China Designers is a biweekly series that showcases the wide spectrum of creativity in Chinese fashion design. From small designers to big brands, these names are changing the connotations of “Made in China,” one collection at a time. Write to us if you have a suggestion or submission.
To Liu Danxia and Wong Shanpeng, being a “soft” and “sensitive” man should be a point of pride.
With their menswear label Danshan, the London-based designers push a brand of beauty that embraces openness and vulnerability as central tenants of what it means to be male in today’s world.
The Hong Kong-Guangzhou design team met during their first year at Central St. Martin’s, an incubator for many of China’s rising design talents.
“CSM taught us the right approach to design,” Liu says. “It takes a lot of tenacity, courage, and consistency to make it in this industry.” Despite being first enrolled in CSM’s womenswear program, the mixed-gender duo found that they each had a unique relationship to masculinity.
Liu was raised as a boy until adolescence under China’s one-child policy, and says she developed a complex about her family preferring a boy over the girl they ended up with. As an adult, she became more educated about women’s issues, and found that while femininity underwent a lot of growth and evolution with the feminist movement, masculinity had by contrast changed very little. “Men are still very much bound to [fulfill] their more traditional roles,” she is quoted as saying in 2016. “If they don’t […] they’re judged and [labeled] as losers if they fail.”
Liu similarly told Dazed about a formative moment where she saw this double standard unfold before her eyes. When her grandmother died, she recalls she didn’t see “a single tear fall” from her father’s eyes. “That was the moment I realized that there is something very wrong [with] society’s expectation of what it means to be a man.
“Without a space where men can be vulnerable, so many things become pent up and explode, which has endless impacts on society.”
This desire for vulnerability is readily apparent throughout their SS20 collection. At the Shanghai Fashion Week preview of the collection, models walked solemnly to the tempo of crashing drumbeats punctuated by heavy breathing, via sound artist Sisi Liu. In contrast to the soundtrack’s harshness, the collection “_EUPHORIA_” is soft, lyrical, and at points, seeming to unravel all together. Fitted silk trousers and flowing, asymmetrical blouses are framed with frayed hems that hint at, in the designers’ words, the “beauty that can be found in moments of distress or fragility.”
The label embraces the very notion of “flaws,” writing:
“The techniques used in the detailing of these garments could be perceived as flaws. Here they are deliberately presented to enhance Danshan’s narrative that emotion and vulnerability are natural, and something to embrace rather than fear.”
The duo acknowledge that in China — a place where gender issues are in flux and male beauty is on a mercurial rise — the commentary will no doubt have to evolve. “China is moving so fast. The landscape of masculinity is quickly changing,” says Liu.
But both feel there is still a long way to go. “Our works are always a reflection of the status quo,” she adds. “With the rapid growth of the economy, the social pressure has been increasingly high. It is still important to support men with more empathy and gentleness.”
Though they’ve collaborated with retailers such as Farfetch and Lane Crawford, “Dan” and “Shan” still opt to keep their concept intact and their production small with every collection, working with a family-run factory in Guangzhou that is “willing to grow and develop” with them. And as the face of Chinese masculinity changes, the designers are optimistic the market for a line like theirs is emerging as well. “Asian men have a more adventurous fashion sense,” says Liu matter-of-factly. “We design for those who have a keen eye for quality and detail, and a desire to express themselves.”
Follow Danshan on Instagram.
All images: courtesy Danshan
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