Designer Uma Wang trains in New York

Updated: 2012-06-08 21:35

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (

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As a participant in CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund's China Exchange Program, Chinese fashion designer Uma Wang is currently enjoying six weeks of industry training in New York City, in a whirlwind tour that culminated with a spot on the red carpet at the CFDA Fashion Awards on June 4, the industry's equivalent of the Oscars.

"This is such an eye opening experience for me to see for myself and learn from the American way of making fashion," Wang said in an interview with China Daily. "This will have a great influence on my work and my own way of making fashion."

The fashion fund, which was established in 2003 to give a boost to emerging design talent, has previously honored notable designers including Prabal Gurung, Rodarte, Thakoon, Patrik Ervell and Alexander Wang. Later this year, Proenza Schouler designers Jack McCollough and Lazara Hernandez will travel to China to similarly learn about the Chinese fashion industry, a market in which many Western brands are increasingly exploring.

"To succeed as a designer today, you can't think of boundaries anymore," said Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA, in an interview with China Daily. "Every designer is now saying, 'China, China, China,' so for us this is an opportunity to help bridge between the US and China. It's about collaboration and mutual benefit."

Designer Uma Wang trains in New York

Uma Wang at W Hotel in New York. [Provided to China Daily] 

The exchange was inspired by a dinner conversation between Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and Silas Chow, a partner at Michael Koors, Kolb said. Chow spoke about the many Chinese designers he believed could benefit from an exposure to the international market; the idea for the program was hatched, Kolb said.

Wang's training in New York has included hands-on experience with Michael Kors, Theory and J. Crew, among other brands; a few days behind the scenes with executives and buyers at up-scale shopping haven Barney's; and a day with Google, learning about Internet commerce and social media. Wang is staying at the W Downtown; the hotel also hosted a welcoming event at the beginning of her trip.

The designer, who launched her eponymous label in 2005 and is known for distinctive knitwear, has shown in Paris, Milan, London and Shanghai.

"This experience will help [Wang] plan her presence here in the US," Kolb said. "She is a working designer, so it's not as though we are starting from scratch, but we do hope to accelerate her progress."

The CFDA has stated that Wang is positioned to become the first internationally successful Chinese designer.

"Uma was selected because of her level of confidence in her ability as a designer and businesswoman," Kolb said. "I think that given the right bridge to the US and this market, Uma and other Chinese designers can succeed. The tools are there and the opportunities are there."

Wang believes that the reason China has lagged behind the West in producing great designers is that the country is more focused on building its economy, she said.

"Everyone is so involved in the economy; art and fashion has to wait," she said. "Once the infrastructures are in place, art and fashion will have the opportunity to flourish. I can see that China is ready to produce some great international designers, and the Western world is more receptive to fashion in China. Young Chinese designers have fresh, new ideas that will resonate anywhere."

McCollough and Hernandez of Proenza Schouler will also benefit from the opportunity to delve into the Chinese market, Kolb said.

"Chinese consumers are becoming stronger in terms of spending power, and that can definitely fuel success for Chinese designers and can fund international growth," he said.

Wang agreed. "China is becoming a great market and there are a lot of things we can learn from each other," she said.

For a long time, Western culture and fashion played a huge role in influencing her own style, Wang said.

"I am happy now to have found my own style, where are Eastern influences and references as well, a good mix of the two I hope," she said. "Balance is always important."

Her time in New York will also be a mix of business and pleasure, with plans for private tours at the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

"New York is such a fantastic city, full of vibrating energy," she said. "It inspires me --- the people, the buildings, the cultures."

If time permits, she hopes to play a basketball game in the city before she leaves, she said. She has played for years.

"That would truly be a special bonus for me."