Ricostru: Interview & F/W18 Backstage

April 10, 2018 9:00 AM

In Italian, ‘Ricostru’ means ‘reconstruction,’ but designer Rico Manchit Au was constructing an entirely new notion of designer Chinese fashion when she launched her label in 2011. While her home country may be synonymous with mass clothing production, China was not considered a place with fashion designers. Rico was ready to change that.

After studying fashion design at Istituto Marangoni in Italy, she returned to Guangzhou to take advantage of the local factories and garment industry. Since the beginning, fashion publications raved about her designs, and by 2016, Giorgio Armani selected her to show at his Armani Theater during Milan Fashion Week, making her the first Chinese womenswear designer ever to do so.

Her designs are equally forward-looking, combining minimalism with futuristic cuts and transparent fabrics. Understanding that everything evolves, Rico grounded her latest collection in black but with iridescent shifts into blue and yellow, silver and orange. The lines of coats, dresses, and skirts are fluid and unconventional.

Rico sees each collection as an evolution of her preferences and style, and before she gets too far in the future, TWELV chatted with the designer about breaking boundaries, finding inspiration, and anticipating what’s to come:

 

After finishing school in Italy, why did you decide to move back to China to start your brand?

When I came back, I found there was a lot of opportunities for designer brands because at that time I didn’t find any designer brands that made me excited. I felt like it was the right moment to start my brand. I still remember when I visited the Beijing market, I could see international designer brands, and there were no Chinese designers, and I thought, ‘Why don’t I just try?’ At the beginning, I didn’t plan much about my brand. I just felt like I needed to try. So it was very brave for me because at that moment I didn’t see any successful business model for Chinese brands.

So without such a model, what do you think allowed your brand to become successful?

I started at the right time. We don’t have much designer brand knowledge from the market, so it was really the right timing to show [customers] how designer products could be. I got lots of interest from media like Vogue or Elle. They supported me from the beginning. And also I got a lot of experience managing my brand from China. I started from zero, but also the market started from zero. The media saw me growing, and the supply chain knows me from the beginning. It’s like we grew up together. Now we have a really strong foundation for the brand and product development.

How has China’s fashion industry developed?

In this moment, there are a lot of designer brands coming up, and the traditional brands are starting to change. Lots of customers are very focused on how design can change their lives in China. They go to shop, read the magazines, go online, and they really enjoy getting fashion news. They feel like their lives are going to change, and real life in China is already changing, so they are more focused on brand’s image and quality rather than price. That is totally different from three years ago.

How do you deal with this emerging competition?

I have my own foundation for the market especially for my style. It’s more minimal, and we are still very unique. We have to push ourselves to constantly learn more, and that makes me very excited. It’s not only about designing. When I was studying, how to make a collection or garment was the basic or easier part for me. How to manage a brand is more difficult. We are still learning this lesson. 

What did it mean to you to be the first Chinese womenswear designer to show at the Armani/Teatro?

That was very important moment in my career. When I was studying in Italy, all my teachers and friends told me Armani was their hero. When I first heard [I was chosen], I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know he was choosing anyone. It was like I went back to Italy to restart my career. As the first Chinese womenswear designer it gave me lots of honor, and since then lots of customers know about me.

Perhaps Armani is one of them, but what designers or artists inspire your work?

When I was studying, Jil Sander inspired me to do minimalistic clothing. Before I knew about her collections, my mind was in a totally different world. I always liked to play with layers and colorful patterns because I still didn’t know who I was at that time. As a student, I wanted to play more rather than less. But since I went to school and learned of Jil Sander, I felt that was the style that was suitable for me, especially after I tried on her clothes. [There are] lots of languages inside the minimal world. But still I feel like nature is very important inspiration for me. It’s not only how can you do clothing but how can you feel the world and feel yourself, and this is always the strongest inspiration for my collection.

How did nature inspire your latest collection?

The latest collection is very emotional. I am telling the story of a strong woman. She is lost in imagination, so she is acting different than how she acts every day. That is all about our natural feelings as a woman, so it’s also connected to nature. We have to face very natural parts of ourselves, so we can create a different world in our mind. That is the very meaning of our lives.

What kind of woman do you imagine wearing your designs?

I imagine the woman who has very strong personality and maybe she is a bit tough, yet she loves art and she loves music. In my mind, it’s always rock.

I love how your designs play with silhouettes. How do you go about re-inventing a traditional cut?

I always imagine I am a strong woman, and so I like to play with things like suits or traditional leather jackets. I like the shape of it, but I want to redesign. I like to use transparent or soft materials on strong silhouettes, and when I do the design I always think about how to balance it. It always gives me inspiration to do the reinventing on the cut.

How is the “translucent color sensation” a symbolic design language of the brand? What draws you to sheer, translucent fabrics?

It’s also related to how I feel about nature. For example, I really like Iceland because I feel it’s kind of futuristic. And when I think about futuristic things, the colors and fabrics are always minimal, pure, so I love to use some reflective and transparent fabric to tell this story. I think that is my design language.

What do you see in the future for you and your brand?

I’m planning for my brand to be an international designer brand. We are moving in that direction. We showed in Milan, and we are planning to have our showroom in Europe and the United States. I hope my brand is from China, but is an international Chinese brand.

 

WRITTEN BY EMILY CIESLAK

EDITED BY HOLLIS DE LANEY

 

PHOTO CREDIT: COURTESY OF RICOSTRU

 

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