尋找內在的仙杜芮拉──台灣服裝設計二怞~

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1998 / 10月

文‧陳妙玲 圖‧卜華志



心地善良又美麗的仙杜芮拉,經過仙女的魔法妝扮,從不起眼的灰姑娘還原成高雅的公主。

雖然現實生活中,誰也沒見過仙女和魔法棒,不過,經過二怞~的孕育,台灣服裝設計師的功力與日俱增,在他們的魔法棒下,你是找到了自己內在的仙杜芮拉,還是迷失了自我?

中秋將近,日頭高掛的街道上,折扣布告高高懸在百貨公司外牆上、貼在服飾店櫥窗玻璃上、印在每家信箱中塞得滿滿的廣告信件上。

受到號召的顧客紛紛投入各大賣場,在滿架、滿車的貨品中,五折、三折、特價品的指示牌下,尋找那件在剛上市時捨不得買的洋裝,順便多帶幾件看得順眼的針織衫。

衣香鬢影

八、九月,不只賣場忙著下折扣,一連串精采的換季服裝發表會也自八月起相繼登場,媒體上幾乎天天報導著秋冬流行趨勢。在百貨公司裡踅一圈,國內外品牌之間,許多本土設計師自創的品牌透露著台灣流行時尚的腳步。

一個略顯涼意的周末傍晚,小西華飯店的宴會廳中,昏暗的燈光下,滿室衣香鬢影,樂音流洩。六、七怑荇y位沿著房間正中央的狹長走道兩旁排開,座無虛席,許多沒有座位的佳賓沿著牆邊站著。眾人的目光隨著聚光燈集中在搖曳生姿、踩著節拍來回走秀的模特兒身上,舞台前方不時傳來卡嚓卡嚓的相機快門聲。

服裝設計師溫慶珠的作品,透過深色的短上衣搭配中長度的裙、褲,簡潔剪裁出俐落的女性線條。

設計實力漸漸成熟

「流行時尚是西方的產物,套裝、西裝就像英文一樣,世界通行,」設計以細膩、中性、自由的女性風格見長的溫慶珠說,台灣服飾業從民國六怞~代經濟起飛時起步,雖然發展得很快,離成熟期卻還有一段距離。

不過在這段時間裡,有些早年投入並且堅持到現在的設計師,都已在台灣市場擁有自己的一片天地,有些更將觸角伸上國際舞台。由王陳彩霞領銜設計的夏姿服飾,以及潘黛麗帶領的杜牧服飾,今年都歡歡欣欣慶祝二抾g年,坊間的台灣設計師品牌,也早已發展到不下數怌a。

「想當年,設計師品牌還不是那麼多的時候,百貨公司聽到設計師的名字都會害怕,因為設計師的東西叫好不叫座,」自創品牌剛滿抾g年的林臣英說。只不過怞h年功夫,隨著消費市場愈來愈廣,不同類型的消費者已漸漸區隔出來,設計師服飾反而成為百貨公司不可或缺的商品。

新秀新勢力

沈寂一時的力霸百貨公司在三年多前改裝成以都會女性為訴求的衣蝶百貨之後,為了吸引消費者的目光,開闢一處「解放區」,號召剛出道的新秀設計師入駐。曾是「解放區」一員的沈勃宏說,小小的櫃位上,三、四位各具特色的新秀設計師,創造出很高的銷售坪效。

這一代新秀設計師,多半是由中華民國紡織業外銷拓展會已辦了怳G屆的新人獎中脫穎而出。沈勃宏獲得第二屆新人獎首獎後,次年又奪下在台灣舉辦的第一屆亞洲新人獎,因此獲得評審之一皮爾卡登的邀請,赴法國皮爾卡登設計中心出任助理設計師。經過皮爾卡登的親自調教,以及在巴黎服裝公會學院的深造,沈勃宏回國後便投入成衣設計的行列,二年後即成立個人品牌。

曾獲第四屆第一名的竇騰璜,也在獲得新人獎之後,多次參加國內外設計師競賽,先後與紡織品廠商合作,在民國八怚|年,衣蝶改裝後,首度推出個人品牌。

受到女性主義轉型的影響,竇騰璜九五年推出迥異於八怞~代大墊肩、無腰身等男性化設計的新女性主義形象,線條柔和又兼具知性;九七年受到香港回歸的影響,推出在毛呢上繡花的中英結晶,「這幾年來,一些元素衝突激盪,由此出發的設計也很有戲劇感,」竇騰璜說。

竇騰璜的服裝在市場上受到歡迎,連帶使得舞台服裝、金飾、公司制服或是明星造型設計等案子接踵找上門。目前竇騰璜一季大約推出六到八千件商品,這對從事傳統裁縫工作的竇媽媽來說,簡直難以想像。

裁縫師傅,老闆娘

二怞h年前,台灣還沒有「服裝設計師」這樣的名號,更沒有什麼新人獎,要穿時裝的人多半要到裁縫店訂做。目前在台灣大受歡迎、進一步登陸巴黎開設專賣店的品牌「夏姿」,負責人王元宏與設計師王陳彩霞夫婦就是從台中的一家裁縫店做起。

當年一位愛漂亮而開始學裁縫的怳C歲少女,從舅舅店裡的一個小學徒做起,花了四年磨出一身好手藝。當她出師之後,遇到了生命中的另一半,兩人遂共同打拚,從接受布莊訂製的裁縫店,進而轉型成當時正在起步的成衣加工廠。有了自己的工廠,夫婦倆繼續打拚,民國六怳C年,從台中北上,成立了夏姿。

差不多同時,台北晴光市場裡也有一株服裝界的幼苗正冒出頭來。在一家小委託行裡,從香港回台灣定居的潘黛麗,在自己的店裡擺些舶來品賣。當時還是復興美工學生的呂芳智一心想要到法國留學,「那時學生還不流行打工,為了存學費,我就做了一點蠟染的服飾,寄放在潘黛麗店裡賣,」呂芳智說。

由於生意還不錯,兩人索性擴大合作關係,成立了「杜牧」,呂芳智負責設計,潘黛麗負責生產線和管銷。

「八O年代時,台灣的成衣業剛起步,除了特別訂做,其他就是一些毫無流行可言的成衣,」呂芳智回憶道。因此剛起步時,生意不錯,合作三、四年後,兩人在民國七怳T年時各立門戶,潘黛麗繼續經營杜牧公司,推出「VERDE JEANS」服飾,呂芳智也成立了個人的設計師品牌。潘黛麗記憶深刻地述說:「怞h年前,關稅、外匯和兩岸人民往來等限制解除,真的讓台灣社會活絡了起來。」

設計師風潮蔚起

設計師品牌的服裝漸漸在市面上出現,但提供這些服裝的賣場卻不多。怞h年前,西門町的大型服飾賣場「巴而可」首先提供潘黛麗、呂芳智等人一些櫃位,潘黛麗記得,「櫃位上還有小型的展示舞台。」

當年,正好也是各大百貨公司相繼投入台灣市場的熱浪當頭,打出「流行的預言」標語的中興百貨前身──芝麻百貨,由於地點離東區和西區的主要鬧區都有一點距離,附近又是加油站、學校等非商業建築,賣場規模也不大,所以當時的總經理徐莉玲決定以本土設計師做為經營特色。也曾設計過服裝的徐莉玲說:「由於當年自己的東西常遭到成衣廠仿冒,因此強調本土設計師的經營策略,一方面也是為了結合大家的力量,藉此建立市場秩序。」

徐莉玲將公司裡較好的櫃位提供給本土設計師,和當時主要百貨公司將好櫃位提供給高業績廠商的作法截然不同,不過卻為芝麻百貨和後來的中興百貨建立起特色。另一方面,徐莉玲也在敦化南路和忠孝東路口,規畫了一個名為「Designer Gallery」的設計師服飾賣場,更成為當時本土設計師的橋頭堡。

受到一波波支持本土設計師力量的影響,原本在芝麻百貨做櫥窗陳列的溫慶珠、為成衣廠商操刀的林臣英、以及曾在「巴而可」當店長的陳季敏等人,都在這個時期先後投入服裝設計的行列,推出自己的品牌。

創意與跟風的戰爭

除了大型賣場,潘黛麗在當年敦化南路永琦百貨後方的名人巷內也開設了一家設計師名店「韋馱」,除了賣自己的東西,也有呂芳智和李冠毅所設計的服裝。後來在同一條巷內,接連開了幾家設計師的服飾專賣店,儼然成為一條時尚名店街。

然而要開創一個品牌,絕不是件簡單的事。設計師除了要有實力,也得觀察產業界和市場的風向。林臣英說,有時設計師做出一個大受歡迎的款式,市面上馬上出現一堆跟風的產品,由於廠商大量製作,成本壓低,售價比設計師商品便宜不少,所以真正賺錢的都是這些廠商。「設計師的路想要走得遠,還得活得夠久,」林臣英無奈地說。

潘黛麗就是個典型的例子。對父親有著深厚孺慕之情的她,從小就期望能與父親穿著一樣的衣服,因此,她怞~前推出全新品牌時,第一個想到的就是做親子裝。「恰好當年的經濟部長蕭萬長提出了產業上中下游整合的呼籲,我就和潤泰、台元等紡織廠合作,運用新開發出來的牛仔布料,設計全尺碼的同一款式服裝,」潘黛麗說。

「小孩子是最挑剔的,衣服穿起來只要有一點不舒服,就會想要趕快脫掉,」因此,這對沒做過童裝的潘黛麗也是一大挑戰。

經過幾季的經營,潘黛麗的新品牌「verde jeans」的銷售成績還不錯,不過由於尺碼太多,貨量太大,經營上出現了問題,再加上當年一些紡織廠也從國外引進形象類似的休閒服裝品牌,潘黛麗經營得非常辛苦。當初她和呂芳智合作賺來的兩棟房子,這次全賠進去了。不過潘黛麗再次回到拿手的女裝市場,如今又東山再起,繼續往前邁進。

和跟風的廠商比起來,設計師不只是產品創意的源頭,還得多負擔一層市場接受度的風險。所以儘管掛上設計師的名號,代表著設計師對產品的保證,「不過不是每位設計師的作品都能受到市場歡迎,設計師也可能成為票房毒藥,」竇騰璜說。

建立時尚秩序

由於各種因素,有些設計師淡出服裝界,有些則繼續走了下去,經過二怞~的發展,服裝市場漸漸成型,流行時尚的新秩序同時也在一點一滴地整合。

抴X年前,台灣主要的服裝發表會是冬季季末的棉紡織品發表會與夏季季末的毛紡織品發表會。曾經與廠商多次在這些發表會中合作的徐莉玲,後來進一步將累積下來的經驗用上,每年在圓山飯店舉辦兩次服裝換季發表會,設計師每季也開始推出強調系列或主題的作品。

雖然物換星移,當年舞台上的沈曼光、陳淑麗等名模早已退出伸展台,名店百貨不見得都還存在,但是歷年累積下的基礎,卻使更多設計師、專賣店和專櫃有了立足之地。

和設計師的成長成正比的是,台灣人對於服裝的要求不再只是穿得暖和整潔。「服裝不再是過年過節才特地去買的商品,對現代人來說,服裝也可以是種樂趣,」同樣出身新人獎的設計師王俊茂說,去年麥克•傑可森來台開演唱會,就有女孩特地買他的衣服,希望能在當天好好打扮一番,在最靠近舞台的搖滾區好好瘋一下。

有些人在打扮之餘,則是愈來愈講究品牌,呂芳智認為,市場開放之後,愈來愈多國外知名品牌進入國內市場,提升了消費者的水準,也間接影響著本土設計師。不過「穿名牌就像吸毒,很容易愈陷愈深,」呂芳智以過來人的身份說,其實品牌、價位不是重點,搭配合宜最重要。或許「固定穿某個設計師的作品,錯也錯不到那裡去吧,」溫慶珠認為。

設計師與顧客的對話

從一個人的服裝,其實可以看出許多端倪。「一個人如何裝扮,和思想、生活背景、職業都息息相關,」林臣英說。

當年林臣英從實踐服裝科畢業之後,曾在一家由上海師傅為主的洋裁店做事,主要扮演師傅和顧客間的橋樑。林臣英必須以顧客帶來的布料為基礎,與顧客充分溝通後畫出草圖,交由師傅製作。

這個時期林臣英見識到上海師傅細緻的手工,更重要的是「從溝通的過程當中,學會了設計師一定要接觸人群,了解顧客的需求,」林臣英說。因此,林臣英常常應百貨公司邀請,對消費者演講,甚至在賣場舉辦小型服裝秀,會後與顧客面對面接觸。

除了從消費者的角度出發,在茫茫衣海中,有時設計師個人的獨特風格才是吸引消費者的重點。

曾當了國畫大師歐豪年八年入室弟子的溫慶珠,當年雖然畫得愈來愈好,但是她也發現,「怎麼愈畫愈像老師的風格,」才興起轉做服裝設計的念頭。

她常常在生活中抓住一些稍縱即逝的感覺,將這些放到設計和發表會裡頭,留下了許多心情。去年,她在華山特區舉辦的發表會,雖然會場的建築破落,放滿蚊香驅蚊,但是營造出來的浪漫與靜雅的氣氛,卻是溫慶珠極致的表現。

除了透過服裝說話,溫慶珠極少與顧客接觸,甚至為此將原本在大馬路旁的公司搬到小巷子裡。「舉辦發表會是我交作業的時候,我在這一季的工作也到此為止,」溫慶珠說,這時她又開始孕育著下一季的作品。

以文化為根柢

當一位設計師在構思作品時,「就像雕塑講究形式、色彩、材質,不過做服裝更要師法自然,做出最適宜人體比例穿著的東西,」竇騰璜再進一步說,穿得符合自己的特色,則要用心生活,從生活型態出發,因為「台灣人做歐洲文藝復興的風格,鐵定做不過法國人。」

或許是如此,許多本土設計師遂運用了許多中國傳統的元素,這也成為台灣設計師走向國際舞台的特色。

累積二怞~的實力,明年春天巴黎專賣店即將開幕的夏姿服飾,長期以來就以中國風格見長。二怞~前,夏姿推出改良式旗袍;怞~前受電影《末代皇帝》影響,運用清式縫珠、刺繡作工,以絲、緞、絨等布料,搭配咖啡、金、紫色系,創造出皇朝氣勢;今年夏天則是以棉麻材質與手繪圖紋,表現出禪學詩意。

作品同樣充滿中國風格的洪麗芬於民國六怳誚~自實踐家專畢業後,曾與「雲門舞集」、「新象藝術中心」、「優劇場」、「樊潔兮舞蹈團」等藝術團體合作,自己也多次以現代藝術創作的方式來呈現服裝材質的可能性。

熱愛藝術創作的洪麗芬認為:「服裝設計可算是工藝的一種。」因此,她不斷地嘗試發掘服裝的可能性,直到她找到了「湘雲紗」。

「湘雲紗」目前只在大陸嶺南一家布廠可以看到,曾全程參與製作的洪麗芬深深為製作過程和成品所吸引。「他們將白絲胚布舖在地上,以植物的汁液去染,再讓陽光直接照射,之後還要敷上河中心的泥,」洪麗芬神采揚逸地解說,「這套方法完全遵照明朝流傳下來的古法,連染料都是由馬尾做成的刷子刷上的。」

「湘雲紗」加上「洪麗芬」,一件件獨一無二的作品便這樣誕生了。由於洪麗芬曾在民國八怳T年得到中法技術交流專案獎學金,到法國留學,並參與過香奈兒、迪奧的服裝發表會製作,深具國際視野的她,近年將舞台擴展到國際上,積極地參與巴黎、米蘭等地的成衣展。

從內在出發

在國內,洪麗芬的顧客許多都是藝文界人士,香港號外雜誌出版人陳冠中說,看到湘雲紗讓他有如「重訪兒時故居」。詩人杜怳T則認為,洪麗芬的衣服不但適合肉體穿著,也適合靈魂穿著。

難道靈魂也會穿衣嗎?

「當一個人打扮得過度,和自己的內在差距太大,自己就不像自己了,」溫慶珠說得好。

你是誰?適合什麼樣的裝扮?透過市面上形形色色的服裝,甚至與某位設計師產生共鳴,也許你會進一步發現內在的自我。

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衣香鬢影、樂音流洩,一場服裝饗宴正展開。(夏姿服飾提供)

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從晴光市場委託行、親子裝到杜牧服飾,潘黛麗一路走來,歷經台灣服裝設計各世代。

「我剛開始做服裝時,還沒有系列或是主題概念呢!」呂芳智笑說。

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許多服裝設計師也會為表演藝術團體設計舞台服裝。圖為呂芳智與潘黛麗怳E年前為雲門舞集所設計的舞衣。(呂芳智提供)

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從新人獎出身的沈勃宏,正努力打出自己的市場。

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沈勃宏赴法擔任皮爾卡登助理設計師時的素描,獲得皮爾卡登親自署名。(沈勃宏提供)

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衣如其人的溫慶珠認為,服飾裝扮要由內在出發。

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近來的服裝型錄已不注重忠實表達服裝細節,強調的是所要表達的意念。(溫慶珠提供)

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從原料到製程完全自然的湘雲紗。(洪麗芬提供)

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常常奔波於台北、巴黎、米蘭、紐約之間的洪麗芬,希望以後大家聽到她就想到湘雲紗。

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經過打扮之後,自己還像不像自己?透過服裝設計師的魔法,正可探索其中奧秘。

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EN

Twenty Years of Designer Fashions

Marlene Chen /photos courtesy of Pu Hua-chih /tr. by Mark Caltonhill


Kind-hearted and beautiful Cinderella was changed from a dust-covered girl into an elegant princess by her fairy godmother's magic.

Although no one has seen a fairy godmother or a magic wand in real life, with 20 years of experience behind them, Taiwan's fashion designers' skills have improved so much that you can now lose yourself under the magic of their wand and discover your own inner Cinderella.

With the Mid-Autumn Festival almost upon us, the sun floats high overhead, sale signs hang from the walls of department stores, discount banners stick to clothes shop windows and advertising leaflets bristle from every letter box.

Answering the call, shoppers flock to the streets, searching on heaped shelves and packed carts, beneath signs proclaiming "half price," "70% off" or "special offer," for those garments they resisted buying when fresh on the market, at the same time carrying off a few attractive autumn woolens.

Finely-dressed women

August and September not only buzz with discount sales, they also herald the start of the fashion show season. New styles for the coming autumn and winter are reported almost daily in the media. In department stores, between national and international brand names, local designer labels reveal Taiwan's latest trends.

On a mild weekend evening, beneath mellow lights in the Sherwood Hotel's banquet hall, a roomful of fashionably-dressed people float on gentle music. The 60 or 70 seats arranged along both sides of the long, narrow walkway are all occupied, and many guests stand against the walls. The audience's gaze follows the spotlight focusing on models' bodies as they sway back and forth to the music's rhythm. Camera shutters click incessantly.

Fashion designer Isabelle Wen is presenting dark-colored short blouses with medium-length skirts and trousers, simply tailored to produce neat, feminine styles.

Going from strength to strength

"Fashions are a Western creation; suits and ensembles are like English, a common language throughout the world," says Isabelle Wen, designer of delicate, androgynous and liberating styles for women. Taiwan's fashion industry began with the economic boom of the 1970s, and although it has developed rapidly it is still a little way from maturity.

Nevertheless, all those designers who started early on and are still in business today have their own share of Taiwan's market. Some have even extended feelers onto the international stage. Shiatzy International Co. headed by Shiatzy Chen and Dumu Enterprise Co. under Pun Dai Lee are both celebrating their twentieth anniversaries this year. More than a dozen other designer labels have been on the Taiwanese market since that early period.

"Remember, at that time, designer labels were still a rarity, and even the name was enough to make department stores afraid because, although a designer name meant quality, it didn't necessarily appeal to the masses," observes Lin Chen-ying, who has produced his own brand for ten years. In this short time, following continued expansion of the consumer market, and differentiation of that market into various categories of consumer, designer clothes have actually become indispensable to department stores.

New faces, new strengths

Since its conversion from the subdued Rebar Department Store more than three years ago, the Id嶪 Department Store, with its emphasis on meeting the needs of metropolitan women, has sought to attract consumers' attention by setting up "liberated zones" and inviting newly emerging designers to take up residence. As one such "liberated zone" designer, Paul Shen, says, having three or four new designers in one small sales area, each with their own distinctive style, is a very effective way of selling.

This new generation of designers on the whole represents the winners of the Taiwan Fashion Design Award organized by the Taiwan Textile Federation for the last 12 years. After winning first prize for Young Designer at the second annual awards, Paul Shen went on to carry off the gold medal at the inaugural Fashion Design Competition for Young Designer of Asia, held in Taiwan the following year. This led to an invitation from one of the judges, Pierre Cardin, to take up a post as assistant designer at Pierre Cardin's design center in France. Under Cardin's personal teaching, and after a period of advanced study at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, Shen returned to the ranks of Taiwan's clothing designers. Two years later he started his own label.

Stephanie Dou, who took first prize at the fourth annual awards and also went on to participate in numerous domestic and international design competitions, later worked with textile manufacturers until in 1995, after the opening of the Id嶪 Department Store, she presented her own label for the first time.

In 1995, having been influenced by changes in feminist ideas, Ms. Dou presented new feminine styles which were tender and intelligent, contrasting greatly with the masculinized women's styles of the 1980s with their padded shoulders and waistless bodies. Influenced by the return of Hong Kong to mainland China, in 1997 her designs included flowers embroidered on heavy woolen cloth representing the fruits of China and Britain. "In the past few years a number of antagonistic elements have been in conflict, so the designs that have emerged also have a very dramatic feeling," Stephanie Dou explains.

Dou's clothes are popular; commissioned designs for theatrical costumes, gold jewelry, company uniforms and casual wear for popular celebrities pile up at her door. At present she makes between six and eight thousand garments each season. For Dou's mother, a traditional dressmaker, this is almost unimaginable.

Master tailor and wife

Over 20 years ago there was no such profession as "fashion designer" and certainly no such thing as the Taiwan Fashion Design Award. Those people who wished to wear up-to-the-minute clothes generally had to have them custom-made by a dressmaker. Currently very popular in Taiwan, Shiatzy International is even opening a store in Paris. The company was started by the husband-and-wife team of manager Wang Yuan-hong and designer Shiatzy Chen from their beginnings in a Taichung dressmaking shop.

Then a 17-year-old young woman who took pride in her appearance and had started to study dressmaking, Chen became an apprentice in her uncle's shop and spent the next four years perfecting her skills. Once she had finished her apprenticeship and met her life's other half, Wang, the couple jointly started a dressmaking shop, initially taking tailoring commissions from drapery stores. In time, this became a factory in Taiwan's rapidly developing garment industry. With their own factory, in 1978 the couple moved from Taichung and set up Shiatzy International .

At more or less the same time, in Taipei's Ching-kuang Market another tender seedling was sprouting onto the clothing world. Pun Dai Lee, who had just returned from Hong Kong, was offering imported goods for sale in her small commission shop. Elsewhere, Fuhsing Trades Arts School student Lu Fong Chih was dreaming of going to study in France. "At the time it wasn't common for students to have part-time jobs," says Lu, "but in order to earn my tuition fees I made some batik clothes and sold them, sale-or-return, in Pun Dai Lee's shop."

As business was good, they decided to extend their working relationship and set up Dumu Enterprises. Lu Fong Chih took responsibility for design, Pun Dai Lee for production, management and marketing.

"The garment industry in Taiwan was just taking off in the 1980s, and except for custom-made clothes the rest weren't the least bit fashionable," Lu Fong Chih recollects. As a result, business was very good to begin with, but in 1984, after working together for three or four years, the two separated to form their own companies. Pun Dai Lee continued Dumu Enterprises, producing Verde Jeans, whilst Lu Fong Chih set up her own designer label. Pun Dai Lee remembers clearly, "A decade or so ago things really eased up in Taiwan as punitive tariffs, exchange controls the ban on travel to mainland China were lifted."

Designer clothing comes of age

Although designer clothing gradually appeared on the market, the number of retail outlets offering these products was small. Over a decade ago, Parco, a large clothes store in Hsimenting, provided space to Pun Dai Lee, Lu Fong Chih and others. As Pun Dai Lee remembers, "The area even had a small exhibition stage."

Just then, department stores started to enter the scene. Sesame Department Store, forerunner of today's Sunrise Department Store, was a relatively small store located some distance from both the eastern and western downtown districts, in an area of non-commercial buildings such as a gas station and a school. In order to give the store a distinctive character, the general manager of the time, Hsu Li-ling, hit upon using local designers under a slogan of "predicting fashions." As Hsu, herself a clothes designer, says, "Because my own products were being hit by factory-made imitations, we emphasized a policy of local designers, and by combining our strengths, sought to bring some order to the market."

Hsu Li-ling gave the better sites to local designers, a strategy markedly different from that of the main department stores who at that time gave such space to those manufacturers with the best track records. This gave the Sesame Store, and its successor the Sunrise Department Store, a distinctive style of its own. Hsu also drew up a scheme for the Designer Gallery, a designer clothes store at the corner of Tunhua South Road and Chunghsiao East Road which was to serve as a bridgehead for local designers.

Isabelle Wen, originally a window-dresser at Sesame, Lin Chen-ying, who had previously worked for garment manufacturers as a tailor, Chen Li-min, who had managed Parco, and others-all influenced by such increasing support for local designers-soon joined their ranks and started their own labels.

Fashion creators vs. imitators

As well as operating at such large retail outlets, Pun Dai Lee also established a designer shop, el boutique Verde, in Mingjen Alley behind what was then the Evergreen Tokyu Department Store on Tunhua South Road. In addition to selling her own items, she also sold clothes designed by Lu Fong Chih and Li Kuan-yi. Later on, a number of other designer clothes shops opened in the same alley, making it into something of a fashion district.

Starting a designer label is far from simple, however. In addition to requiring talent, a designer has to keep an eye on the industry and follow market trends. As Lin Chen-ying explains, sometimes a designer will produce a very popular style only to have it immediately copied in a mountain of imitation products. Because of the large quantities produced by factories, their cost base and selling price are much cheaper than those of the designer, so in fact, those which really make money are the factories. "To be successful, a designer must travel a long road and live a long life," Lin says with resignation.

Pun Dai Lee is a typical example. With her deep love and respect for her father, even as a small child she wanted to dress like him. As a result, when she first presented her new label some ten years ago, the first thing she thought of was making matching clothes for parents and children. "It was fortunate that that year the then Minister of Economic Affairs, Vincent Siew, issued a call for vertical integration of industries, so I worked together with Ruentex Industries, Tai Yuen Textile Company and other textile plants using newly produced denim material to make the same styles of clothes in both adults' and children's sizes." Pun Dai Lee explains.

"Children are the most finicky. If clothes aren't completely comfortable they want to take them off straight away." This became the biggest challenge for Pun, who had not made children's clothes before.

After operating for a number of seasons, the sales performance of Pun Dai Lee's label, Verde Jeans, was pretty good. Nevertheless, because the range of sizes was too broad and the number of products too large, management problems crept in. On top of which, as several garment companies also introduced similar styles of leisure wear from overseas, Pun Dai Lee's operations became extremely difficult. The two buildings she had bought with the money earned earlier with Lu Fang Chih were now lost. Nevertheless, Pun Dai Lee has once more returned to the specialist women's clothes market and, bouncing back from defeat, continues to forge ahead.

Compared with those factories which imitate fashion trends, designers are not just a source of creativity, they must also bear the risk of acceptance by consumers. A designer name tag might guarantee the article, "but it does not guarantee the success of that product in the market place. Designers can also become 'box office poison,'" as Stephanie Dou puts it.

Bringing order to the fashion world

For a number of reasons some designers have gradually pulled out of the fashion business, whilst others have stayed in. The clothing market has gradually taken shape over the last 20 years, and a new order in popular fashions has emerged.

Until little over a decade ago, Taiwan's main fashion shows were separated into shows of cotton garments at the end of winter and of woolen garments at the end of summer. Hsu Li-ling, who frequently attended these shows with manufacturers, went on to use this accumulated experience and now organizes two new-season clothing shows at the Grand Hotel. Individual designers have also started to present their main collections each season.

Time moves on and things change. Shen Man-kuang, Chen Shu-li and other famous models have already long retired from the catwalk, and some formerly well-known shops and department stores are no longer in existence. Nevertheless, foundations have been gradually laid as more designers, clothes stores and specialist boutiques have gained a foothold.

Along with this maturing of the designers, what Taiwanese people want from their clothing is no longer just warmth and neatness. "Clothes are no longer just bought at new year or other special occasions. For people today, clothing is perhaps a kind of pastime," says John Bo Wang, who has a similar background as winner of the Taiwan Fashion Design Award. Last year, when Michael Jackson performed in Taiwan, girls came specially to buy Wang's clothes, wanting to dress up and go wild on the dance floor right in front of the stage.

Some people take this dressing-up further and are increasingly concerned about brand names, thinks Lu Fong Chih. After the easing of market restrictions, more and more well-known international brands entered the domestic market, thus raising consumer standards and indirectly influencing local designers. However, "wearing famous labels is like taking drugs, it's easy to sink deeper and deeper." Lu Fong Chih talks with the authority of experience, saying that actually the label and price are not what is important, what matters is whether the clothes suit each other. Perhaps "settling on one particular designer's product is the safest approach," as Isabelle Wen suggests.

Designer-client dialogue

It is possible to discern clues about a person from their clothing. As Lin Chen-ying says, "The way a person dresses is closely linked to the way they think, their background and their occupation."

After Lin graduated in clothing design from Shih Chien College, he worked for a master tailor from Shanghai specializing in Western styles. His main role was to act as a bridge between the master and his clients. Starting with the cloth the clients brought with them, and after full discussion with the customer, Lin would sketch a design which he gave to the master to make up.

Lin Chen-ying gained first-hand knowledge of the tailor's exquisite craftsmanship and, more importantly, Lin explains, "from the process of dialogue with the client, I learnt that a designer must have contact with customers to properly understand their requirements." This is why Lin Chen-ying generally responds to invitations from department stores to lecture to consumers, and even organizes mini fashion shows at retail outlets, meeting face to face afterwards with customers.

This input from the customers' point of view is not the only method. Sometimes the designer can catch consumers' attention merely with his or her unique style amongst the sea of clothing.

Isabelle Wen had been a student of the great Chinese painting master Ou Hao-nien for eight years. Even though her paintings were continually improving, she discovered that they "increasingly resembled the teacher's style." It was then that she got the idea of switching to clothing design.

She frequently incorporates transient feelings taken from everyday life into both her designs and fashion shows, retaining much of their intensity. Last year she held a show in the Huashan special economic zone and, even though the exhibition hall was in a state of near-collapse and filled with the smoke of mosquito coils, she still managed to create a romantic, tranquil and elegant atmosphere which was, indeed, a crowning achievement.

Isabelle Wen rarely makes contact with her customers other than through the medium of her clothing. She even went so far as to move her company off the main drag and down a back alley. As Wen puts it, "Holding a fashion show is when I hand in my homework-that's the end of my season's work." It's also the time that she starts on the next season.

Cultural foundation

When a designer deliberates over a work, "it's like a sculptor being careful about form, color and material, except that in making clothes one has to closely pattern nature, to produce an object that best matches the proportions of the human body," adds Stephanie Dou. In order that what one wears also complements one's personal style, one should pay attention to one's own life and take the state of one's life as the starting point because, "If Taiwanese people pursue a European Renaissance style, they for sure cannot outdo the French."

Perhaps this is why local designers frequently use traditional Chinese elements, a distinctive characteristic of the work taken by Taiwanese designers onto the international stage.

With 20 years of experience behind them, next spring Shiatzy International Co. will open its Paris branch, continuing with the Chinese styles they have long presented. Twenty years ago Shiatzy presented an improved chi pao. Influenced by the film The Last Emperor, ten years ago they created an awe-inspiring imperial effect using Qing style beadwork and embroidery, silks, satins and velvets, in brown, gold and purple colors. This year Shiatzy are using cotton and linen with hand-drawn designs to create a Zen-like poetic quality.

Hong Li-fen, whose designs similarly encapsulate Chinese styles, worked with a number of artistic organizations after graduating from Shih Chien College in 1977. These included the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, International New Aspect Cultural and Educational Foundation, U Theatre and the Jessie Fan Dance Group. Her work demonstrated the creative possibilities of modern artistic clothing.

With her fervent love of artistic expression, Hong reckons, "Fashion design can be considered an art form." As a result, she was always looking to unearth clothing's full potential, which led to her discovery of the silk gauze which she calls "Hong silk."

Today, Hong silk can only be found at a single textile mill in southern mainland China. Hong Li-fen, who has participated in each step of its manufacture, is completely captivated by both the manufacturing process and the finished article. "They spread unfinished, white silk cloth on the ground and dye it with natural plant extracts. They then expose it to the sun's rays, after which they spread mud from the middle of the river over it," Hong explains radiantly. "It's the same method that has been passed down since the Ming dynasty. They even still apply the dyes with a brush made with hair from a horse's tail."

With the addition of "Hong Li-fen" to Hong silk, a completely unique garment is born. In 1994, having been awarded a special scholarship for technical exchange with France, she went to study there, also participating in the production of Chanel and Dior fashion shows. With these widened international horizons, she has expanded onto the international stage, actively participating in Paris and Milan clothing exhibitions.

Starting from within

Many of Hong Li-fen's domestic customers are celebrities from the world of literature and fine arts. Chen Kuan-chung, publisher of the Hong Kong magazine Extra, says seeing Hong silk was like "revisiting my childhood home." Poet Tu Shih-san reckons Hong's clothes are suitable to be worn by spirits as well as by people.

Is it really possible for spirits to wear clothes?

"When someone dresses up too much and becomes too separated from their inner self, then they no longer resemble themselves," Isabelle Wen rightly says.

Who are you? What kind of attire suits you? Through the various styles and colors of clothing on the market, or even a particular resonance with a designer's products, perhaps you may move towards a discovery of your true, inner self.

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Haute couture and fine music-a veritable feast of clothing gets under way. (courtesy of Shiatzy)

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From downtown market to parent-and-child outfits and Dumu fashions, Pun Dai Lee has seen every phase of Taiwan's fashion world.

"When I first started out, I hadn't thought about my collections or even my theme," laughs Lu Fong Chih.

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Many designers also make costumes for performance art groups. These outfits were designed by Lu Fong Chih and Pun Dai Lee 19 years ago for the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. (courtesy of Lu Fong Chih)

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Having won the ROC Young Designer Award, Paul Shen is now striving to create his own market.

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Signed by Pierre Cardin, this design was drafted by Paul Shen whilst working as assistant designer for Cardin in France. (courtesy of Paul Shen)

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Isabelle Wen, who makes garments reflective of herself, reckons that when dressing up one must start from within.

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Nowadays fashions tend to express ideas rather than intricate details. (courtesy of Isabelle Wen)

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Hong silk, completely natural from silkworm to store. (courtesy of Hong Li-fen)

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Hong Li-fen, who's always on the move between Taipei, Paris, Milan and New York, hopes to be remembered for Hong silk.

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Are you still yourself once you're dressed up? Through fashion designers' magic you can probe the mystery of clothing.

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