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/


The Value of Clothing and Commodity Fetishism

By Lu M. GomezdelaTorre

Clothing has the ability to act as a language. It has the powerful capability to convey a message, and express the ideas and feelings of designers and wearers. In fact, clothing can even showcase the cultural codes that represent the identity of a society. In addition, it is fascinating how an object, such as a garment, can have a history behind its production, and also the power to acquire a wearers’ emotional memory over time. However, clothes could easily become objects of fetishism when consumers use them to gain power and social mobility.

In his essay “Marx’s Coat,” Peter Stallybrass argues that objects, such as clothes, and the act of consumption were fetishized with the development of capitalism in the 19th century. As Stallybrass explains, this idea of fetishism in relation of objects and consumption was proposed by the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx. According to Stallybrass, Karl Marx talks about the issue that emerges when the labour and the labour conditions of a commodity are forgotten, and how only the value of a commodity seems to exist within itself. He calls this “commodity fetishism.” For Marx the word fetishism is used to describe how modern society “worships” or expresses a type of irrational devotion to objects, which, at the same time, erases the value of human labor, the history, memory, and love behind the production of objects that are worn by people (Stallybrass 186-187). For instance, when a garment, such as the Marx’s coat, is pawned, it is stripped of its memory and sentimental value and becomes a commodity that can be traded in exchange of power and social status (Styallybrass 195). Therefore, clothes exist as objects of economic value that are separated from the social relationships between the people who participated in their production. In respect to this, I think that consumption without consciousness becomes part of the phenomenon of commodity fetishism. This is because if a consumer carefully chooses a product based on what it is made of, and how it was made of, that person is able to understand the labour process and mechanisms behind the production of this particular object. In this case, the consumer is able to understand a product beyond the idea of trading value. This connection is important, if not fundamental, to establish a close link between production and consumption and to break free from the vicious cycle of work, consume, and repeat. It also allows consumers to value the interpersonal relationships of the humans that are behind the creation and production of a product or garment.

There are countless examples of commodity fetishism in the history of fashion and how garments were traded for social mobility and power. We can find some of them, even long before Marx was born. For instance, we can talk about the case of the grand habit, designed by Louis XIV, which was the most formal dress in all European courts during 17th century. This gown was a mandatory requirement for all female courtiers at the French court who sought to gain the king’s favor. During that time, women were willing to pay lots of money to buy this style of gowns that used more than 20 yards of fabric for their elaborated production. I tried to find information on the production of grand habits during the baroque period, and very little information came up on the search engine results. It seems as though the stories behind the textile workers, designers, seamstresses, and all the artists involved in the production of garments had little or no value once gowns were taken to the market to become a commodity. Thus, they were easily forgotten by society. In addition, we could also talk about the close relationship between Marie Antoinette and couturier Rose Bertin, who created the queen’s outfits. Bertin’s ostentatious and expensive gowns were fetishized by the French aristocracy as they represented a way to obtain and display power, wealth, and social status. However, enemies and friends of the French court criticized Rose Bertin’s friendship with Marie Antoinette, focusing more on the Bertin’s high prices and the queen’s frivolous lifestyle than on the designer’s herself, her labour, the construction and originality of her designs, and impact on the future of Parisian haute couture.

We can also find more contemporary examples of commodity fetishism. For instance, we have the case of Victoria’s Secret, which is a popular brand that specializes in selling clothing and underwear. Thorough their aggressive advertisement campaigns, especially during the first decade of the 21st century, Victoria’s Secret promoted a new ideal type of oversexualized feminine body and image. In their ads and fashion shows, it was very usual to see slim models living a luxurious life style while wearing the brand’s lingerie and swimwear. Moreover, women were subtly induced to purchase products that promised to make their lives better. As a result, the value of the Victoria’s Secret garments was displaced from the labour time that went into creating them and became fetishized by consumers. In addition, a report published by Bloomberg in 2011 makes us think about the human stories behind the production of Victoria’s Secret garments. The Bloomberg report documents the life of a 13-year-old-girl, who was abused while working on a cotton field in Burkina Faso. It was reported that Victoria’s Secret thorough its parent company Limited Brands purchased the cotton picked by this and other female workers at Burkina Faso to produce their clothing line. Indeed, in these cases, one cannot help but to wonder how many consumers take some time to value the human stories and labour involved in the production of the garments they purchase?

In conclusion, there are many examples of the use of clothing as a trading commodity in the history of humanity and fashion. However, with the emergence of fast fashion and mass production, customers are more than ever encouraged by marketing strategies to buy more frequently. The constant innovation of products in the market motivates customers to buy more often by making recent styles old or outed. In addition, people need to purchase more often in order to continually satisfy their desire to display their social and economic status. Thus, by doing so, a disassociation between consumers and all the workers involved in production occurs, delineating the case of commodity fetishism.

Fashion plate
“Habit de cour de satin cerise”, 1779, fashion plate from Gallerie des Modes.
Illustrations of designs by Rose Bertin
Illustrations of dresses designed by Rose Bertin.
Marie Antionette wearing dress by Rose Bertin
Marie Antoinette with a dress designed by Rose Bertin. Bertin made poufs for the Queen which were three feet high. Source: Yann Caradec from Paris, France - Marie-Antoinette en grand habit de cour - 1778 - Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Rose Bertin
Rose Bertin
Child labor in Burkina Faso
Child labor in Burkina Faso -Source:https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2011-12-15/victoria-s-secret-revealed-in-child-picking-burkina-faso-cotton

Works Cited Bennahum, Judith. The Lure of Perfection: Fashion and Ballet, 1780-1830. Routledge; October 18, 2004.

Stallybrass, Peter. “Marx’s Coat.” Spyer 183–207


 

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