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The other little book

By Yu Tianyu (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-03-01 09:32
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The latest craze among young Chinese is a notebook with the logo of a fashion house on its cover, and illustrations that capture its spirit on the inside. Yu Tianyu reports.

A black notebook which has on its cover a set of interlocking "CC?images ?that legendary icon of high fashion ?is all the rage among millions of young Chinese. Launched by ELLE magazine, in conjunction with an ongoing exhibition in Shanghai, Culture Chanel, on the life and times of the creative genius behind the House of Chanel, Gabrielle "Coco?Chanel, its illustrations are the work of 24-year-old Lei Mengting.

Infused with images of all the typical elements of a Chanel creation - tweed, diamonds, pearls and camellias - Lei's illustrations aim to capture the brand's spirit of quiet luxury, liberty and inspiration.

A post-graduate student at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, majoring in printmaking, Lei was born into a family of artists.

Lei's uncle Lei Dezu was a well-known Chinese cartoonist in the 1980s, whose representative works include Spartacus, Liao Zhongkai and Wreaths at the Foot of the Mountain.

Her father, Lei Sizu, is also an artist who has published many picture books such as Carmen, as well as done illustrations for Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Gone with the Wind.

Like other children, the young Lei too was hooked on foreign cartoons such as Doraemon and Sailor Moon.

"I was painting from the time I could speak and learnt traditional Chinese painting at a very early age. But I would also join meetings of senior illustrators and some of my works were published in magazines," she says. "My advantage is that I can master different illustration styles by varying the tools I use."

In 2009, ELLE China launched its twin magazine ELLE Extra, devoted to an in-depth look at a different topic every month, ranging from clothing and beauty care, to lifestyle and celebrities.

The world's leading fashion magazine was looking for young Chinese artists with fresh and creative ideas to do the illustrations, when Lei's blog drew its attention.

When the notebook project came along, Lei was a natural choice, and in October 2010, she was invited to go on a one-week trip to Paris, the hometown of Coco Chanel.

"The Chanel brand epitomizes the style of Coco Chanel, who believed an individual's creation or preference and tastes could have an impact on the whole world," Lei says. "And, as an illustrator, I learnt that good taste is about creating a trend and attracting people to follow it, rather than just following the trend."

After that first contact with Chanel, Lei started drawing sketches, using images of must-include elements sent by the company.

"In using all of the core elements of Chanel, I tended to reproduce all my memories of my Paris trip, including the natural colors of Paris, the beauty of Chanel products and the wild romance of the French."

Despite the frustrations of repeated alterations, as requested by Chanel, Lei believes working on the notebook was a significant breakthrough in her artistic career.

Commercial illustrations have to accord with the clients' requirements, she says. "What you think is perfect may not be what the market wants.

"While both ELLE China and Chanel allowed me to give free rein to my imagination and understanding of fashion and the brand, communication played a key role," she says.

Talking about her other works, Lei says their focus will be more on personal experiences.

"The illustrations in the Chanel notebook are about aestheticism," she says. "But my own style is more abstract."

Lei says she derives most inspiration from negative emotions.

Her 2009 series Night Landscape is about stories that happen in the middle of the night and focus on people's private lives.

Breakups, betrayals, loneliness and shame form the series' themes.

Lei says pure love probably exists only in fairytales and the reality is more complicated. "Art is a way for me to record memories and present negative emotions."

Key Words


Tea    Peking Opera


Cultural Heritage

Jade  Chinese  New Year

Imperial Palace

Chinese Painting