Taking Chinese materials back to China has created a whole new career path for young Adelaide fashion designer Cristina Tridente. So impressed were the locals with her showing at this year’s 15th Qingdao International Fashion Festival that their government has invited her back next year and offered to cover her costs.
The South Australian government was impressed too. Investment and Trade Minister Martin Hamilton Smith has asked Cristina to organise a parade featuring five designers in three cities as part of the tour of India he is leading at the end of this week. Ms Tridente will also join the trade delegation visiting Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Tridente, 26, whose company couture+love+madness is very much a “one-woman show” based in West Lakes, admits it’s all exciting and a little overwhelming. She was the first Australian invited to the Qingdao festival (the third biggest in a now fashion-mad China) and won rave reviews and spontaneous applause for a collection featuring Western designs using traditional Chinese materials.
“I think they were genuinely excited by the concept and the way I had used their fabrics,” she said. “Everyone around me was doing Western designs with Western materials bought in Europe or the US.” The result was significant media coverage and regular requests to say a few words.
Looking for something different to work with, Tridente starting buying fabric from China soon after starting her business in 2011 and still returns every year to the same market in Qingdao (“Imagine Westfield Marion, only five storeys high and there are five of them in the same suburb. It’s nothing but material stores”). However, she hadn’t looked to China as a potential market until asked to be part of a delegation coordinated by the Australia China Development Company in 2014. She went, learned a lot, then went again as part of an SA Government delegation to Shandong.
“It was really interesting to go over there and explore and this time around we met with quite a few designers and talked to a lot of people,” she said. “I met with Angelica Chung, who’s the editor of Vogue China, and spoke about the kind of markets over there. She said ‘I really think that you can make it here but you need to come over and just meet people and see where your product fits in the market place’. It’s all about networking.”
Tridente came home with two lasting impressions. The first is that the Western stereotype of China only being about low-cost, mass-produced clothing is wrong; some of the prices she saw in Shanghai made her eyes roll and reinforced the potential market for her high-quality, unique and relatively well priced creations. The second is that fashion is important to China’s emerging middle class and to its government.
“The thing I found the most interesting was their festivals – they put so much money and effort into making them amazing. The production was incredible, very theatrical; like nothing I’d ever seen. There were streamer bombs above our head at every show and people were cheering and bowing. There is a government body of 10 men in Qingdao just focused on fashion. They’ve built a new sub-centre outside the city that’s just for designers to have showrooms and to get their samples made.”
Tridente organised two parades during the Shandong tour, as part of major events hosted by the Premier, which led to the invitation to do something even bigger and better in India. She’s excited to finally visit a country she’s been “dreaming of for five years” but not sure how it will affect her thinking when she sits down straight afterwards to start planning designs for the Qingdao festival next year.
The bigger vision is to help take South Australia fashion design to the world. “I really think we can achieve a lot by working together,” she said. “We don’t really compete because everyone is a little bit different and has something unique to offer.”