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Threads of the past run into the future

Dazzling Miao embroidery, rich in history, makes a splash in a fashion capital, Hou Chenchen and Yang Jun report in Guiyang.

By Hou Chenchen and Yang Jun | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-08 09:34
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Models wear clothes with ethnic Miao embroidery seal patterns in the 2024 spring/summer collection of Milan Fashion Week on Sept 24, 2023. CHINA DAILY

Fresh designs

Jiao Hongxiu, who helps promote Miao embroidery through innovation, says it is crucial to tailor Miao embroidery to meet market demand. Cultivating local designers to redesign Miao embroidery plays a pivotal role in empowering rural women in her hometown, she says.

"Certain embroidery techniques, rooted in tradition, often clash with modern fabrics and aesthetic sensibilities. The intricate, densely embroidered patterns that Miao people cherish may not align with the minimalist preferences of today's consumers. This poses a challenge for untrained embroiderers, and they need to adapt their techniques and aesthetic tastes."

Jiao is keen to train local elderly embroiderers to redesign their work as wellsprings of creativity. Through training the women can unleash their creativity and produce innovative designs, she says. "Every woman embroiderer is a great designer. No matter if they're 80 or 90 years old, their designs always possess the freshness and vitality of an 18-year-old, exuding the vibrancy of youth."

An elderly embroiderer's creation resembling a mythical creature is amazing, Jiao says.

Patterns, materials and embroidery techniques need to complement each other, Liu says, and the suitability and innovation in materials need to be considered in line with modern trends, ensuring that the textures harmonize effectively with chosen patterns.

He once encountered a designer who faced difficulties incorporating her beloved fish-pattern Miao embroidery into a high-end dress, he says.

"Homespun cloth, while traditional, may not meet the standards required for high-end designs. While counted thread embroidery demands a precise understanding of the fabric's warp and weft, silk, being delicate, poses a challenge for discerning these elements with the naked eye."

During Milan Fashion Week, the Chinese singer A Duo, dressed in redesigned four-seal Miao-style clothing, performed an ethnic song for the runway show in an immersive Miao experience.

"What constitutes culture?" the fashion designer Zhao Huizhou asked during the show. "I believe it encompasses clothing, food, transportation and all aspects of daily life."

The transformative potential of contemporary design language in reviving Miao skirts can enable people to directly experience the allure of these cultures, she said.

Underscoring the power of redesigning intangible cultural heritage, Zhao says: "We need to understand the past, and we also need to think about the present and envision the future. As designers, we should consider how to use fashion as a language to reinterpret Miao culture in the contemporary context."

Zhao Yandi and Kuang Hanying contributed to this story.

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