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Life, love, sorrow, all distilled in magic of Zhuang brocade
 updatetime:2019-01-14 13:26:19   View:0 Source:China Daily

After a harrowing breakup with her boyfriend in 2017, Fan Lihua decided not to  wallow in sorrow, but instead created three wedding dresses for herself.

Faithful to the traditions of Zhuang brocade - the wonderful textile  handicraft produced in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region that originated  centuries ago - the 24-year-old designer dotted her wedding gowns with symbols  of love and marriage, like flowers for longevity and mandarin ducks. The ornate  dresses have not helped win back Fan's loved one, but instead scooped her a gold  award in an arts and crafts competition for the inventive and ingenious use of  ancient textiles.

Now recalling her "unfailing romance" with Zhuang brocade, Fan, from South  China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, said she hopes to make more people  fall in love with this ancient art form.

"My goal is to take Zhuang brocade out of Guangxi, and beyond China, to make  it known to more people," Fan said.

Zhuang brocade has adorned the quilts and straps of the Zhuang people, the  most populous ethnic group in China, for more than 2,000 years. Now, a new  generation of designers is trying to introduce these designs to wedding dresses  and daily clothing.

Though not an ethnic Zhuang, Fan has developed a passion for the ethnic craft  since childhood. When participating in a college exhibition as an apparel design  major, Fan came up with garments imbued with Zhuang brocade elements, which  caught the attention of Tan Xiangguang, a renowned Zhuang brocade artist.

"Though Fan did not display a profound understanding of Zhuang brocade back  then, she really inspired me by bringing the brocade into daily clothing," said  Tan, a retired professor who runs a program to promote the Zhuang brocade  culture.


Fan Lihua (right), a designer, learns to weave Zhanjiang brocade on a traditional machine under the guidance of Tan Xiangguang, a renowned Zhuang brocade master. [Photo Lu Bo'an/Xinhua]

With Tan's support, Fan opened a studio with a secondhand sewing machine soon  after her college graduation in 2016. Her business had a rough start,  cooperating with some less-known ethnic-style brands, but Fan still considered  herself lucky compared with previous generations of artisans.

"In the 1980s, Professor Tan had to work in a garment factory to make ends  meet, but now I can devote myself fully to the art that I love. Financial  burdens are not really a big problem," she said.

Fan is now focusing on waistcoats, which she said may be a new frontier for  Zhuang brocade.

"Most garments can only use a few Zhuang brocade patterns as decoration,  because of its hardened texture, but this is exactly what a waistcoat needs,"  Fan said. "The repetitive rectangle patterns of Zhuang brocade also makes a  waistcoat look more tasteful."

Her other creations also raised interest with both online and with  bricks-and-mortar shops, for designs for handbags, document pouches and iPad  shells - all lent a lively ethnic flavor by the Zhuang brocade patterns.

Fan said she was still doing quantitative and qualitative analysis of Zhuang  brocade, which currently lacked a sufficient wide range of products to become a  brand.

In 2006, China nominated Zhuang brocade among the country's first list of  intangible cultural heritage, in a bid to ensure its survival. Like many other  traditional arts and crafts, passing on its secrets to future generations is  facing a challenge due to a shrinking pool of exponents.

"Youngsters with fine arts and design backgrounds are increasingly needed by  the traditional cultures, as the latter struggle to find modern expression,"  said Liang Liang, who heads the culture and creativity products department of  the Anthropology Museum of Guangxi.

But with scarcity comes opportunities. Liang said cultural and creative  products have great potential, especially in Guangxi, a region heavily inhabited  by ethnic minorities.

Fan is also optimistic about her life and career, now deeply intertwined with  the fortunes of Zhuang brocade.

"The day I debuted my Zhuang brocade wedding dresses, I was surrounded by my  family, friends and classmates who came to congratulate me," she recalled.

"It was just like my sister's wedding. I wish that I will be dressed in them  when I marry the one I love."

Web Editor:MXJ