China Designers is a biweekly series that showcases the wide spectrum of creativity in Chinese fashion design. From small designers to big brands, these names are changing the connotations of “Made in China,” one collection at a time. Write to us if you have a suggestion or submission.
As 2019 comes to a close, Angel Chen has plenty to be thankful for. In a brief matter of years, the Shenzhen-born designer has become the unofficial poster child for Chinese independent fashion.
Fortune favors the bold, and there’s no better word than that to describe Chen’s design choices. Her pieces are drenched in bright, out-of-the-box colors — bubblegum pink, lacquer red, forest green — that mix and mingle in knitted stripes, floral appliqués, and Pollock-like paint splatters. Not only is the work loud and free-spirited, but it’s also unapologetically Chinese, updating traditional imagery like dragons, cranes, and koi fish with streetwear silhouettes and a high-octane punch of rock ‘n’ roll.
Looks from Angel Chen AW19
The label’s SS20 collection — inspired by American pulp comic hero Sheena, Queen of the Jungle — refracts its color palette into iridescent swirls, bleach stains, and luminous vintage postcard-inspired prints, while still retaining some of her primary color punch that is the label’s signature.
While wearing its “Chinese-ness” on its sleeve is what the label is probably best known for, the latest collection shows that Chen’s influences are decidedly more eclectic. She’s cited Qing dynasty pirates, Japanese biker subculture, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, her design idol John Galliano, and an imagined LGBTQ Ugandan wedding among her inspirations for past collections. That last influence led to her Central Saint Martins graduation collection “Les Noces” in 2014, which was chosen as one of i-D Magazine‘s “five to watch” among the graduates, giving her the confidence to launch her label a year later.
Looks from Angel Chen SS20
Chen graduated amid a wave of aspiring Chinese designers who studied in London, many of whom would go on to launch successful labels in their own right. But few gained as much recognition so rapidly as Chen herself. After launching her eponymous label the following year, she was quickly picked up for her label’s distinctive flavor, becoming one of the BoF 500 in 2017 and, more recently, a Woolmark Prize finalist in 2019.
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One could criticize Chen’s work for being too “on the nose” with some of its imagery — key pieces are embroidered with cranes and dragons, or printed with calligraphic brushwork that reads “gongfu” — but it’s a strategy that has rewarded the young designer greatly. This year she became the first-ever Chinese designer to partner with H&M for a 45-piece capsule collection — essentially a summary of Chen’s “greatest hits” over the last six years — made available across Asia and in Canada.
Chinese Designer Angel Chen Launching Capsule Collection with H&M
“When I was designing the capsule, my priority was to reflect Chinese culture and my brand identity in a meaningful way, sell through became secondary,” Chen told WWD after the collection was announced.
This focusing on Chinese culture is smart. Chen’s mercurial rise comes at a time when “made in China” fashion is starting to shed its knock-off connotations, and Chinese consumers — seen as one of the world’s largest and most lucrative markets — are increasingly looking for domestic representation in the fashion world.
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Follow Angel Chen on Instagram.
Header image: Models on parade at H&M x Angel Chen capsule collection launch in Shanghai
All images: courtesy Angel Chen
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