Tangy, from China to Paris, an ode to lacquered silk
today Nov 1, 2019
As you step into the Tangy Collection boutique in Paris, you are immediately plunged into Chinese history and culture. Especially that of Liangzhou silk dyeing, a thousand-year-old technique that was forbidden after the Cultural Revolution. The technique had almost disappeared, but Liang Zi, the founder of eco-sustainable luxury label Tangy, rediscovered and updated this ancient dyeing method. Tangy recently opened its first store outside China in Paris, at 41 rue de Verneuil, a boutique that showcases the label’s high-end collections, featuring a distinctive, lacquered-looking silk fabric.
The new Paris boutique sells exclusively the Tangy Collection women’s ready-to-wear and home decoration lines, which are available in China at the label’s ten Tangy Collection stores. Tangy Collection is a high-end line made of silk, organza, cotton and linen, with hand-crafted details such as embroidery and other needlework, producing sophisticated clothes whose timeless elegance often blends with a typically Chinese aesthetic.
Tops are priced between €500 and €1,000, dresses from €500 to €2,500 and trousers from €500 to €1,200, while some of the tailored items cost over €4,000. Tangy Collection, which also features accessories such as handbags, fans and cushions, was launched in 2008 as a complement to the more commercial Tangy women’s ready-to-wear line, first introduced 20 years ago and now available at 110 monobrand stores and 40 multibrand retailers.
“We very much love natural silk. One day, our supplier offered us a special kind of fabric. It was an antique silk coming from an old inventory, which the supplier wanted to get rid of. We fell in love with its texture. It’s a fabric with a life of its own. Over time, it acquires a unique patina, improving like a fine wine,” said Liang Zi, who founded Liang Zi Fashion Industrial Corporation Ltd in 1995 with her husband Huang Zhihua, in Shenzhen, south-eastern China.
Once the stock of fabric was used up, the couple discovered that the production of this kind of silk, known also as gambiered silk or mud cloth, had virtually ceased. “At the time, no one knew about this fabric. I only remembered seeing my grandparents wearing it. We eventually found a very old man who was familiar with the manufacturing technique and, little by little, we relaunched the production of gambiered silk,” said Liang Zi, who has been based in Paris for the last five years.
The fabric is both crisp and airy, similar to double organza, and it looks like lacquered slate, with a leather finish. Liangzhou silk is made using natural ingredients and elements like water, earth, sunshine and plants, and can only be produced between April and October. The unbleached, pure natural silk fabric is first soaked in a liquid obtained from the roots of dioscorea cirrhosa, a wild medicinal herb that grows in the south of China, then it is laid out on grass to dry in the sun. The operation is repeated up to 30 times.
One of the fabric’s sides is then coated with layers of silt from a nearby river, a ferruginous mud that gives the silk its lacquered finish. Once it has dried again in the sunshine, the fabric is then rinsed in the river. In the end, the silk becomes both lightweight and durable, and is ochre-coloured on one side, and dark brown on the other.
Nearly 150 people now work in Tangy’s Shenzhen factory. It was built thanks to a grant by the Chinese government, which in the last 10 years has been keen to boost local craftsmanship. Tangy enhanced its visibility with catwalk shows in Beijing and Paris, and the French Fashion Institute did a case study on gambiered silk. Other producers are now selling this fabric in China. “Others copy us, without offering the same kind of quality. We have patented the production process and set up a foundation to protect it,” said Liang Zi.
Liang Zi was born in a farming family from Zhejian province. She fell in love with garment design from childhood, inspired by her mother’s embroidery skills, and then worked at a tailor’s since the age of 14. She began creating her own models and opened a small boutique in the city of Xingchang, before moving to Xi’an to study at the China North-West Textile University, where she specialised in the design of men’s suits.
After university, where she met her husband, Liang Zi moved with him to Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejian province. In Hangzhou, she worked in a silk-exporting company, before moving to Shenzhen, where her husband was the production manager in a silk factory. It was then that she started designing clothes again, and decided to set up Tangy.
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