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.
What makes a man “well-dressed?”
The answer to that question varies depending on where — and when — you may find yourself situated. While fashion capitals in Europe and America have been shaping our image of the “sartorial man” throughout the last century, designers from Asia are moving to shape it in the next.
And for China, the label Pronounce (stylized as “PRONOUNCE”) is undoubtedly leading the pack. Founded by two designers that split their time jet-setting between Europe and Asia, this independent menswear brand blends the best of both continents to meet the needs of modern men.
And the response to them has been strong. Last year marked a first for the duo as well as for China, when they became the first Chinese label to show at Pitti Uomo, one of the world’s most prestigious platforms for menswear.
Founded by Li Yushan and Zhou Jun in 2015, this menswear label blends what the press commonly dubs “Shanghai style meets Milan tailoring”; the brand operates out of both cities. After graduating, Zhou worked at Ermenegildo Zegna, and Li at Yeezy, before the two founded their own brand in Italy and expanded operations to China soon after. The label showed exclusively in those two countries until they won a bid for GQ China Presents, which landed them a show at London Fashion Week Mens, one of fashion’s “big four.”
Li recalls that for he and Zhou, this experience was a game-changer, saying:
“When you come out into the world as freshmen, having people trust you and give you this opportunity to present at London Fashion Week — it was a big encouragement for us at the time.”
Critics praised the then-fledgling label for their polish and clear staying power, and marked the designers as ones to watch.
Today, Li and Zhou are being rapidly recognized among China’s fastest rising talents, with upwards of 50 stockists worldwide, a place on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list, and among the finalists for the 2017 Woolmark Prize in their five years of operation. They’ve also produced capsule collections for international brands such as Gap and Nike, as well as Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning.
Their finesse most recently got the attention of Diesel, who approached them for a collaboration that would include rethink items from their massive 175,000-piece archive. Looks from the buzzy “Diesel x PRONOUNCE” collection cropped up on the catwalk last month at London Fashion Week — relaxed workwear and striking, tie-dyed interpretations of the Italian brand’s famous denim — and will appear in full at next season’s Shanghai Fashion Week. Diesel founder Renzo Rosso told WWD that he was thoroughly impressed by the duo’s selection, adding that some of the pieces they chose had “never [gone] into production” in their prior form.
What helped put Pronounce on the map is their take on Chinese staples, such as the cheongsam and Mao jacket, and punching them up with statement-making proportions, vibrant silkscreen prints, and electrifying dyes to be more suited for a stylish (though not shy) modern wearer.
Pronounce also takes British and Italian heritage pieces — think the trenchcoat or Italian tailored suit — and jazz them up with forward-thinking details like high-contrast stitching, atypical fabrics, or neon piping in their AW19 line (pictured above) that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tron reboot.
The duo are also in step with a wave of Chinese designers that are embracing a genderless identity in their work. Li says that for him and Zhou, the idea for this initially came from the label’s first customers. Indeed, you are as likely to see female models in Pronounce’s runway shows as you are male. “The feedback we got was that they felt they could share pieces with their partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend,” he says, “and we were so inspired by that. The gender sharing idea, we thought, ‘that is so Pronounce.’”
In China the blurring of once-rigid gender boundaries — particularly in men’s fashion and beauty — has prompted state media to make calling masculinity into crisis a sort of national pasttime. “I think nowadays, people are too obsessed with masculinity,” says Li, “especially in China. And as to how that impacts fashion, it’s sort of a chicken-and-egg relationship.”
Perhaps as far as fashion is concerned, the balance that Pronounce strike in their designs — relaxed yet refined, forward-thinking yet instantly classic — holds all the makings of what the next century’s modern man will look like.
Follow PRONOUNCE on Instagram.
Header image: Models backstage in Pronounce AW19
All images: courtesy PRONOUNCE
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