Look East; fashion giant H&M has recently collaborated with Shen Zhen native Angel Chen for its first ever collection featuring a Chinese designer. The H&M x Angel Chen collection was revealed in Shanghai in conjunction with TMALL Super Brand Day in September, and boy did it leave an imprint. Elements of Chinese martial arts took over the space, from ancient Chinese decorations and door gifts to the drinks served in vintage Chinese wine jugs. The show started off with a series of cultural performances infused with modern touches of hip hop, rap and a DJ-accompanied live kung fu demonstration. #TeamCLEO had flew in for the launch, and couldn’t get over the grand opening of the show, totally in line with Angel Chen’s upbeat and contemporary aesthetics, and the much-anticipated appearance of member of K-pop band EXO Lay Zhang who is also the face of the collection’s menswear.
A blend of streetwear and kung fu, H&M x Angel Chen features Angel’s symbolic ethos — extremely colourful and loud ‘West meets East’ vibes found in most of the pieces, imbued with Chinese elements such as oriental embroidery, Chinese florals and the words ‘kung fu’ in Chinese on bubble gum pink, bright yellow, red, and the ever-luxurious fabric velvet. This is all Angel’s efforts in shedding light on the beauty of Chinese art and culture.
The H&M x Angel Chen collection is definitely a milestone for this young and rising talent, and she has come a long way since starting out five years ago. #TeamCLEO had the privilege to catch up with Angel Chen to talk about how it all went down, what to look out for and her takeaways from this rewarding and unforgettable collaboration.
EXO member Lay Zhang, the face for the menswear for this collection
Honestly, did you see this collaboration coming?
Not at all! On one fine day, I got a phone call and it sounded like this: “Hi, we got this opportunity to collaborate and are you interested?”, and immediately I answered ‘Yes!’ This is a true story by the way! But frankly, we did not receive any notice about the collaboration beforehand. Personally, I think they must have researched the Chinese designers who resonate better with the younger consumers, and that somehow led them to me.
What does the H&M x Angel Chen collection mean to you?
It definitely means a lot. Firstly, I feel that it’s a complete honour to be chosen as the first Chinese fashion designer to be able to collaborate with H&M, a well-known global fashion brand, despite the fact that they have worked with other Asian designers before this. This shows that global brands like H&M are starting to pay attention to the Chinese market which is getting more and more important. Secondly, I feel that this gives me a perfect opportunity as a designer, who has only been in the market for only five years, to discover new segments and explore more business opportunities.
Why did you choose kung fu as the key theme?
When we were discussing design ideas, I eagerly told H&M that I was hoping to explore kung fu because I was very obsessed with Chinese martial art movies such as The Grandmaster, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Hero. I watched them repeatedly and was very attracted to the amazing costume designs and the sets; all these influenced me to vigorously translate that love for kung fu into the collection, injected with modern energy.
Chinese supermodel Liu Wen fronts the collection with an all-red ensemble
“I just love the juxtaposition of ‘West meets East’, with cultural references from across the globe.”
Fashion Editor Voon Wei sits down with Angel Chen herself in Shanghai
If the theme was not kung fu, would it be something else?
Yes, but definitely something with Chinese elements. You probably won’t be able to find many Chinese references in my own ready-to-wear line, just take my recent Milan Fashion Week S/S 2020 show as an example. It’s very contemporary and modern, despite the fact that there are other minority cultural influences. Because H&M is a global brand and this is an international collaboration, I wish to infuse a sense of Chinese vision into the collection.
How would you describe your aesthetics for your own label and this capsule collection with H&M?
When we were starting the label, we gave ourselves three rules to go by: 1. No black and white. Mainly because I come from a family where we specialise in paints and colours (my dad is a colour engineer artist, and his daily work is just staying in the lab inventing new colours). 2. I just love the juxtaposition of ‘West meets East’, with all the cultural references from across the globe. 3. No gender boundaries or be genderless, so everyone can dress in Angel Chen. You can of course see these elements in the collaboration with H&M where there are bold colours, almost no gender boundaries and a very strong oriental elements throughout.
Did you face any challenges while designing pieces for the collection?
One of the biggest challenges was the timing. From sealing the deal to the final stage of production, the whole process only took six months to complete. Normally working with big brands, there are at least 24 months to go from zero to hero. Moreover, this collection required a total of 45 to 50 stock-keeping units, which is quite a large number. I was also in the midst of preparing for a few collections for different fashion weeks and was invited to be in a reality show in LA. With that said, it was a good training for me and my team.
What are the must-haves from this collection?
What I am currently wearing now: a full kung fu suit in velvet, which the sample was just something that I bought in a thrift store in Japan and fell in love with. The kimono, the sequin dress, the denim jumpsuit with embroidery — all these are my super favourites.
What are the sustainable measures or elements that have been incorporated into this collection?
Right before the collaboration, we were busy preparing our collection to be submitted to the International Woolmark Prize 2019, and we have incorporated a lot of innovative fabrics and materials which are biodegradable and water-soluble. I initiated the idea of using some of these new materials in this collection with H&M, so quite a few of the pieces from this collection are made with recycled fabrics and nylons and they don’t feel very different. They are affordable, too. For example, we used fire-resistant faux fur for the bubblegum pink furry sandals.
What are your future plans for the Angel Chen label?
We are definitely hoping to open a new store in Shanghai and expand collections from two to four seasons. We are also hoping to split the womenswear and menswear more clearly. In terms of collaborations, we are carefully handpicking brands to work with, especially those that can bring us out of our comfort zone. We will be unveiling a new collaboration with a sportswear brand, beginning of next year.