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Taipei Fashion Week AW23 reinforces that culture deserves a place in couture

by Miette Dsouza

Culture seems to finally be appreciated on the runway. 

Not only are Western brands like Burberry going back to their British roots, but we also saw Dior’s FW’23 show take place in India. At Taipei Fashion Week, POC (People of Colour) designers were also infusing their culture into high fashion. 

Finally it seems the industry is beginning to realise the inherent power that comes with celebrating culture and heritage. 

Taipei Fashion Week presented the collaboration between seven indigenous craftsmen and seven contemporary fashion designers to create the perfect combination of culture and couture.

The show was set against the backdrop of the Nankunshen Ddaitian Temple - it’s hip-and-gable roof with multiple eaves left no ambiguity as to which country the show was being held in. 

To further solidify that the show would go on to be a love letter to Taiwanese culture, it opened with a traditional folk dance of “The Eight Generals” (Bajiajiang). 

The fluid movements and bright face paint coupled with the traditional music were mesmerising. This was the first collaboration between a traditional folkloric dance group and a designer who specializes in stage costumes. 

From pants that emulate the stone pillars of temples to Yin Yang symbolism through the outfits, Bob Jian did a wonderful job at using fashion as a medium to demonstrate his culture. Most of the designers also had little skits before they displayed their designs, be it a shadow puppet show or a Taiwanese opera performance.

As this outdoor show progressed, we got a glimpse of garments made with the art of traditional knotting. These pieces were truly the epitome of maximalist fashion - in the best way possible. 

We even had an opportunity to see how paper sculpting, Taiwanese opera, lacquer art and shadow puppetry inspired whole collections. 

A temple art collaboration between Just In XX and a traditional temple painter named Wu-Nan Zhuang particularly resonated with me. 

As Wu-Nan Zhuang worked on a mural in the background, models with prosthetic third eyes in the centre of their foreheads strutted down the runway. The almost punk-looking garments with radial lines and checkerboard patterns stood in juxtaposition to the patterns of temple paintings of Door Gods and chi tigers on the garments as well as sky lantern silhouettes. 

However, they complimented each other perfectly because of the use of vibrant colours like crimson and cobalt paired with black and white. Through doing so, these colours echoed the symbiotic relationship between Taiwanese tradition and contemporary aesthetics of fashion.

This was unlike other fashion week shows internationally. Typically it is expected that the colour palette of a show for a brand remains uniform throughout. Here, most of the designers used a plethora of colours which reflected the vibrance of Taiwanese culture. 

The theme of the fashion show, “CrossLab: Dialogue between Traditional Performance, Craftsmanship and Fashion” was innovative in itself, but the execution is what made it transcend all expectations.

While the first show spotlighted indigenous artists, the second show highlighted sustainability in fashion. 

The outdoor aesthetic with firecrackers and traditional music was replaced with LED lights on the runway which gave it a more modern look. The clothes too reflected the contemporary nature of the set as the outfits were largely streetwear and more minimalist than the previous show.

The main aim of the six designers was to collaborate with Taiwan’s top textile manufacturers and utilise sustainable materials to make garments. 

While one designer used recycled PET bottles and factory waste, another used eco-friendly yarn. 

Another designer even used low-emission dyed fabrics and fibres from recycled land and ocean waste. Here the colour pallet was more muted containing hues of black, navy and grey primarily. 

Trench coats could be seen on virtually every model which reflected the autumnal aesthetic. This was an innovative stance on streetwear - especially as many fashion houses on show in Fashion Weeks across Milan, London, Paris and more tend to be less focused on sustainability.

Every designer had a distinct style but what bound them together was their culture.

Taipei Fashion Week teaches us that culture can be synonymous with luxury as well as be a medium through which people can connect with their heritage and be sustainable.

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