SHUMINGYU is an esteemed designer womenswear brand that finds its roots in the poetic essence of Chinese art.
Alvina Ding and Laura Ding, the talented sister team behind the brand, have embarked on a remarkable venture to preserve and interpret the artistic lineages of China through the medium of fashion.
With their deep personal connection to their heritage as second-generation Chinese Americans, their brand serves as a heartfelt expression of their cultural journey and a platform to share the cultural memories passed down through generations. The name SHUMINGYU holds great significance, as it pays tribute to the profound Chinese saying “落叶归根”, which invokes the powerful imagery of autumn leaves falling towards their roots, returning to the soil that once nurtured it.
Throughout history, Chinese artists have expressed their poetic selves through various art forms such as painting and poetry. SHUMINGYU draws inspiration from this legacy. Alvina, as the designer, and Laura, in charge of marketing, collaborate to create a collection that captures the elegant beauty inherent in Chinese aesthetics.
In an exclusive interview with Asian Hustle Network, Alvina and Laura walked us through their journey of preserving Chinese artistic lineages through fashion.
WHAT INSPIRED THEM TO CREATE SHUMINGYU
Alvina and Laura: We always had a passion for Chinese culture. As Chinese Americans, we were fortunate to grow up in a household that gave us exposure to the beauty of the culture such as its poetry and the arts, despite not being able to visit that often.
The fact that we were physically removed from the country of our cultural heritage, in many ways enabled us to appreciate the culture even more. We spent the next decade in between the U.S. and China, completing our undergraduate degrees in Beijing, kickstarting our early professional careers, and finishing graduate school in the U.S. It was during this time that the idea for SHUMINGYU was conceptualized.
Alvina: The idea for SHUMINGYU was first planted in my mind in college, where I was formally introduced to the canon of Chinese artistic lineages as a Chinese art history major. I thought it was odd that despite the breadth and nuances of Chinese aesthetics that were crystalized over thousands of years, it was rarely reflected in modern fashion products. To me, culture should not be relegated to a museum. It has meaning only when it is a part of one’s daily life. While I was studying fashion design at Parsons and Laura was in business school, we began to turn this idea into reality. I want this type of beauty to be seen, not only in rarified spaces such as classrooms and museums but by more people through a medium such as fashion that can be a part of our everyday lives. This fuels me as a fashion designer.
HOW SELF-DISCOVERY INFLUENCED THEIR AESTHETIC AND VISION
During our young adult years living between China and the U.S., we came to understand that identity is multifaceted.
There isn’t one way to be American, Chinese, or Chinese American. Cultural identity and heritage are not limited by where you were born or what period you are living in. It is something that is constantly evolving, passed down through generations, and shaped by the people who are currently living and breathing it.
This motivated us to combine the cultural fluency we gained over the years with design as a universal language to create SHUMINGYU. This is our way of sharing our perspectives on the beauty of Chinese aesthetics and the artistic lineages that have come before us with a global audience.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Alvina: I first decide on a particular theme, which is either a genre of Chinese art or a type of craft. Then I dive into research on the theme for a month or two. I read academic papers and art history books to understand the significance of this kind of genre, the elements that influenced its formation, what type of art it had an impact on later, its philosophical underpinnings, where the colors come from, and literary references. I look at the most representative pieces of art from the genre and identify the most distinctive characteristics that will define the overall feel of the collection.
During this process, I am looking at art objects that have graced the courts of emperors, the gaze of connoisseurs, and the hands of skilled artisans. From the free-spirited brushwork of ink paintings, the rhythmic flow of poetry, and the delicate luster of ceramics, all of this informs my final design decisions.
As I do the research, I see designs in my head. I visualize the images and colors and capture what I see into sketches, which I then translate into prints. Once I finish my prints, I think about what silhouettes they would work best on. From then on, it’s about deciding what fabrics work best for each design and seeing how different designs fit together into an overall collection.
SHOWCASING CULTURAL HERITAGE INTO THEIR DESIGNS
Each of our collections has a specific theme, and then we incorporate that theme into the custom prints that we develop, as well as the silhouettes of our designs. For example, our first collection ‘Of Blue Mountain and Verdant Forests’ was designed around the theme of Chinese landscape paintings. Therefore, each custom print that we developed is rooted in a piece of artwork, literature, or philosophy that is connected to landscape paintings. Our hope is that with each piece a customer wears, they can discover a new piece of culture.
The print of our Brushwork Dress is inspired by a brush stroke technique from the Southern Song Dynasty landscape painting The Joy of Harvest. Developed by the painter Li Tang from the Northern Song dynasty, the technique is called the “axe-cut stroke” and uses angular, staccato brushstrokes to depict the rocky surfaces of mountain peaks. The brush stroke derives its name from its visual resemblance to chopped wood and is one of two major brush strokes used to depict the texture of rocks in landscape paintings. The color of the dress is inspired by the golden brown hue of the painting scroll and the style lines are outlined in the shape of mountain ranges. The skirt hem shape is symbolic of the reflection of mountains in the water.
The Joy of Harvest is a masterpiece by Song Dynasty artist Ma Yuan (1160 – 1225), one of the most influential landscape painters of his time.
The print of our Spring Mountains Set is inspired by the mountain ranges from the Sui Dynasty painting Spring Excursion, widely cited as the earliest surviving work of Chinese landscape painting. The print traces the delicate, twisting brush strokes that outline the rise and fall of spring mountains in the distance. The colors are inspired by the luxurious powdered gold, malachite green, and azurite blue pigments used in the painting.
Painted by artist Zhan Ziqian, Spring Excursion was one of the first paintings to give prominence to mountains and rivers over human figures. It is considered a seminal work that marks the genesis of the most influential category of Chinese art for thousands of years to come.
FOSTERING A DEEPER APPRECIATION OF CHINESE AESTHETICS AMONG A GLOBAL AUDIENCE
We want to share the breadth, depth, and nuances of Chinese aesthetics with a global audience through our clothing. By offering an alternative aesthetic view to the exotified and caricatured version of Chinese fashion that has been perpetuated throughout the past century, we want to move beyond the set of narrow motifs that have defined what Chinese fashion can look like and open the door into a world where design is created by those who live and breathe the culture and comes from an informed and nuanced perspective.
Perhaps one of our prints will spark someone’s interest in understanding a particular artistic movement in history or thinking about how Chinese aesthetics is perceived today. If our pieces can inspire people to value culture more and spark conversations, then we’d consider that a success.
WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR SHUMINGYU
We already have a lineup of themes for our future collections, and some designs are already in the works for our second and third collections. We also want to integrate more types of fabrics, silhouettes, and crafts into our designs.
In addition to clothing, we have future plans to expand into accessories, including handbags and fragrances. We are excited to bring our vision to life, step by step, and hope that others are excited to come along on this journey as well!
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