No matter where you turn those Bardot-lined peepers, fashion designers, shops and chains around the globe have long been taking a leaf out of the extensive fashion pages owned by China’s ethnic minorities.
All political affirmations and connotations aside (we shall not be engaging ourselves in any “he said, she said” snafus today and prefer to keep things fashionably chaste), China’s various traditional minority dresscodes have had an extensive influence on clothing hangers nationwide, comprising the full scale from hard-to-handle fabrics to exuberant embroidery to fantastical earrings.
Leaving behind the Han majority（汉族| hànzú in Chinese) aka 91.59 percent of the overall Chinese population in 2018, we would hereby like to put a quick white-hot spotlight on some particular Temper favorites. One might disagree, given the sometimes borderline overbearing accessories are not always meant for the fainthearted sleek style sense lovers, but oh well…
A little edge never hurt anyone.
Uyghur to Miao
Located in China’s utmost western region, Xinjiang Autonomous Region (新疆省) with its greenscreen grasslands, icy blue mountain lakes, wide-stretching deserts and rapidly developing large cities (trust me, the view from a top floor in its capital of Urumqi gets more impressive by the year), harbors 47 minority groups. The largest one? The Turkic Uyghur, who outdo anyone when it comes to processing their artisanal silk and leather goods. With the ancient Silk Road running through their veins, their Xinjiang home-base formed a melting pot of Greek, Roman, Indian and Islam culture, leading to a wide cultural diversity that found its way into the local wardrobes.
The most distinctive Uyghur feature would have to be the daily-worn cap, referring to age, position occupation and ethnic origin. I myself possess a weakness for the large handwoven silk and cashmere scarfs emblazoned with wildly colorful flowery motives produced in the area. Yet, should you prefer a modern-day twist on tradition; take a nod from Lio He’s Zéphyr brand, designing a wide selection of pure silk scarves featuring graphic prints, from dainty to dashing.
From graphic prints, it’s only a small leap to embroidery, brocades and batik, yet more characteristics found across the tradition-prescribed clothing. Especially renowned for their sewing skills are the Miao, located in China’s southwestern Guizhou Province (we’re bouncing from place to province, as usual). Often depicting the natural landscape surrounding them, their most commonly depicted motives include flowers, birds and other fauna. From aprons to dresses to baby carriers to shoes and towering headwear, the Miao processing techniques are the primi (primae?) inter pares, with colors often being on the more earthy-honed side. On the brighter side of the color pallette, we might find the Yunnan Province motives; minor detail.
Should you be on the lookout for a more contemporary twist on these “knits”; then literally embrace your body with the Pillowbook lingerie brand. Founder and designer Irene Lu often incorporates intricate embroidery in her undergarments. Just a little tip for the saucier snookums out there.
These craftsmen know their moulding and carving, often inlaying the basic pieces with precious stones, including agate, jasper and turquoise.
Silk to Silver
Speaking of Yunnan Province (the bright home to 25 minority groups)… As we swiftly sweep through China’s southern areas, we stumble upon another firm favorite of mine: The silver gems. Cap adornments, XL drop earrings or broches and bracelets; the entire shiny shebang is present. With the location’s earliest silver accessories dating back to the Song Dynasty (907-1272), these craftsmen know their moulding and carving, often inlaying the basic pieces with precious stones, including agate, jasper and turquoise.
Tempted to get your slinky paws on any of the aforementioned? Just take a look at Aimotown’s downstairs area (yes, that Yunnan place inside Beijing’s No.44, Fangjia Hutong). Or when you enter Beijing’s general tourist-trap Nanluoguxiang from Gulou East, be careful not to simply pass by a Lilliputian (must. use. word) shop on your left hand. Thus risking to pass up on some imported traditional treasures. Why the GPS description? ‘Cause the shop has no name; it just adds to the undefinable mystique, let’s say.
Silver puts the crown on the bountiful (yet back-to-very-basic here) looks as sported by China’s assorted indigenous populations.
Fashion brand Eve de Cina had put together the collection and said it was designed to transcend space and time and bridge cultures.
Bringing The Bouyei To Beijing
CGTN Reporter Zhang Ruijun in May 2017 brought us the story, and a prime example to illustrate the power of “the little people”, of the unique Bouyei embroidery walking the Beijing Fashion Week catwalks:
“China Fashion Week has brought the unique embroidery of an ethnic minority from the remote south of the country to the world’s fashionistas. When Fashion Week kicked off, 10 looms took center stage, operated by 10 Bouyei women who had traveled to Beijing from Qianxi county, Guizhou Province. The Bouyei women worked their magic with the loom while models strutted down the catwalk wearing traditional Bouyei attire.
Fashion brand Eve de Cina had put together the collection and said it was designed to transcend space and time and bridge cultures. Xia Hua, Eve de Cina’s founder, said the embroidery and weaving technique of the Bouyei people were “so fascinating.”
Her group wants to exhibit this art to a wider audience, not just catering to the Chinese, but to foreigners as well. The 42 outfits featured on the runway show were all handmade by Bouyei embroidery artisans. Xu’s team searched through the hamlets of Qianxi to find the few women who know this elaborate craft. Their work for Eve de Cina has brought them potential prosperity, especially now that the embroidery has been showcased on an international stage.”
With an array of 56 ethnic groups covering the vast mainland of China – the largest of which is the Han group with approximately 1.2 billion descendants (say, 92 percent of the overall population) — one can infuse any outfit with a mad minority bump in a straight stitch second.
Their different decorations are only one styling aspect of what sets the minority groups apart from one another; their artisanal ways of production — from weaving to dyeing — showcase a respect for Mother Earth and binds them together into one powerful modern-day fashion inspiration.
The details in the different ethnic dress make all of het abovementioned truly minors playing in the majors – the major ‘tude stakes, that is.