Looking in the first lady's mirror

Updated: 2013-04-03 05:32

By Chen Jie (China Daily)

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Even so, this was the first time she had custom-designed clothes for an individual in her 21-year career.

"I did not feel pressure because I did not think about how to present a first lady. For me, it is more worthwhile to explore how to present a sophisticated, wise and contemporary Chinese woman who is independently minded, tender and heartfelt."

Naturally, Ma has been compared to Jason Wu, who became famous overnight after Michelle Obama wore his dresses. But Ma insists little has changed for her since Peng stepped into the international spotlight wearing her clothes.

Related: Exclusive interview with Ma Ke

"Professor Peng is very easy-going, kind and open-minded. She respects my work and never interferes with my designs."

The designer admits she has received hundreds of calls from friends and media but prefers to maintain a quiet life and has only granted a few e-mail interview requests, including to China Daily.

"So, my life has not changed. I have always believed fame and wealth are illusions, I just want to be a normal person," she says.

"Even so, I should thank professor Peng as she has become a great role model for Chinese people to buy domestic products and support the development of 'made in China' to 'created by China'.

"I hope her all-Chinese dresses and accessories will raise people's awareness of the strengths of Chinese tradition, heritage and eco-fashion, and make people confident of building a beautiful, green China."

In 1988, the then 17-year-old Ma left her hometown in Changchun, Jilin province, to study design at Suzhou Silk Institute (now merged with Suzhou University) in Jiangsu province. She chose a career in fashion design because she loved painting and the clothes handmade by her mother.

"I think clothes are the things closest to a person. At any time, anywhere, people need clothes and they can express emotion. There never used to be a fashion industry. Mothers made clothes for the family, it was a kind of bond. That's why we have the poem: 'The threads in a caring mother's hands are turned into the clothes for the son who leaves home.'

"Now design is my profession and it is the way I share love with people."

After graduating in 1992, Ma met her ex-husband, designer Mao Jihong, and the couple shared a dream of launching their own brand in Guangzhou.

To begin with they worked for a small fashion company, after which they spent their entire savings of 300,000 yuan ($48,400) to found Exception, in 1996 - which was China's first independent designer label.

Mao took care of marketing and branding while Ma focused on design. They developed Exception into one of the major Chinese labels and secured a number of loyal high-end clients such as Peng, who appreciated the brand's aesthetic of unique and high-quality dresses.

This commercial success did not make Ma arrogant, rather she turned to nature.

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