Holly Wang: British style made in China

The Chinese designer is winning fans around the world with her British/vintage-inspired Miss Patinia brand.

WHILE increasingly more Chinese designers are strutting the fashion stages in Europe and the US, the world is still waiting for a cohesive modern Chinese cultural identity in fashion.

Many young designers who have studied in Europe came back to redefine “Made in China,” and Holly Wang has followed a rather different path compared with her peers.

In her early 30s, Wang’s vintage-inspired brand Miss Patina is sold in more than 100 boutiques across more than 20 countries, in addition to larger retailers like Topshop, Modcloth, Simons and Armoires Caprice. Several celebrities — from American singer Taylor Swift to British socialite Pippa Middleton — have been spotted wearing Miss Patina.

Wang was also invited by Professor Guo Yike, director of the Data Science Institute at Imperial College London, to design a gift for China’s first lady Peng Liyuan on her 2015 state visit to the college.

“I’m proudest for the influences Miss Patina has enjoyed, that many celebrities chose my clothes without marketing efforts from us ,” Wang told Shanghai Daily through WeChat, shortly after flying back to Miss Patina London head office from her production studio in Guangzhou.

“I’m glad that my design is accepted by locals here. And here, nobody really asks me why I design such British-style fashion as a Chinese designer. They don’t care where you are from as long as they like the design.”

For Wang, it was never a choice between Chinese or British styles.

“I love vintage clothes, and it’s really just about doing what I love, combining the sophisticated details of vintage clothes with contemporary elements to tell the story of Miss Patina and find those alike,” she explained.

At age 18, Wang suffered a car accident which led to six months of recovery and her missing the national entrance exam to universities. Instead, Wang went to the University of Greenwich in London, and later continued her studies abroad with an MA at the London College of Fashion.

Granddaughter of a tailor, Wang has loved clothes-making since she was young, and soon fell in love with vintage clothes in the vintage shops and markets in London.

“My research in graduate school was on whether vintage clothing has a potential market,” she said.

It was also around that time in 2009 that Wang started selling her clothes in vintage markets in East London, and founded Miss Patina’s online shop. It was quickly picked up by fashion bloggers, and soon won a contract into Topshop.

“Retro style was popular at the time. Many young people in UK liked vintage clothes, and they would wear their grannies’ clothes and play with mix and match,” she explained.

“But there were still more who love the sophisticated crafts and details but worried about wearing second-hand, so I decided to combine the beautiful details of vintage into new clothes. And I was fortunate it went rather smoothly. I believe the harder you work and the luckier you will be.”

At the beginning, it was common for Wang to sleep only three to four hours a day trying to solve all kinds of problems. She hasn’t had a vacation for the past 10 years since the brand was established.

Miss Patina got more popular after 2014, when Wang gradually adopted cats as a signature design of the brand, inspired by a cat she saved and adopted on a freezing winter night.

The cat soon gave birth to four babies, which inspired Wang for many new designs featuring cats — the pattern of the mother cat nursing the babies, the embroidery of a mermaid cat, a collar shaped like a cat, the embroidery of a cat half hidden in the pocket.

“The cat was a gift from life. I helped the cat, and she inspired me for designs that have become very popular, how amazing,” Wang explained.

“Just like that, every piece has a name and a story. Miss Patina is a woman who lives in Britain, enjoys painting, loves museums, visits the vintage markets, loves baking, cheers for good music and is simply appreciating the little happiness within life and being grateful to little things that life has to offer.

“I never see it as a mainstream mass brand, but fortunately, there are many women around the world who shares this value and aesthetics, who enjoys the fun details in my design.”

It was also around 2014 that Wang decided to try the market in her home country, where she set up a flagship shop on Alibaba’s Tmall and a physical store in Hangzhou.

It wasn’t as smooth.

“Copy was the biggest issue,” she explained. “Whatever we had and sold well, the copycats came up quickly, and it was just too time-consuming and useless to sue all of them.”

She accepted the fact.

“The only thing I can do is to make peace with it, after all, they can only follow my own path, which motivates me to create more and better designs,” she said.

“But I still want to call for a better environment to protect original design, otherwise, it is just tough for indie designers to make it in China.”

Into her 10th year as an entrepreneur, Wang now splits her time between London and Guangzhou, while spending more time in social responsibility work such as giving lectures to those who aspire to design or entrepreneurship in universities and forums.

“I’m glad that my own story can help encourage others to pursue their dreams. Giving back to society makes my life meaningful,” she concluded.

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