Uma Wang: Straight from the Heart

When Uma Wang and Michael Hadida strike up a conversation, you know that things are about to get deep. From fast fashion to emotion, the Chinese designer Uma Wang tells LECLAIREUR of her connection with the past, her approach to the future, and her dreams of a revolution.


L: What does Shigoto Project mean for you, beyond the connection with LECLAIREUR, in terms of what you want to bring to fashion?

UW: First, it meant having the opportunity to be selected with all these designers whom I really respect, like Ziggy Chen, like Greg Lauren, like MA+. These are brands I like very much, it’s a pleasure to be with them, to do something special. It’s also a window to show my work, my design, with this project. I think people in fashion think really fast, rather than in depth, these days. Everything is now produced in a very industrial way, you know, fashion is like a machine, so I think people really need something that touches the soul.
For me, it’s important to slow down, so as to find the very basic part, starting with the material. Trends do not concern me, so my work starts with the fabric itself, to find something people won’t easily throw away. To me, it’s about creating something with your heart, with your love, with time…

L: You re-use fabrics…

UW: I do. I also use ideas from China and Italy, which inspire me. What we make doesn’t really belong to one country, I think it belongs to human beings, to the whole world. That’s why, when people see our garments, they usually don’t understand exactly where they come from, and feel that they look Chinese, but have a European mood. It’s like the collection is always traveling.


L: It crosses influences, so as you say, it belongs to the world, like a universal heritage into creativity. How do you use history, and the future, in your creative process?

UW: I think the idea grows from history. People often used to ask me why I was always looking to Europe, why I didn’t look into my own culture, the richest culture in the world. For a long time, I never really thought about China, but eventually, I started seeing amazing things in it: the way garments are sown, the colors, the respect towards fabrics, people’s very traditional ways. Realizing I’d forgotten all that, for so many years, made me very sad. It was just time to go back to my own culture, to speak the new language to the future. I think that’s what it’s about. Taking something from your past is one thing, but you cannot just live in the past, you have to put this generation’s ideas to market, you have to use the garment and the language to tell people where fashion is going. I think that, in time, I really will return to the past… not to “go back”, but to ‘respect the past’.

L: To respect the past in order to have a clean, clear approach to the future… How do you imagine implementing this process in your creativity, in the future?

UW: The reality of quick, fast fashion does not affect me. When it comes to my collection, I have to know who is wearing Uma Wang. Things are different now. In the past, when you needed a garment, you went to the tailor’s. Tailors were able to see the person and understand their personality, everything. They were able to make something unique, in a one-to-one relationship. This is what I dream of, because when you see a someone who’s different, for example, you do something special for them, knowing that they’ll be able to give the garment a new life. I do think there are too many clothes in the world now, to many to be sold to everybody. Do we really need that many clothes? For many years, I couldn’t buy a garment, even if I wanted to, because I didn’t want to clutter my home with clothes. I only buy special items, ones that I would wear for many years, that I would pass on to my daughter, to my son, maybe… This is what I’m interested in, not pieces that will last for a month or a season before being thrown away. It’s also why I use so many unique fabrics. I think that, when you do unique things, it’s harder for people to get over them or turn them into rubbish. I think such a garment will always be able to bring you happiness and emotion.

L: Emotion… Is that important to you?

UW: It’s the reason I work — emotion is essential.

L: Speaking of emotion and respect and inspiration: are there any artistic movements or people that inspire you these days, you and your creative process?

UW: Monsieur Bruni (of the Italian textile company, Bonotto) is the first one to come to mind, because we do everything together. We will start from absolute scratch, from zero, find the direction, and leap towards it together. It’s like an exchange, an encounter between the East and the West… There’s others around me, someone like Maurizio Altieri, for example. I met him a few years ago and I really love his mind, he taught me a lot. He told me I was doing too much, and advised me, in order to start the collection, to do something unique. I remember him urging me: « you’re from China — nobody can compare with you because of the rich culture you have behind you, and that’s big, it will help, because you are born with the culture and you can smell everything. There’s already something special running through your blood. Do something really beautiful, basic like a uniform, and people will wear you… »

L: Uniforms are a strong subject in Maurizio Altieri’s mouth. With Carpe Diem, he’s created a perennial collection, that remains the same, whatever the season. Can you imagine such a direction for yourself? Would you want to reduce your proposition from something wide to something increasingly pure, close to perfection, from which you could just elaborate season after season?

UW: Right now, I’m still in the thinking process. The Mao suit might be a really good idea, because of its four pockets… I think it could be something very special.


L: Could the Mao suit be your next Shigoto?!

UW: It could! People often think of the Mao suit an exclusively masculine piece, but I think we’d make a unisex version of the Mao suit, pursue it over many years, increase numbers, change the fabric? I think it could be an amazing project. It’s not going to happen right away. I already have so much planned for every season…

L: Speaking of seasons… Fashion Week, winter, spring, summer, men, women: right now, designers are beginning to question the very concept of seasons, and it shows, even in the street. People are envisioning a major change, many feel that Men’s and Women’s collections at different times of the year are very ‘old school’ notions. Do you agree, should we start thinking ‘seasonless’ and more unisex?

UW: I often think about these questions. Fewer people creating in terms of ‘seasons’, of ‘men’ and ‘women’, it would be a wonderful thing. I do think this is the new way. It would require making that change together, we’d need power, we’d need a revolution, but everybody agrees, so why not? We could start traveling to China, to Paris, to Los Angeles, moving around the world with small collections, much like when one travels by car and make stops here and there…

L: A new, nomad fashion, which would fit people better, and would be able to bring together unisex and ‘seasonless’ in a tighter way.

UW: That’s what I’m looking for, we need someone to lead the flock…


L: It could be you?

UW: It could be you, not me!

L: It could be a collective…

UW: I think it’s about people. Like the ones in this store, and not just this one. The important thing is to really know what message you want to bring to the fashion world.

Archival images courtesy of Uma Wang.