“The shimmer reminds me of China,” says Masha Ma. She is speaking of her love for sci-fi, in a reference to the phenomenon of accelerated mutation from Alex Garland’s Annihilation: an image of strange, teeming, unbalanced life. Extending the metaphor, she continues: “Shanghai is the Blade Runner city. It’s this dislocated place that’s full of pixelated buildings at night and during the day you have old grandmas in pyjamas walking around.”
Ma’s design aesthetic is unwaveringly focused on the essence of what constitutes this brave new China, a quasi-fictional landscape of dynamic cyber cities, all in constant evolution. Far from the merely celebratory, Ma is at pains to emphasise the lived experience of the communities at stake. “I take all these global references but it’s always a reflection of what we have in China right now,” she explains. “Women are having a hard time here, they carry so much and in some cases they aren’t even allowed to express themselves. So I want to alleviate this somehow, to offer protection, even if it’s just temporary.”
Named Aceso’s Practise, Masha Ma SS’19 is a showcase of what she calls “soft armour.” Like its namesake, Aceso, it offers both healing and a call to arms. Her sharp, crisp, subtly-branded opener at the Université Paris Descartes gives way to boxy, flared checks and distressed denim. Mismatched bold floral silks with long socks recall lounge-wearing grannies on street corners. There’s a streetwear nod to safari in deconstructed jackets, shorts, combats and outerwear - a look inspired by female scientists working in China. Checks and denim appear again, as elongated suiting later combined as skirting.
“I take all these global references but it’s always a reflection of what we have in China right now.”
Mid-way through, Ma abruptly changes tack to take the collection into distinctly sexier territory: this is, after all, about the now. Bandeaus and crop tops reveal skin; cutouts are carried through to shoulders and skirts. Ma plays with combinations and textures: a disjointed denim skirt is given a flowing silk side and traditional shirting is schizophrenically split through with mismatched fabrics. Ma closes with a sleek silhouette: a new power suit for the turn of the decade.
Ma’s exploratory collection, playing with layers and textures, addresses the struggles women face in China and around the world. “Every three months there is a bit of bravery and a #metoo movement but, in a way, females are always considered secondary and supporting, and I’m just really tired of that idea." Yet she is enthusiastic for the future, adding, “there’s a newer generation that is more travelled and better equipped to deal with social demands and expectations.” That’s Ma’s China now.
Lesser know is the fact that the designer now has four diffusion lines and one menswear line in China - an incredible achievement by anyone’s standards - testimony to how she connects with her local female audience; yet she despite this success she is adamant on her global positioning: “We’ll do a private showroom in Shanghai during fashion week and we are in a great position over there opening stores all over China. But, I like to deliver what I do with Masha Ma [main line] from Paris.” As to the other lines, Europe - for now - will just have to wait and see.