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The English translation is given below:
Luxury and Health, a Thousand Miles Away
By Wenda Wan
Caption 1: In the southwest, mostly comprised of Dong minority, and until the present day, they still plant and weave in a traditional way. And because of natural beauty and rich, indigenous culture, it attracted scholars and visitors all around the world. This picture of the terraced fields that local people rely on and their very special Dong wooden buildings. Also the embroidery skill that Dong women have is very surprising.
It’s been a couple dozen times that Angel has been here. She, herself, cannot even tell how many times she’s been here. After dropping off the luggage down in the Dimen Dong Cultural Eco-Museum, this Chinese-American designer immediately starts to arrange meetings with other local workers. Here, we would like to introduce a little about the Dimen museum. It is an arrangement of buildings made from wood that blend very nicely into the natural scenery. Within the museum, there are facilities offered to study traditional weaving skills and, from time to time, they would also offer classes on traditional Dong singing. Every now and then there are important official governments to visit, these kids who learned how to sing would present a collection of songs. Compared to a museum, this is more like a high-quality hotel. There are a couple dozen of different-sized wooden, clean, individual rooms, and all the service and utilities are all installed.
Every now and then when Angel comes here, using an idiom in Chinese, which is called, “Climbing over mountains and treading over rivers,” to describe the effort of this designer is not an overstatement. No matter where she starts, when she reaches Guiyang, she would change flights and fly to Liping, and then follow a very brittle and weak road that can be destroyed by a simple storm. After 2 hours of bumpy travel, then she will reach this internationally-known destination Dimen Village. I’m not exaggerating to say there are only 2000 people in this village.
I’m not exaggerating to say this village, that comprises of only 2000 people, is indeed internationally well-known.
Besides that famous book called, “The Village on the Edge of Time” the local Dimen culture is turned into different kinds of books that has been translated in multiple different languages that has been dispersed around the world. The strange thing is, people from China don’t know this village much at all. Or, at least, before I came here, people around me don’t know this place at all.
Because of international influence, Dimen village attracted a great amount of international tourist and friends. Angel is one of them. The lucky thing is, the local weaving factory opened another door for her work. This designer, who used to love high-tech dying techniques, started to use the opposite extreme technique – which is the original material. According to what she said, all of the Dimen-produced cloth all come from locally-grown cloth and are woven by local women. It is dyed by vegetable colors. Well this is the goal why she came this time, to find natural cloth that is suitable for her new design.
Most of Angel’s collection favors minority style. She used the Dong embroidery perfectly and just enough to decorate her collection. There is one piece that is made with white Dong cloth with pleating and accompanied with a round belt decorated with rich minority-style. This collection is both traditional and modern. Another similarly-styled cloth Angel cut with simplicity to make it into a delicate jacket or, a delicate trouser jacket (one-piece jacket). And these traditional patterns transform into brand-new collections that were shown on the runway.
What impressed me the most is the Dong embroidery-style short outer-jacket. This kind of embroidery is commonly used as a tablecloth or baby-carrier.
Angel designed it so it wrapped the bottom-half of your body tightly and a natural opening around the collar, so it looks very natural and relaxed. For the trousers, it is accompanied by a bright yellow shorts using gardenia as natural dye. And the belt accentuates the tightness with the jacket. This free-yet-reserved collection accompanied by minority style seems to come together seamlessly.
Angel has a long-established relationship the museum. Together, they have created a training program for local artisans using the traditional dying technique to make modern cloth and, in turn, she would use this cloth made from natural material for her high-end clothing collection. All these fabrics come from the surrounding villages around Dimen. These are all hand-made, vegetable-dyed. The whole process of making the cloth does not contain any chemical dye, so it would not create environmental damage. Using her words to describe, “it is completely healthy.” “Healthy” is an idea that is infused in every little thing that she does in her life, especially in terms of eating, she is even more strict about it. In her diet, it doesn’t have any animal components, even to the point that she doesn’t eat peanut oil. This is not because she pities the animal, but it’s because she doesn’t support the process of raising and slaughtering them. And during this process, it wastes natural resources including water, grass, space, and all the waste that’s emitted during transportation of these animals. Angel once visited a restaurant and she proposed that she doesn’t want any oil or meat in her food. The restaurant told her, then you won’t have any flavor, but Angel said, “Why do you only care about flavor? Don’t you care about health?”
I feel like her attitude toward health and towards nature comes from her idea of protecting natural resources. Just like her work, it partakes natural design using hand-made and natural-dyed cloth is, indeed the best thing for your health and for your skin. Angel used to say all the water she used to dye her cloth can be drunk as a tea. I’m curious about how this would taste. Angel laughed, “I’ve never tasted it, but if you want you could try.”
But in the end, I didn’t have the chance to taste it. Beside accompanying Angel to the village to find women who are willing to make the cloth, I didn’t have the luck to experience the process of making the cloth. But in this process of searching, I had some unexpected surprise. There is one Dong woman who owns a cloth shop and, because she had made a promise with Angel a year earlier, she patiently sculpted the delicate cloth for Angel. Until she met, she never sold it to anybody. And it is, indeed, delicately created.
This piece of cloth that is dyed using traditional Dong technique has to be beaten repeatedly and, after thousands and thousands of times of repeated action, constituted to the idea of sculpting this piece of cloth.
Angel used these fabrics that are dyed with indigo or pig’s blood to create stylish clothes with minority elements that are very popular in Paris and New York. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Nowadays, when the economy is stable and the starvation problem has been solved, people have started to pay more attention to things that are meaningful for the future. Fast fashion brings convenience and beauty, however, it gets outdated by the next generation in a very short period of time. That’s the clothes in your closet that only produce a very short life span. At the same time, in producing these large amounts of clothes with a short life span, it adds to the environmental crisis. Whereas Angel uses quality and art as a balance point, and uses raw material to the fullest. She once suggested I watch an advertisement for a high-end foreign label. She thinks this label uses recycled plastic to create quality clothes that is what we need for the present time. And this is her understanding of what is a high-end product – high-quality, timeless, and environmentally-friendly.
Perhaps right now Angel is on her way to Dimen for her collection, for nature and health.
Caption 2: Angel established a cooperative relationship with the museum working with local artists to create modern cloth from traditional techniques. Angel would use these very special cloth to create high-end fashion to demonstrate the charm that comes from Dong minority in China. This individuality comes from the cloth that’s offered by the museum, which is made by local woman. Dyed completely with vegetable, different production of cloth would have slight differences, and this is also the charm of hand-made.
Caption 3: Angel often travels around Dimen and its surrounding villages in seeking women who still weave cloth in a traditional manner. Because of the relatively original cultural environment of Dimen, her search is rather fruitful. These delicately-made cloth are often used as baby-carriers and tablecloth. Angel used these naturally-made cloth to make her high-end clothes. In the picture below, the bright yellow silk short is made from gardenia dye.
(Article translated by Shuangyi Li.)