"First you see the beauty, feel the beauty, then you create beauty," Liu Min confides. The seemingly skewed, contorted, and divisive notion of beauty has sparked much debate. Yet, speaking to Liu, she offers a candid, almost fresh take on the subject. It seems to her, beauty is all around, surrounding us in the most inconspicuous things. The concept of beauty is perhaps not intrinsic in objects, but in the few eyes that recognise it.
The 36-year-old probably inherited a watchful eye from her mother. Liu was brought up in Fuzhou city, in a time when the Cultural Revolution petered out. Fashion was a scarce novelty and with it came a sense of wonder. "My mother loves clothes, so I grew up going to fabric shop and tailor shops with her. When I was maybe eight or nine, I found myself interested in clothes."
In the throng and textiles and clothes, a young Liu was already able to seek out the beautiful. "I remember looking at clothes and thinking, 'This is pretty, I like this... or I don't like that."
Later in her teenage years, Liu was cycling about and stumbled upon a bookstore. They sold foreign magazines. Although those were outdated issues, they were like treasure. "That was the first time I saw international fashion magazines like Vogue and i-D... Those images hit me so strong, I call it my first 'Fashion Moment'." Those days were filled with endless wonder, and they launched Liu into a career in fashion.
Liu Min's Fall Winter 2017 collection campaign shot.
She graduated from London College of Fashion in 2008, and apprenticed at the Dutch fashion house, Viktor & Rolf. It no doubt opened Liu's eyes to yet another realm of beauty. "Amsterdam is a beautiful city – beautiful flowers, fresh food. The city is connected with canals, and the main transportation is tram and bicycle."
The way the Dutch dealt with fashion was fresh as well. "The house of Viktor & Rolf is beautiful. It also has a beautiful garden, and everything has a couture approach. Every detail is considered – from the interiors to the garden, to the clothing they design and create."
At this juncture, Liu wanted to continue living in Europe. But the 2008 financial crisis hit Europe hard, and "a lot of people got laid off". She thought she will make best of the situation, and head home to China. "I was thinking, 'I'll just go back to China for now'."
Shortly after moving home to Fuzhou, Liu was offered a job with Ports 1961's Chinese business arm. She moved to Xiamen, where the company was located. "I immediately liked Xiamen after I came. Then I met my husband Ian Hylton, and it naturally became home." Hylton was the previous creative director of menswear at Ports 1961.
Atelier staff at work in Liu Min's Xiamen facility.
Liu eventually founded her own label, "I always wanted to start my own label." Her brand, Ms Min turns seven this year. The studio is now 2000 square metres big, spreading over two floors. It houses almost 100 staff members from the atelier, sales, graphics, and the production departments.
Her surroundings may have changed astronomically, but Liu's design process remains unchanged. She remains grounded in the ways of her mother and childhood – browsing textiles. "The actual design start always from fabric research... My fabric research is very deep. I'm constantly inspired by fabrics around the world." Her designs are then passed on to the atelier, where paper patterns and toiles are made before manufacturing happens.
Her latest Fall Winter 2017 draws inspiration from a "traditional Chinese wardrobe". The woollen coats were punctuated with peonies – a floral motif often used in traditional Chinese paintings and pottery, and symbolises opulence and romance. In other silk blouses and dresses, Chinese dragons perch on the shoulders and slither down the waistline. Jackets are fastened with traditional knotted frog buttons – every detail reaches back to Liu's formative years. It's unlikely that a collection span a wide range of different fabrics, but Liu's collection sees almost ten textiles. The fabrics cascade and drape beautifully – French silk, Modal, Japanese cotton, Canton Gauze, wrinkled velvet, satin, baby alpaca, and cashmere.
A Ms Min flagship store in Shanghai's retail district, West Nanjing Road.
For a fashion designer whose childhood began with fashion, and adult career trajectory is consumed by fashion, it's surprising she thinks there's more to life. "I actually think everything we do is a way to discover ourselves spiritually and grow." Liu is a devout Buddhist and it helps her to see beyond the physical things on hand. "I love design and that's why I made it my career," she considers. "But of course I could imagine days without it because life is so much bigger than that."
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