Throughout his life and design career, Chinese designer Ban Xiao Xue has been preoccupied with nature – the beauty of the natural world, the limitless possibilities of natural fibres, the timelessness of unstructured silhouettes.
A Merino wool look from the fall/winter 2016 collection of Ban Xiao Xue.
Designer Ban Xiao Xue.
This pre-occupation with nature is not just about mountains and water – though one of Ban’s most famous collections was called “Shan Shui”, which translates as just that – it’s also a fascination with the human role in nature. This is also apparent in Ban’s innovative use of natural fibres, most prominently Merino wool and silk, which he melds and layers to make something new. In this way, his work is an act of human intervention in the natural world.
Ban first came to prominence as a designer at Exception de Mixmind, one of China’s most iconic fashion brands, which was launched in 1996 by the equally iconic Ma Ke – one of China’s most prominent first-wave fashion designers. Following his time at Exception working with Ma Ke, Ban struck out with his own brand in 2012 and soon after won the 2012/13 International Woolmark Prize IWP Asia regional final. “From the time the brand was created, we have had an artistic, niche feeling,” says Ban of the brand’s identity. “The brand’s signature style has the four elements of water, earth, fire and air … a sense of life is the focus.”
Ban Xiao Xue’s fall/winter 2016 collection took the concept of romantic love as its foundation, and incorporated some of the most sophisticated textural work seen by the designer to date. Chunky knits, fringes, embroidery and gauzy, felt and plastic applique all play their part in the collection’s multi-layered surfaces. “The style [of this collection] uses love-related elements, such as roses, heart tattoos, doves, love letters and other figurative elements, combined with the good fabrics that have always been integral to the brand’s identity,” the designer said. Despite Ban’s description of the collection as being about “respect for love” the predominant feeling of the brand’s presentation at Shanghai Fashion Week in April was fanciful – a more whimsical version of Ban Xiao Xue’s always sophisticated sartorial aesthetic than seen in the past.
“From the time the brand was created, we have had an artistic, niche feeling.”
Ban Xiao Xue garments are notable for their gender fluidity, and the brand’s customer base is wide-ranging. The designer says it’s not uncommon to see mothers and daughters shopping together for Ban Xiao Xue pieces, with customers coming from a range of backgrounds and income brackets. “The youngest customer is only nine-years-old, of course there are also 60-year-old grandmothers. The only common denominator is that they have their own unique idea about beauty, they have the courage to continually challenge and transform themselves,” Ban said. “This is also what the brand continually hopes to bring its customers.”
A focus from the brand starting in 2016 has been the expansion of a custom service to customers looking for higher-end, unique pieces. The product range and their accompanying price tags continue to expand, from a few hundred renminbi for basics, up to thousands for expensive custom pieces. Also expanding is the brand’s list of stockists, as Ban Xiao Xue, along with many other independent Chinese designers, benefits from the proliferation of multi-brand boutiques popping up in cities around the country to serve a growing customer base of sophisticated consumers looking to develop a unique personal style.
At present, Ban Xiao Xue is distributed through 30 agents, plus an additional 50 own-store buyers and private clients, mainly in China, though Ban is also open to the idea of international expansion. “We do not reject international customers, but we are also not blindly looking to expand through new channels,” Ban says. “The kind of person we work with is very important from our point of view, he must be able to understand the Ban Xiao Xue person, we want to be confident with him, and make sure we can work together for a long time. It’s not just a simple business transaction.”