The joy of living now is as important as planning for the future
The Editor-in-Chief of Vogue China on how the country is developing a new found love for spontaneity
Angelica Cheung has been described as the ‘most influential woman in fashion today’. This week the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue China will be named a patron of tourism in Yorkshire, England, after seeing her enduring images of holidaying in the county shared across China.
Here, she reveals that China’s millennials are rapidly emerging as a spontaneous, self-confident generation that are reconfiguring the country’s approach to fashion.
Sitting in a quiet corner of London’s Rosewood hotel, Angelica Cheung says: “I have a saying, that while the Western world went from Karl Marx to Karl Lagerfeld in a hundred years, China has done the same in just ten years.
“The level of change we have witnessed has been relentless. It has meant people have had to learn very quickly and the result is we have gone from Mao suits to today’s Millennials – or what we call the ‘Me Generation’ – very quickly.”
In a few short years, this new generation have become just as confident in their dress and style as young people anywhere else in the world…probably even more so.
As a mother to an 11-year-old daughter, Hayley, she marvels at the difference daily.
Immaculately dressed, as always, she says: “In China and abroad, I always consider how I will be perceived. However, my daughter’s generation don’t appear to care what other people think”, she adds.
“On a recent trip to London, Hayley came home wearing an £8 top from a UK brand called George. I told her: ‘You can wear that now but, when you go out with Mummy, I’d like you to wear some of the nice clothes that you have’.”
“Hayley turned and asked me: ‘Yes, but why?’ and we suddenly had this serious conversation. I said: ‘It’s cheap, cheap stuff is no good.’ But she said: ‘Yes, but I don’t think it’s no good.’
“I realised that she didn’t mind at all if people thought she was wearing an £8 High Street top, as long as she liked it and she thought it was good quality. It looked good and that’s all she needed to know in order to decide what to wear. After we had spoken, I thought ‘That’s kind of wonderful!’
“The whole point of the fashion media is to educate our readers to become confident consumers, so they can wear clothes that speak to them, rather than wearing clothes that impress other people.
“At Vogue, the difference is there in the two titles I’m responsible for. For Vogue China, the relationship with our readers is a more authoritative one, ‘We speak and you listen’, but at ‘Vogue Me,’ the relationship is totally different. They speak and we listen and try to digest their messages and speak to them in a language they understand.
“Often, when we’re dealing with this new, younger fashion world, I find myself getting my inspiration from my daughter.
“Recently she was on her phone and I asked her ‘What are you playing on that app for? It’s pointless!’
“She just turned to me and said: ‘Why does everything have to have a point? Can’t having fun be the point itself?’
“She is 10-years-old going on 20, but I had to say, she was right! You can’t live your life forever thinking this will lead to something. Living now is just as important as planning for the future and that’s the difference between that new Chinese generation and our generation.
“It was so good, we even used it as part of the slogan for ‘Vogue Me’ – Having fun today is just as important as planning for the future.
“The joke at the ‘Vogue Me’ office is that they should pay Hayley a consulting fee.
Angelica’s family have increasingly become a subject of interest in China, who travel from their Beijing home to Yorkshire, with the family’s holiday snaps becoming a surprise hit on social media in China. Their choice of holiday destination has been a subject of fascination for her own 147,000 Instagram followers and a further five million followers across Chinese social media sites Weibo and WeChat. Despite living full-time in Beijing, the glamorous fashion editor has an exemplary knowledge of the county that was sparked after marrying Yorkshire-born journalist Mark Graham, who introduced her to the Dales two decades ago after the pair met while working together in Hong Kong.
“When I meet people in the fashion world from Britain, they are often surprised I know so much about Yorkshire and have been to so many places,” she says.
“Yorkshire is a wonderful place that seems to have striked a chord with our readers. For me, the appeal is the clean air, rugged beauty and isolation, a total contrast to living in Beijing, a city of more than 20 million people,” she adds.
“Locals in the Dales always find it hard to get their head around that figure – they remind me that where they live, there are far more sheep than people.
“There aren’t many parts I haven’t visited over the years – the Moors, the coast, the cities – but my absolute favourite is the Yorkshire Dales, where we go hiking every summer.
Pictures from this year’s trip, including a snap of her with her husband and 10-year-old daughter, at the highest pub in Britain (the Tan Hill Inn, near Richmond) were shared across China, while another image that proved popular was of Bleaberry Gill Ford that featured in the television drama All Creatures Great and Small, along with the Bronte Parsonage at Haworth.
This East/West world view has not only endeared her to tourism chiefs at Welcome To Yorkshire, who will this week confirm her role as a tourism patron of the county, but also to a new generation of well-travelled Chinese designers.
Angelica says: “Just like my daughter, these designers are comfortable anywhere, with anybody. It is the first, truly emerging, international generation in China and they have great creativity.”
“Obviously with so many people coming into fashion and becoming designers and creating their own brands, the competition is huge and to stand out is going to be more and more difficult.
“As consumers, we are presented with so many choices, so that for a brand or designer to succeed, it will increasingly take efforts beyond just the creative idea. You need to know how to run a business, how to promote it, and to constantly have new ideas to sustain the lead in your category, because through the internet people can instantly see what you are doing and be inspired by what you are doing.
“Previously, we published a Chinese designs column, but we don’t any longer, because Chinese fashion has merged with the regular fashion scene.
“We don’t need to label them as Chinese designers anymore, they are just designers. We shoot them like everybody else, it is a sign of great progress that they do shows in London, New York, Milan and Paris and are increasingly stocked by a lot of upscale department stores.
“While it is hard to generalise a nation of 1.3 billion people, the trend has been to be creative and not to shock. The Chinese are generally not loud people. They don’t want to show off too much, they are humble people in general.
“So, that’s why the whole logo-worshipping trend passed by much more quickly than people thought, because by nature Chinese are not that kind of flaunting people.”
To find out more about Angelica and China’s generation gap, why not check out Vanity Fair’s video interview?