Small designer brands face considerable difficulty when breaking through in the fashion industry that is dominated by haute couture and luxury brands. Consequently, fashion designer Yinan Mao recognized the significance of establishing a brand image that embodies irreplaceable uniqueness. This recognition became the inspiration of her latest collection DONG, which draws heavily from the culture of a traditional Chinese ethnic group.
The Dong, also referred to as Gaeml, is an ethnic group located in the southwestern China. Their villages are nestled alongside winding streams and picturesque mountains. Due to their relatively small population, the Dong community is not as widely recognized as some of the larger ethnic groups in the region.
“I was deeply attracted to the mysterious culture of the Dong, especially the way they dress. Even though they do share some commonalities with others, the fundamental differences made me even more curious about their lifestyle,” Mao explained.
In Mao’s research, she noticed the frequent use of embroidery and cloth-dyeing in their clothing production. They use a dark color base and add embroidery with light or silver threads on top of it. What Mao finds most appealing about their craft techniques is that they use ox blood and eggs to tap on the dyed cloth until a leather-like metallic shine appears.
As a designer that grew up with modern aesthetics, Mao integrated modern design languages such as 3D printing, knitwear, and laser cutting into her collection experiments to find the ideal balance between contemporary and traditional.
“Our modernized daily wear is completely different from the dressing style of the Dong people,” Mao pointed out, “I intended to combine the two styles to create a revised version that can be applied to modern society, so their clothing culture can reach a larger market and will be recognized by more people.”
Mao incorporated a gradient design into the vibrant colors, skillfully connecting the richly colored embroidery with the dark backdrop. She integrated the traditional silver ornaments worn by the Dong people into the fabric itself, blurring the line between accessories and garments.
In addition, Mao‘s exclusive tailoring technique redefined the original wrap-around dress, accentuating the female figure. She elongated the silhouette while retaining the pleated design, highlighting the graceful curves of women’s bodies and breaking traditional limitations.
According to Mao, the idea of gradient design came when she saw the hands of the females getting colored by the dyes. The color transition from their palms to arms generated an amazing visual effect. She collected the used silver ornaments from the market and reprocessed them before applying them to her design.The outcome of Mao’s efforts proved to be satisfying. She effectively showcased the traditional attire of the Dong people in a contemporary manner. This distinctive approach that is rooted in the culture of this ethnic minority highlights Mao’s creativity and sets her apart from numerous other independent designer brands.