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Embroidering a fashionable career

Updated: 2024-05-10 07:41 ( China Daily )
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Her work is on display at an ongoing exhibition, Poetic Charm of Splendid Attire, at the National Art Museum of China. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"The pieces translate the spiritual world of ancient intellectuals into the context of fashion design, illustrating the lifestyle enriched by natural beauty and contemplation pursued in the poems of Tao Yuanming in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), and the optimism in the verses of Li Bai in the Tang Dynasty (618-907)," says Jia Ronglin, dean of the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology.

"They usher the audience into a space of artistic pleasures, arising from the beauty of Chinese poetry, painting and brocade."

Growing up in the world of needlework, as a young teenager, Lan Yu did not think of taking on the family business. Her mother owned an embroidery atelier at the time, but having studied dance for years, Lan Yu hoped to become a dancer. However, injuries forced her to reconsider becoming either a dancer or a dance teacher. Still hoping to engage with art, she enrolled at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology.

"My mother half-jokingly asked, 'Will you be a tailor? For the rest of your life?' At the time, I felt that fashion design would allow me to imagine as freely as dancing on the stage, while also being a career for life," Lan Yu says.

During college, she was introduced to different styles of traditional embroidery from around the country, and came to understand the cultural accumulation behind the techniques, including her mother's, and began to feel her generation should take responsibility for keeping these traditions alive by incorporating elements of modern design.

"I felt that the sleeping part deep in me, the commitment of a craftsperson, had been awakened," she says.

For a long time, Su embroidery has enjoyed the reputation of being a kind of three-dimensional painting on silk, as its artisans have invented a variety of stitches to capture the details of real life and of paintings. Lan Yu has stepped to one side of this figurative tradition, and focuses on combining modern aesthetics with the introspective temperament of Chinese culture.

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