Perched on a plush leather sofa in the VIP room on the fifth floor of her company’s flagship store on Zhongshan North Road, fashion designer Shiatzy Chen (王陳彩霞) looked poised in the mid-afternoon sun as she sat through a stream of media interviews.
Her calm exterior belies the rigorous preparations Chen and her design team must complete over the next six weeks as Shiatzy Chen becomes just the second Taiwanese design house to show a collection at the official Paris Fashion Week (the first was Yufengshawn, 馭風騷, in 2005). The debut of Shiatzy Chen’s spring/summer 2009 collection in October is also a highlight as the label celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Chen, who was born in 1951 in Changhua, never trained formally as a fashion designer, instead beginning her career with a dressmaking apprenticeship. Chen met her husband, Wang Yuan-hong (王元宏), a businessman in the textile trade, in the early 1970s and by 1978 the couple had set up a women’s knitwear factory under the name Shiatzy International Company Limited. Chen began designing her eponymous label for the company and her aesthetic increased in sophistication as Shiatzy International expanded. By 1990 the company had launched a design studio and retail store in Paris; Shiatzy Chen also has stores throughout Taiwan and China.
“At the beginning I wasn’t sure if I had an interest in designing or not. But I’m not a highly educated person, and if you don’t have an education, you have to be self-reliant and have a skill. So my skill was making clothes,” says Chen, “To have gotten to where I am now has been, I believe, a matter of persistence.”
Shiatzy Chen’s designs are known for combining influences and techniques from traditional Chinese clothing with clean, modern silhouettes. The label’s winter 2008 collection, for example, features dresses and coats with stark lines that skim over the body and rely on a ruffled collar, stylized floral appliques or intricate pleating to provide a touch of femininity. Several A-line coats and shifts echo the current trend for retro fashion, but the collection remains distinctively Shiatzy Chen, with style signatures like necklines borrowed from the qipao and bright colors. The designer is committed to developing and refining that hallmark aesthetic even as her customer base becomes more global: “If someone looks at a piece of clothing and is able to tell at once that it is a Shiatzy Chen piece, then I know I have succeeded.”
Polished in a stone-colored sleeveless blouse with curved collar, Chen was reluctant to talk about the upcoming spring/summer 2009 collection, which she and her design team are currently refining for Paris Fashion Week. But she expounded on her design philosophy, the intermarriage of style and culture, how her brand is perceived and where she hopes to take Shiatzy Chen the brand in the future.
Taipei Times: Can you tell me what your design process is like and where you derive your inspiration?
Shiatzy Chen: This is very much a question of what comes first, the chicken or the egg? When I start designing every season, the theme comes to me in many different ways. Ultimately it is a question of being able to pick up on that second of inspiration that moves me the most and going with it. Sometimes the colors I want to use will influence the fabrics I choose, and then the fabric in turn influences the design of a gown. There are also times when I come up with a design first, and that determines the fabric I pick. Sometimes I also happen to come across a piece of beautiful fabric and I will design something around it. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where everything starts and, in fact, the design process is completely different for every season.