Thu, Jun 01, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Taiwan's answer to Manolo Blahnik

Local designer Kenji Du's glamorous footwear and sexy apparel meets the needs of party girls who want to dazzle

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

In Taipei, where designer brands such as LV and Gucci are worshipped by the rich and middle class alike, fashion-wired ladies sporting dazzling dresses and premium accessories are all just par for the course at parties and trendy night-life venues these days.

And the city's stock of luxurious wares just got a little bigger with the recent addition of Taiwanese designer Kenji Du's (杜榮仁) first store, devoted largely to that which leaves glamourous ladies most spellbound -- high-heel shoes.

Du's creations recall the shoe brand Manolo Blahnik, which achieved worldwide fame on the heels -- literally -- of Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie in the US hit TV series Sex and the City. Du's swanky and oh-so sexy high-heels of red, black and metallic-hued velvet are offset by encrusted diamonds and colored gems. The clientele for such footware are none other than the swelling ranks of modern, monied women not afraid of embracing their femininity, and who obviously enjoy being the center of attention.

Some may wonder just how high a girl has to prop up her heels to garner all that extra attention. Du's high-heels look high enough to break the wearer's ankles, but -- like those of the Manolo Blahnik -- Du's creations are said to be both fashionable and practical. "I have walked in his shoes for hours already, and my feet don't feel sore at all," a girl sporting Du's shoes attested at the opening party for his new establishment.

A good friend of the age-resistant star Stephanie Hsiao (蕭薔) who also designs the wardrobes of other female stars such as Vicky Chen (陳孝萱) and Chu Ai-ling (曲艾玲), Du is nothing like your usual flamboyant character straining for the limelight. He is a surprisingly sincere, neighborly man who worked his way up to what he is now.

"I worked as a model and a dancer and sold clothes as a street-side vendor. It wasn't until 10 years ago that I was determined to become a fashion designer," Du said.

The 40-year-old designer's first encounter with fashion was at an award ceremony for new local designers held by the Taiwan Textile Federation (台灣紡拓會) when he was 25. When he saw the models parading down the catwalk in designer clothes, he promised himself that one day he would take home the grand prize.

Several years passed as Du's modeling job took off and gave him a life of comfort. He put his fashion designer dream on hold until he began pushing 30 and was reminded of the vow he had made to himself. With only an elementary school education, Du had to start from the bottom. "I began from the basics. It was really difficult for me since most designers didn't want to take on a 30-year-old assistant," Du said.

After a series of frustrations and setbacks, Du finally landed an apprenticeship at a local designer's studio and before long, he attended the textile federation's award ceremony again -- this time, as an award-receiver.

A couple years ago, Du set out to establish his own brand -- Kenji -- armed with a small loan of NT$300,000.

And like his shoes, his distinctive outfits have sexy written all over them. For his spring/summer collection, elegantly cut dresses and mini-skirts of bright shaded chiffon and lace offset by colored sequins draw out a feminine sweetness from the wearer's curves and lines. "I believe in simple cutting because I think over-accessorizing covers up a woman's natural contours," Du said. "For me, being sexy doesn't mean exposing lots of cleavage, navel and leg. Women can wear suits and still be sexy."

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