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Silk Cut

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Four designers are worth watching, all of whom have been invited to participate in Singapore's Fashion Week in January, all of whom will be hitting Europe next spring. They are: Jenny Ji (her line, La Vie, features traditional Chinese designs, hippiefied for mass production); Wang Yiyang and Zhang Da, both of whom are known for their affordable and hip street wear; and Lu Kun, Ramon Gil's partner at Mirror, who represents the high-fashion end of the quartet. All of them are under 35. All cut their teeth working for American or European mass-market outfits.

Wang Yiyang, as modest as he is talented, works in silk jersey that he slits open and then patches with grey cotton; some of his clothes can be worn as either tops or pants.

Meanwhile in a small studio near the An Lan Lu pet market, where a champion fighting cricket can fetch $400, Lu Kun sketches new patterns beneath a photograph of Audrey Hepburn and some mahjongg tiles on a shelf (his various influences). It's easy to believe Lu Kun is about to burst onto the international scene. Armani loved his stuff on a recent visit, and Harrods has been calling. Like China, he operates without rules, reinventing everything: waitress uniforms in pink and grey silk, uniform trousers with stripes of buttons down the side, dresses intended to "demystify couture." His inspiration is the past — the infamous Shanghai of the 1930s — hurled into the future.

Fringes were popular then; Lu Kun does them in satin ribbon. The plunging necklines of the Jazz Age, a small dare, become slits and cutaways and compromised straps, a much bigger taunt; business grey is paired with fuchsia pink to parody China's new corporate lust, its tarty economic availability. Or there's his flowing see-through black silk lounge pajamas, strategically camouflaged with lace so they don't set the room on fire. China's ass is on display — or is it on the line?

"Once the Chinese find a designer outfit they like," Lu Kun says, "they buy 20, 30, 40 of it. Or they have lots of Gucci, Prada, lots of brands. But it doesn't really match their personality."

Not yet, anyway.

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