There aren't many young designers that can hold a candle to the talent and originality of Angel Chen. One of the most highly anticipated designers of today’s generation, she’s been steadily climbing the success ladder across continents and has been a founding contributor in placing China firmly on the fashion map - in the span of just three short years.
The designer seems to follow no one else's rules but her own when it comes to design, and it works supremely. Having graduated from the critically acclaimed Central Saint Martins in 2014, Chen launched her eponymous label the following year and released her first collection at Shanghai Fashion week.
Textile manipulation and textured fabrics are definitely the designer’s strong suits, but equally, so are cleverly constructed silhouettes, astute colour choices and riveting underlying concepts. She’s an all-round creative that seems to master and consider each and every aspect of her growing label. Having developed a plethora of skills and craft techniques whilst completing stints at couture house Marchesa and Alexander Wang, Chen has since pioneered new textures, textile manipulations and fabric combinations exclusive to her label.
In 2015 the designer was a finalist of Lane Crawford’s initiative ‘Creative Callout’, which supports the next generation of emerging designers. In honour of the luxury retailer’s 165th anniversary, Chen was asked to participate in their ‘Visions from a New Generation’ exhibition in collaboration with Swarovski. The exhibition, based in their Shanghai store, featured show pieces from 11 up-and-coming designers. Chen presented an exquisite couture wedding dress, made out of wax paper used in traditional Chinese medicinal practices, and incorporated embroidered threads and Swarovski crystals to represent traditional Chinese acupuncture points. Least to say it was a standout piece, expertly draped using unconventional materials.
What courses through the veins of the label is a heady mix of youcentric street cultures, personal Chinese heritage, and often other traditional cultures from around the globe. The brand’s genetic code is a pastiche of free-spirited boldness, eclecticism and youthful attitude. Colours clash with textures, which clash with unisex silhouettes, volumes and multi-functional ways of wearing each piece.
Angel Chen’s latest SS’18 collection is outerwear-heavy, featuring jackets, floor-length coats, trench coats, and her signature billowing parachute anoraks, all fashioned from materials sourced from Japan and Korea. Other garments were fashioned from a unity of materials including metallic fringe, nylon, denim and spandex. For this collection, Chen also collaborated with a French mill called Mahlia Kent, who have produced fabrics for Chanel for many years, and have worked with Chen on previous collections. Many pieces were doused in prints inspired by animals of the future Arc including snakes, tigers, dragons, leopards and insects. Other motifs were drawn from British poet, Siegfried Sassoon; ancient Indian totems; and traditional Chinese embroideries. Prints further featured Thai Buddhist symbolism and tattoos with Buddhist slogans translating into things like ‘protect you life’, ‘be brave’ and ‘fight’.
Chen’s AW’17 collection was a visually intoxicating line of multi-functional pieces, which concentrated on textiles, details, finishes and colours. The designer drew ocular references from African tribes including the Bamiléké Bantu groups from Cameroon; the Yoruba tribes in Nigeria; and the Nyangatom tribe of Ethiopia and southern Sudan. Inspiration was also drawn from the Māori people of New Zealand, and the Aborigines from Australia, resulting in a juxtaposing melange of colours, textures and print designs from across the globe, but totally reworked with a contemporary edge.
The collection marked the designer’s debut at Milan Fashion Week, which included a textural concoction of boisterous faux furs produced in China, draped over jersey sweaters and sweat pant separates. These were mingled with over-dyed Japanese denim pieces featuring studs and lace, and metallic yarn tasselled capes and woollen fringed ponchos (also made in partnership with French mill Mahlia Kent). Chen’s signature parachute-style windbreakers also made a comeback, this season fashioned from metallic coated nylon, vivid tribal-print technical bonded fabric and finished with hand-crafted embroidery.
Inspired by an ancient historical text known as Shan Hai Jing, which depicts mythical creatures, Chen’s SS’17 collection was a combination of craft innovation and unique clashing textures, featuring everything from hand-embroidered kimonos, to heavily sequinned trousers and bright, tasseled A-line dresses. Iconic symbols and ceremonial embellishment as well as original hand-crafted embroidery found its way onto multifunctional, unisex pieces that could be worn in dozens of different ways, including a wondrous shiny two-piece tracksuit embroidered with crabs, sea snakes, prawns and sea horses.
Of course it wouldn’t be an Angel Chen collection without the boundary-pushing fabrics and radical techniques used to create each of the pieces. For this collection, techniques included dissolvable embroidery fillings, which helped to lighten the garments; newly developed ‘Silk Acetate’ sourced from Japan; Chinese denim; and genuine silver and gold thread embroidery. Plastic raffia, cotton yarn and treated cotton woven fabric were also exclusively produced for this collection in mills in France - rendering the pieces with an outstanding level of detail and a truly idiosyncratic finish.
Charting the designer’s collections over the years gives way to the conclusion that Angel Chen is never one to shy away from a challenge. Choosing to play with a multitude of references, textures, fabrics, colours and styles is the animated DNA of the brand. Chen however always manages to keep everything coherent, thoroughly researched and expertly developed - a consistently fresh point of view on luxury streetwear.