incorporate clothing into our life as an artform. The Uma Wang style continues to have such pursuit and the pieces always look effortless and distinct. Unlike other brands that follow the social media trends, Uma Wang’s vision concentrates on being inspired by life and the people around us, making the designs one of a kind.

Wang Zhi, also widely-known as Uma Wang, is a popular Chinese designer born on May 10th, 1973 in  Hebei, China.2 Growing up, Uma Wang’s imagination and pursuit for aesthetics pushed her into the field of fashion design.3 At the age of 20, Uma Wang studied at the Shanghai China Textile University and 10 years later, she decided to move to London for her studies at the Central Saint Martin University of Arts. In 2005, she launched her label in London.4 Currently, she lives in Shanghai with her cat Ciccio. Uma Wang is well known for her work with textiles and patterns. She also mentioned where her inspirations originate from: “Everywhere, but specifically my surroundings (usually Shanghai but also Europe) and the feeling I have from these stimuli. Also, I am always inspired by vintage.”5

With its head office located in Shanghai, China, the brand Uma Wang has become increasingly popular amongst people in Shanghai. Moreover, going beyond China, Uma Wang has a store in Soho, New York while her designs can also be found in multiple boutiques in London and Milan. 6

Looking at the Uma Wang official website, we see a lot of usage of dark toned colors along with abstract images. The color themes involve colors like black, white, beige, gray and pops of bright colors like green, red and yellow. From observing the recent designs, we can tell that most of the pieces are monotone while lots of pieces are all-white or all-black. Even when there is a use of colors like blue or yellow, they are often dimmed and muted. The structures of the clothes suggest comfort and flow. The materials of the clothing speaks of nature since we see lots of cotton and flax for spring/summer collections and lots of wool for fall/winter series.

I think the reason the Uma Wang style is so popular in Shanghai is that the pieces are unique regardless of the trends. With the neutral colors and simple cutouts, the pieces are timeless instead of trendy, making them staples in everyone’s closet. Moreover, whether it’s the signature ballet flats or the beautiful dresses, they all bring a sense of comfort for the people wearing them. Especially for people living in cities like Shanghai, where they tend to prefer walking to explore the city, these comfortable but chic ballet flats are ideal. Essentially, Uma Wang’s designs are made to make people feel and look beautiful, putting the consumers’ feelings first. A lot of fans of Uma Wang in China, including my mom, also chose her for the concepts behind the designs.The designs often integrate the idea of poetry and they can be abstract at times. In Uma Wang’s 2016 SS collection, the fabrics used were thin and crinkly, while the dimmed, earth-toned colors remind me of the subtleness of poems, bringing a sense of mystery and obscurity. Like one of the dresses in the collection, there were some parts of the dress where meshy material was used to reveal the body. Other parts, however,  cover it. Some of the hems of the pieces were left unfinished, giving it a raw and natural appeal.7  These concepts create a full picture of the brand and that’s very appealing to the customers. The overall style is cool and nonchalant. It attracts people who are independent, strong-minded, yet elegant and charming at the same time.

SS 2022 collection. This piece features an all-white look with a wide-hem hat, round-neck long sleeve and wide leg pants. The material seems soft and breathable but with shape, contributing to the idea of creating volume as one of the keywords in the collection is “black and white with a fluid sense of volume”. The overall design is laid back with a slightly tightened waistline to show the figure. 

SS2022 Collection. This outfit stood out to me because of the dark green color through the look and the loose corset. “Classical green in renaissance oil paintings” was a key phrase inspiring the designs and I love how that’s incorporated into the spring summer collection as the green color often symbolizes life and prosperity while you can never get tired of looking at the dark, forest green. Moreover, when we see corsets worn usually, we see them being tied up to accentuate the waist. However, in this look, the corset is worn, but only the top two buckles are tied together white the bottom are let loose. The buckles represent the idea of knots in this collection as “knot” was also one of the keywords that inspired this collection. This connects the upper body and the lower body into one figure and lets the lines flow instead of cutting it off at the middle. It also allows comfort in wearing the piece. The dress simply drapes down the body while the skirt hemline puffs out, creating volume around the legs as well.


1Ojo studios editors, “Uma Wang 2022 Spring/Summer Womenswear Collection”. Uma wang official china. https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/X–KFHFDQ2LvnmxiTBWGdQ
2Unknown, “Designer: Uma Wang.”Mug magazine, mugmagazine.com.https://www.mugmagazine.com/designer-uma-wang.html
3Ibid.
4Ibid.
5Vogue Italia editors, “Uma Wang.” Vogue Italia, https://www.vogue.it/en/talents/contests-and-more/2011/02/the-vogue-talents-corner-uma-wang
6Bof editors, “Uma Wang.” Business of Fashion, https://www.businessoffashion.com/community/people/uma-wang
7Daniel Bjork, “Uma Wang’s balletic poetry.” Business of Fashion. September 25, 2015. https://www.businessoffashion.com/reviews/fashion-week/uma-wangs-balletic-poetry/


Designer Profile: Silvia Giovanardi

Fashion stands on the shoulders of the environment. Slowly yet surely, the environment is crumbling under the pressure of the industry, especially at the hands of fast fashion. Brands like Zara, ASOS, H&M, and many more, cater to a general public with affordable and trendy clothing, but what many consumers don’t see is that their purchases contribute to the destruction of the planet. The only way fashion and the environment see eye to eye is through the vision of upcoming designers.

Silvia’s Background

One such Italian designer is Silvia Giovanardi, who uses her fashion brand to make the case for sustainability and encourage dialogue with an eco-friendly fashion industry. Winner of the Green Carpet award in 2018, given to designers who are environmentally conscious, Silvia first worked as the Manager of the Menswear Artistic Office in the famous Italian Fashion house Etro before creating her own brand. It was here that she was reminded of the respect she had for Mother Nature during her childhood. And by witnessing fashion and the pollutants it produces firsthand, Silvia was motivated to found her own project centered on a fashion that protects her beloved earth. 

With her own brand, Silvia Giovanardi’s aim was to showcase her designs as illustrations of a lifestyle where fashion and environmental life are harmoniously connected. In her own words: “[My] Philosophy promotes the return to the Original Meaning of Fashion… that re-discovers, through art, the beauty of nature. Love is the mantra.” There is a sense of organic purity and respect in Silvia’s work. She consciously uses natural dyes, ecological fibers, and organic materials, all with the process of decomposition, rebirth, and recycling in mind. “Everything can potentially be buried, creating new humus, therefore, new life.” Of course, in theory, her wishes and ideology are powerful, but it is actually Silvia’s application that showcases her creativity and inspires many.

Peace Dress

One of Silvia’s most famous creations is the Origami Peace Dress (featured in the Gallery of The Fabric of Cultures). The origami peace dress features 88 origami peace cranes crafted and folded using natural corn fabric. The dress not only exudes elegance, it also sends a strong message. Silvia showcases her dedication to sustainability by using only organic fabric in her tribute to the Hiroshima Memorial Park. This dress signifies the importance of peace, alluded to by its name, even empathy, in times of fear such as World War II. This creation also shows the inherent relationship between social and environmental justice in the 21st century. This garment has been included in two exhibitions, both part of The Fabric of Cultures Project, one at the Art Center at Queens
College (CUNY) in the Fall of 2017 and the other on the occasion of the end of the year Queens College Gala in Manhattan in the Spring of 2018.

Samurai Dress

Silvia also designed a Samurai Dress (also featured in the Gallery). Similar to the Peace Dress, the Samurai Dress was influenced by her trip to Japan. It was in Kyoto that Silvia learned to create armor from two Japanese artisans. The dress is constructed from various multicolored segments of vegan leather. Its shape takes on what she was taught in Japan. All dyes and fabrics used on this dress were naturally sourced, thus continuing to showcase her dedication to sustainability.

This garment was featured at the Art Center at Queens College as well, as one of the Fabric of Cultures’s goals is to bring more visibility to designers like Silvia Giovanardi.

It will take thousands of Silvias to change the world of Fashion. However, her work shows promise to many in paving the road for many other designers to follow. After all, it only takes one great mind to spark change.

More Information

You can find more information about Silvia Giovanardi and other designers like her in The Fabric of Cultures Catalog where both of these dresses are featured (pp. 20-27).

The Fabric of Cultures project will continue to explore Silvia Giovanardi’s work with a new short film, which is part of The New Made in Italy (link here to the YouTube channel) that will include her latest art works and performances when she was an artist in residence in the Fall of 2020 at the Cittadellarte founded by Michelangelo Pistoletto.

Here are some of her performances:

FREEDOM – performance at the Cittadellarte 10/30/2021

https://www.dropbox.com/s/sg7v5lfqbjq0gyv/FREEDOM.mp4?dl=0

COURAGE – Cittadellarte in 2019

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/pnkphhjrkg2f2k7/AADXIU2WPlZhkUHSQykBHPgNa?dl=0

BENTO-RNATO – performance with Cittadellarte at Noto in Sicily, August 5th 2020.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/gdv9aisysu7ar1w/AAAb4oHwH1MSOkMVzt4bxNGPa?dl=0

 

 

The New Made in Italy Films

The New Made in Italy for the 21st Century. Fashion Film, Art and Design is an exciting project developed by Professor Eugenia Paulicelli, and Claudio Napoli and Massimo Mascolo of Okozoko production. In a series of four short films that launched the project, the collaborators present the essential connection between Italian language and culture.

The New Made in Italy films are comprised of:

Reinterpretations of Cherished Clothing

Recently, I saw an article in the New York Times that brought to mind the Fabric of Cultures project. In the article, titled The Joy of Old Clothes, the artist Leann Shapton tells the author that she has been rethinking her approach to dressing in a lockdown. Shapton has chosen the reuse approach, tearing up garments and using the fabric.

Instead of my unworn beloved clothes, I have a 40-pound knotted rug of them.

When I mentioned this to Professor Paulicelli, she reminded me of the work of Lexi McCrady Axon featured in the Fabric of Cultures Systems in the Making exhibit and catalog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 My rugs are made of formerly worn clothes that moved and pressed and surrounded bodies of people I know, and from scraps left from cutting clothing shapes. These textiles are saved for numbers of years because they are ‘valuable’ and are due the respect of being made into something significant.

McCrady Axon got her inspiration from her grandmother who was a foreman at a dress factory. Her grandmother took home scraps of fabric and used the skills she learned to make a rag rug, perfecting the concept with detailed patterns.

I was taught to knit by my grandmother. She knitted simple garter stitch blankets using yarn left over from other projects. Yarn from my sister’s projects were added to the pastiche. Many years later, when I was crafting my project for a Fabric of Cultures class in 2016, I turned to what remained of that yarn, conjuring up memories of my sister and the sweaters she made.

T Shirt Project, Iris Finkel

To me, the connection between clothing, memories, and reinterpretation through craft is sublime. I have much loved garments that have become a little too well worn to wear as is, but I’m not ready to make rugs out of them. Instead, inspired by The Golden Joinery, I have started doing repairs that call out the flaws with contrasting color darning. The Golden Joinery is a fashion movement of a sort, inspired by the Japanese art, Kintsugi. Instead of using bonding with gold to repair pottery, drawing attention to the fractures of a treasured cup or bowl, The Golden Joinery translates that to gold thread and fabric swatches to repair much loved clothing. I didn’t let my lack of gold thread stop me from co-opting this aesthetic.

Iris Finkel