A day after wrapping up her runway in Milan, the Chinese designer examines the origins of her body of work.
"I'm still in Milan now, it's 10 o'clock in the morning," Shanghai-based designer Angel Chen whispers into the phone. She concluded her fall/ winter 2018 presentation on the Milanese runway barely 20 hours ago. Surprisingly, Chen was not reeling from the adrenaline of her runway show. She sounds exhausted, "I've been sleeping for a few hours a day. My team in China, they haven't slept for 24 hours."
I ask for her thoughts on her collection. Surely she will have some thoughts on her collection in hindsight. Instead of critiquing her own work, Chen saw her past and childhood in it.
"Actually, the whole collection was about my dream. It was kind of a long time ago," Chen recalls. It was, in fact, a dream that she had barely three years ago while travelling in Los Angeles. The dream that came to her was a picturesque one – the rising sun blankets a handsome, snow-capped mountain in its warmth. Later, the animals come alive to play.
Chen abstracted her dream into colours – vivid reds, whites, yellows, greens, blues and blacks. The colours, she explains, were the exact colours of the pipes at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. "The different colours represent different systems – water, air conditioning. My friend told me but I forgot all about it," Chen laughs.
What really impressed her was the very simple idea that a colour could represent an element of nature. When pieced together, the colours form a system of nature. And nature on its own is, in fact, an orchestrated system. You could say that Chen sent down the runway, a massive landscape painting in parts.
Looking at her own designs, Chen considers, "I grew up in a family full of colours. My dad always took me to the factory and there were small cans of colours hanging everywhere." Back home, her parents run an architectural paint business. She reckons that is where she developed an exacting eye for colours.
She scans her surroundings and draws examples. "The Adidas blue is slightly yellow. The Skype blue has more white." Yet, with her current season, it is a "water blue. It's not purplish, it's not greyish. We have tiny differences even in blues."
In her quotidian life, Chen snaps pictures of the different colours that attracts her. She then turns to Pantone to identify the exact colour code and translates these colours into her collections. "I choose this colour and find the exact Pantone and do all the collections and fabrics in this Pantone. In my collections, the colours are very accurate. All the fabrics are not random picks from the market. They are all made, all my own colours."
"I think it's a gift from my parents," she concludes. "I think I got it there. Because of that, I see colours in a different way. I think I will see everything as colours. I will see good things in pink, bad things in black. I see colour first, then I see the thing."