Wednesday 17/10/2018 - 06:08 am


The maverick designer who dresses China"s first lady


2016.12.03 01:16

 Chinese couturier Ma Ke is a media-shy fashion-world maverick.

Shes built two of Chinas most influential designer brands and dresses the countrys first lady, Peng Liyuan -- but doesnt consider herself a designer.
Preferring a reclusive life in Zhuhai, a city on Chinas southern coast thats a world away from the countrys fashion hubs in Shanghai and Beijing, Ma never reads fashion magazines, shuns parties and rarely gives interviews.
For this exclusive, CNN wasnt allowed to take photos at the opening of her new exhibition, nor did she want to supply a head shot.
"I dont belong in fashion circles," she says.

First lady of fashion

China's first lady Peng Liyuan in outfits designed by Ma Ke
 
Ma may shun media attention, but her fashion success speaks volumes in itself.
Hugely influential in Chinas fashion world for her brands Wuyong and Exception de Mixmind, the designer became a household name when Chinas first lady wore one of her designs on her first official overseas trip in 2013.
The double-breasted dark navy trench coat she chose, paired with a light turquoise silk scarf, set Chinese social media alight. Pengs unfussy, structured and elegant looks also received rave reviews abroad -- Vanity Fair included her on its best-dressed list that year.
To many, Pengs strong look broke the mold of the usually subdued fashion choices made by Chinas first ladies of the past.
"It fits her well, as she is a soldier and she has a kind of assertiveness and toughness," Ma tells CNN of the now-famous trench coat, the first time shes confirmed which outfits shes designed for Peng.
Ma has known Chinas first lady since 2002, and through her designs, she says she wants to convey the inner confidence of modern Chinese women.
"You know sometimes clothing can come across aggressive when its too revealing and eye-catching and its the opposite of traditional Chinese aesthetics," she says.
"Women dont need to use clothing as a weapon if theyre confident in their character and cultivation."
Its ensured Peng, who was a famous folk singer before becoming first lady, is compared to fashion icons like Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama, both of whom have helped emerging designers become stars.
"My philosophy for the first ladys designs is elegance, subtlety and demureness," Ma adds.
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