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China's Fashion Designers Need to Step Up

Aired March 21, 2014 - 05:30:00   ET



ANGELICA CHEUNG, "VOGUE CHINA'S" EDITOR-IN-CHIEF (voice-over): I start very early. I'm usually the first person in the building in my company. I get up about 6:30.

MONITA RAJPAL, CNN HOST (voice-over): This is how the day starts for one of the most influential women in fashion right now.

CHEUNG (voice-over): In the morning, I try to schedule outside meetings a lot. The editors are not in yet. So I will use that time to talk to my New York office before they go to bed.

RAJPAL (voice-over): Her readers are the Chinese shopping superpower helping to fuel one of the biggest luxury markets in the world. And Angelica Cheung introduced them to "Vogue." It's the newest edition to a publication produced in 19 countries around the globe and it's been nine years since its print launch "Vogue China" circulation has more than doubled to 640,000 copies.

And now including its Web and tablet users, it reaches some 1.2 million people. That's almost 10 percent of the magazine's international readership outside the U.S.

CHEUNG (voice-over): We are the only magazine in Asia probably who operate on a totally high level internationally. We now have 18 issues a year.


CHEUNG: It's a lot.


CHEUNG: And every month we have a supplement.

RAJPAL (voice-over): A journalist and a business woman before joining "Vogue," Angelica's vision for the style bible goes far beyond fashion trends.

CHEUNG (voice-over): (Speaking foreign language).

RAJPAL (voice-over): In her nine years at the helm, she's introduced the West to modern Chinese tastes, shone a spotlight on homegrown talent and has shared her vision that the "Vogue China" reader should be a woman who has it all.


RAJPAL (voice-over): This month on TALK ASIA, we're in Beijing with Angelica Cheung to talk China, censorship and local fashion and even meet a couple of her friends.

RAJPAL (voice-over): Angelica Cheung, welcome to TALK ASIA. There was a time when print magazines, well, the impression was that it was on the decline. But it seems as though "Vogue China" is bucking that trend. You are -- you're producing three times more editorial content than your counterpart in the United States. You're producing a monthly book.

CHEUNG: Yes, it is.

RAJPAL: How are you doing that?

CHEUNG: Well, I think, you know, it's just a -- first of all, we were lucky. We started at the right time. I mean, when the market was just about to take -- you know, to take off, but on the other hand, I think that we've made the right decision at a time in terms of strategy. So we decided to think that, ah, maybe we can have a dream to sort of launch a magazine on the level of American "Vogue," "British Vogue," that, you know, the "Vogue" magazine is known for. And then, you know, tailor-make the material for Chinese readers but of the same quality and the creativity level as the big ones.

So that was sort of a question mark at a time there was 205 (ph). A lot of people thought we were a part crazy.

RAJPAL: Well, there were a lot of detractors out there, saying that China was not ready for something like --


CHEUNG: Absolutely.

RAJPAL: -- attitude.

How did you just avoid all of that noise and forge right through?

CHEUNG: Even me, at first, I was quite not sure if it would work. Maybe we'll give it three years. And we thought, yes. I return to that, you know, saying that when everybody was looking for a faster horse, then you showed them the car and they would go, oh, that's what I want.

RAJPAL: Well, it seems as though that "Vogue China," when you compare it with the 19 other international editions for "Vogue," it comes in third when it -- in advertising revenue.

CHEUNG: I think in all sort of business indicators, you know, how you measure a business, we're probably right after American "Vogue."

RAJPAL: With advertisers, are they flocking to be part of the "Vogue" brand, or is "Vogue China" that's bringing something different?

CHEUNG: Well, I think both obviously. You know, first and foremost, we are a "Vogue" magazine. And you know, the brand has a certain reputation and a standing in the business. So you know, even just to mention "Vogue" itself, people have certain confidence in the quality. And the standard in the magazine.

But "Vogue China" I guess it's because this is the country where everybody has been coming to.

And there's been a huge amount of work to do because you know, when your opportunity is everywhere, you just try to grab every opportunity and don't want to miss it.

RAJPAL: There's a shift in perception, too, isn't there? I mean, there was a time when you would have to go and meet with these designers in Europe, these big brands, luxury brands and court them.

Now they're coming to you.

CHEUNG: It is interesting that I guess when we launched "Vogue" nine years ago, the fact that "Vogue" at that kind of quality standard would work instantly well, gave a lot of confidence to a lot of the brands, a lot of the businesses who had not made up their mind to enter China yet.

You know, they look at "Vogue" magazine, they thought, oh, if this is successful, obviously the Chinese market is a little bit more mature than they thought it would be. So that alone sort of gave people a -- quite a boost in confidence.

RAJPAL: What do you see your role as, as editor-in-chief, but in terms of your role as someone who helps direct what consumers should want?

CHEUNG: It's interesting. Recently I was, you know, looking back and I felt that in some way, whereas probably had been a little bit ahead of the market, that quite a few key stages. For example, when we launched, we launched ahead of the market expectations. They -- meaning that we aimed higher, a lot higher than people thought we should.

And then after that, when the whole boom and all the luxury shops opening everywhere, I actually started to think that you know, I think there was something extra needed for the magazine. At the same time, I had my daughter. So I thought, I must make her do realize that she needs to completely to the world or to people around you, but do something good about your life.

So I thought overall that's the kind of woman I wanted to become. If she becomes that kind of woman, I wouldn't be too worried about her. Then I thought, ah, if I want my daughter to become that woman, I want my reader to become that woman.

So that's when I started to put a soul into the magazine. That was not traditionally "Vogue." Basically on top of the "Vogue" magazine, we launched a more high-end edition that would teach people more the sophistication, you know, collecting fashion, collecting jewelry, collecting art.

RAJPAL: This puts you in a very powerful position, to be able to can influence and educate a huge swath of the population that has a lot of disposable money, income.

CHEUNG: I professionally rarely think that way. People say, ah, powerful, powerful, powerful. We did not start out doing the magazine to be powerful. But I think that it all comes from --


RAJPAL: But people look to you --

CHEUNG: -- the media.

RAJPAL: -- ambassador as well. They look to you from other countries to see what does the Chinese consumer want? And how do we get to them?

CHEUNG: I guess in some way you educate both ways, you know. Be an editor, I feel that you need to be very responsible about what you preach in the magazine. So that's why we sort of try to grow with the readers, but a little bit ahead of them.

But I never feel superior. I never feel that you should be above the consumers. I actually do understand the Chinese sort of so-called new money people, because you have to imagine, a year ago, they were so poor. They had nothing in their home, nothing in the wardrobe. A year later, through hard work, they make some money. They want to show the world that they've made some money. I think that is not that bad.

RAJPAL: We'd all do the same.

CHEUNG: Yes. You know, it's human nature. If you're proud of yourself, but then these people -- it's the crucial thing is that whether they would keep moving on.


RAJPAL (voice-over): There's seemingly still a long way to go for that made in China label to be seen as luxury. How do you do that?



CHEUNG (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE).

RAJPAL (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE). Hello. Lovely to meet you.

CHEUNG (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) so you.

RAJPAL (voice-over): Show us around. I'd love to see your space.


RAJPAL (voice-over): This is your workspace?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Yes.

RAJPAL (voice-over): What would you say is your design aesthetic, your look?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): I like the minimalism, yes. So I like the simple style.

CHEUNG (voice-over): What struck me was that a lot of the young designers sort of design for themselves. But they don't think about the wearer, you know, who they are designing for, where it's though you always combine the elements that what is true to himself but he also cares about people who wear his clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The clothing must wear by the customer. So this is very important.

RAJPAL: How has your business changed then and grown because of the support that you've had from "Vogue"?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I meet Angelica maybe in --


CHEUNG: (INAUDIBLE) years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- years ago and then she start to support me by coming to my show and give some very good advice and gave me some more new concept. I think this is very important.

RAJPAL: What do you think is the, I guess, the goal for more of a Chinese sales within China or international?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First, I must base in China.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, maybe in the -- in the future, I want to go to the global market.




RAJPAL: Stay true to the home (INAUDIBLE).



RAJPAL: That's great.


RAJPAL: From an empowering perspective, you're also looking to empower young talent. Give us an idea of what kind of a road that is, what kind of a path that is when the seemingly still a long way to go for that made in China label to be seen as fashionable, to be seen as luxury. How do you do that?

CHEUNG: Well, as I say, it's already changed a lot. I remember when we launched the magazine nine years ago, I had this quote-unquote "made in China," and everybody was like, "Angelica, you can't call it that." It's "Vogue." Then I just thought, well, I just won't call it this way. Maybe one day we'll change the concept.

But it turned out to have, you know, the whole industry grew a lot faster than I thought. And the first year -- I mention this very often, that we were struggling to find three or four Chinese designers whose work would not look too embarrassing next to the big brands. And today, come September issue or March issue, I have trouble to edit things down because there are so many of them. But the young generation, by and large, they are very, very promising. They are willing to try. They are full of ideas. They get inspired by all these successful designers and brands around the world. But somehow they still have a deep understanding of China. And I feel that give them a few more years. You probably will see, you know, more impressive successes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): I think that shows the new creation. Yes.

RAJPAL (voice-over): Lovely colors. (INAUDIBLE) spring, summer (INAUDIBLE) --


RAJPAL (voice-over): It's very much about the structure, isn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Yes, it is.

RAJPAL (voice-over): It's about -- it's very --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Yes, yes.

RAJPAL (voice-over): -- streamlined.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Cars (ph), yes, very chic, yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): In front, so you can like this and in back is a whole piece.

CHEUNG: Yes. Yes.

RAJPAL: So would you say then this kind of look represents your design?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, is I like the minimalism, yes. I like the clean line. Yes, so make the -- every line has some express your idea.


RAJPAL: So what is your idea, then, of the perfect customer? Who do you design for?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) maybe like Angelica, you know.

CHEUNG: (INAUDIBLE), sophisticated, beautiful, everything.



CHEUNG (voice-over): Part of what I do now (INAUDIBLE) is also to bring the Chinese designers and Chinese fashion in general to look at our roots more. A few years ago, I would think it would be too early to do that, because even I myself was not ready because China was a sort of quite a closed-up country. And that the first few years, what I was trying to do was really to encourage our readers to look beyond your own immediate world because I thought you need to open up your eyes; you need to see what's up there. And then you decide whether you want to. But after a few years, now the new generation, they're all very well traveled, very well educated. I feel that they know enough about the outside world to have the confidence to look back into their own culture and take something that they didn't notice. Before, if you look at, let's say, embroidery, there was an old- fashioned, my grandma's stuff.

But now after they look everywhere else, you know, look at House Chanel (ph), the older ateliers, you know, the customer shape how these people will really worship and respect it and look after it. They would get inspired in terms of how to treat our own tradition. And I think that sometimes some distance makes you see things more clearly.

Now I feel that it takes us to sort of go around the world to come back to China to see the value of that tradition.

So this is the second phase of my project, is that the first phase, the first few years, was really about supporting the young designers. We still do that a lot, but then we add this new element to it, which is to find the modernization ways to preserve and develop these traditional craftsmanship and make them relevant in today's world and that's something that I feel quite strongly about.


LIU WEN, SUPERMODEL (from captions): Angelica has been a very important mentor for me. She has a very independent way of thinking. She's a very nice, smart, modern woman. I think "Vogue China" has grown tremendously under her leadership. Every time I collaborate with them, I find myself growing as well.

Under her direction, people have seen the growth of a whole new "Vogue," a "Vogue" for China. Now Vogue is not only a place to see fashion trends. She has also helped to showcase the domestic talent in China.



CHEUNG (voice-over): What I preach in the magazine is that a woman of today, a "Vogue China" woman, should be a woman who has it all.



MARIO TESTINO, PHOTOGRAPHER (voice-over): I met Angelica at the (INAUDIBLE) time ago and we were waiting for the right opportunity for it to make sense for me to come in and doing an issue.

And I'm always saying that Angelica is the Anna Wintour of Asia, because to me, I find that daytime is a lot more than just a knowledge of fashion or just a sense of style. They come with a mind and an idea and a real strong point of view.

(INAUDIBLE) a lot to Angelica, because she is my (INAUDIBLE). And I truly respect her a lot because for an editor to start a magazine that has (INAUDIBLE) you don't have any reference. I mean, she can reference her job to other editors of other "Vogues" around the world, but China is a completely different place, you know, than any other place.

TESTINO (voice-over): It's quite rare for "Vogue" to give the issue to a photographer to edit or co-edit, as in this case I worked very closely with Angelica. But I see from different angles of Chinese women and try and portray in a different varied way, but not to get there, to sort of get a sense of country and not just of an individual.

RAJPAL: Three years after you launched "Vogue China," you had Hayley, your little girl.


RAJPAL: And your perspective changed.

How did your life then change, because here you are, having a jet-set lifestyle, off meeting people, going to shows and then you have a baby.

How did that change?

CHEUNG: Well, it's --

RAJPAL: Didn't she come with you to shows?

CHEUNG: Oh, yes, absolutely. She's been to Paris 20 times already. She's not even 7. I made that decision -- and not me; it was me and my husband, Mark. You know, we were sort of, you know, older parents. We decided to have Hayley quite later on in life. And we both decided that she was the most important thing. And that we would make an effort to be together as a family whenever we could.

So Fashion Week is the longest period when I have to be away. So we decided to plan the whole year around Fashion Week. But I feel that by balancing this life from day one, I decided -- well, I set a lot of rules. Fashion Week, yes, of course I had to go because it is my job. But I set a lot of rules --


RAJPAL: Your life is not your work.

CHEUNG: No, I would say no. What I preach in the magazine is that a woman of today, a "Vogue China" woman, should be a woman who has it all. You know, it's like to have it all is like the ultimate game. In the process, you try to have it all. But you do have to believe that you can have work, a career, some satisfaction, some value, but also you have a family. And I feel that if I preach that I have to do it myself.

RAJPAL: When you look at your daughter's childhood now, how is her childhood different from what your childhood was?

CHEUNG: You know, when I was small, I was lucky. I had a grandma who was a tailor. And it was very well known in that area.


RAJPAL: So that was perhaps your introduction to fashion?

CHEUNG: I mean, yes. Looking back, it was, without knowing the word "fashion," without knowing the word, "vogue," she made me these clothes for me. So I was, even when I was small, quite a fairly well dressed child. In China, everybody wanted to be just like everybody else. And it's something that I realize, you know, growing up, gradually in this creative world, you learn to know that, you know, you have to be your own person, too.

And I do encourage Hayley that.

RAJPAL: Were you encouraged? Your mom was a teacher. Your father was a diplomat.


RAJPAL: Were you encouraged to have that opinion, to have that argument?


RAJPAL: It's a very un-Asian thing.

CHEUNG: I know. My mom, I don't know. Sometimes she said I, you know, somehow grew a monster, that, you know, because my father died quite young, so just me and my mom. And I would grow up like -- almost like sisters in some ways. So we always argued. And it amused people. Sometimes we argue. But I guess my mom, you know, she's a strong woman. She had a much, much more open mind. And I guess she wanted her only daughter to be strong. So that's why she didn't really send you down like that.

RAJPAL: You're in the media. Media's often controlled -- is controlled by the government, we're talking about censorship.

How do you deal with that? When you have such strong opinions?

CHEUNG: I think about these things all the time. And I feel that you have to ask yourself a question. I feel it's very important ask yourself a question, what is it, the main goal of what you are doing? You are doing this, trying to help your readers to influence them. So what is the best way to do that?

And I really feel that, you know, it's quite normal to operate within a certain legal -- what you call framework. You know, it's the same with every country everywhere. So that one I accept that. You know, everywhere is a business. You operate within certain legal frames.

But on the other hand, you also feel that it's really the message you are trying to convey to your readers. In my job, sometimes people ask me, ah, is that your job is just to promote this vanity, promote some, you know, things are not significant in life. Or when people ask me that all the time. But I actually feel that in this magazine, we try to talk to Chinese women, to be strong, to have their own mind, to value their own life, to have a rich life and embrace that life.

RAJPAL: How do you deal with them, the perception then, perhaps, of China, that that's not the case to be strong enough to have the confidence and the conviction to follow your own independence?

CHEUNG: You know, I'm not too worried about what other people think. I feel that, you know, if you both can think anything they want, really what's really important is that we are doing something that's really dealing with the real live of women.

RAJPAL: Well, we've asked you a lot. We thank you very much.

CHEUNG: Thank you.

RAJPAL: Thank you so much.

CHEUNG: It's a pleasure.