Taiwanese-born Peggy Tan launched Mandarin & General in 2011 and has been thoughtfully reinventing traditional Chinese dress into something altogether more sophisticated, sexy and modern – not unlike present-day China, in fact.
Do you have a particular philosophy behind Mandarin & General?
Culture is only alive when it is being practiced, and can only survive if it continues to evolve in our lives.
What is it about Mandarin-dress making that made you want to use it as the foundation of your collections?
I’m specifically interested in traditional Chinese garment construction, before Western tailoring techniques were introduced. It’s a lot like folding an origami with fabric. The simplicity of this type of structure has its shortcomings, but has a lot of personality. I’m very curious about how the construction can be applied to other type of garments we are familiar with.
What process do you go through to rediscover the traditional Chinese garments?
I treat traditional Chinese clothes not as costumes but as a type of garment – like how I would treat a button down shirt or jacket. I work on its structural framework with consideration of today’s function and aesthetic.
How did you manage to become an apprentice for a famous Qipao (traditional Chinese dress) master?
Both masters (two of them worked together all their life) care deeply about the heritage of Qipao technique and tradition. I convinced them that although my goal is not to be a traditional Qipao tailor, I had conviction in preserving the heritage in a different way, a way that can possibly shed new light on traditional techniques. They decided to take a chance on me, and at the end, they were impressed by my learning curve. We built such a strong bond that I still visit them every time I go to Taipei.
So are our cultural traditions are something that we should hold on to?
I think it is individual’s choice to hold on to cultural tradition or not. Civilization is built on history and advances from past experiences. I find it benefiting to learn, rediscover, and reinvestigate cultural traditions.
Do you have a particular type of woman in mind when designing your collections?
I admire the young female intellects from early Republic China such as Phyllis Lin and Eileen Chang. Phyllis Lin is the first Chinese female architect, architectural historian, poet, and was one of the most beautiful women in China at the time. Eileen Chang is a talented and free spirited writer who’s was not afraid of being challenging the status quo. Today, my customers are women in their 20s and 30s who are confident, have a great sense of style, and acquired taste in culture – any type of culture.
Do you think that the modern Chinese consumer has inspired a new wave of creativity in China and Taiwan?
The rise of the Chinese consumer certainly inspired and encouraged new waves of creativity because new demands were created. I use my Chinese heritage as foundation, and incorporate everything I find interesting or important as inspiration. For example, my current Fall collection contrasts Victorian and Cubist visual structures. My new Spring 2013 collection was inspired by my concern about the impact of nuclear energy.
Words: Christabel Reed