Anthony Ryans is a much loved Galway store that was established back in 1909 has gone from strength to strength since then. They have moved to more contemporary and designer brands in the last number fo years and when I heard the Ping He was launching her latest collection I was so excited to attend the launch and also kindly have the opportunity to interview the designer as well!
Many may know Ping He as creative director of womenswear label and founder of the brand PINGHE which she founded back in 2012. Prior to that, she started her studies in China studying Fashion Design at Suzhou University, then she moved onto Nottingham Trent University where she gained a Distinction in her Fashion and Textile Design course. From there she fulfilled her dream and worked with Alexander McQueen and then onto Camilla Staerk before joining Aftershock London as Head of Design. Her work with Aftershock during her five years there earned her a ‘Best Rising Star’ award from the British Fashion Council. Both her drive and ambition are just some of the things I find so inspiring about this designer.
The Brand pH15 which has been launched into Anthony Ryans this Summer was established in 2015 by Ping He. Since its launch pH15’s mission has been to change the ideology of the modern day dress and she has done this in the most elegant way. She has worked hard on the silhouette that is created in her pieces and she understands so well the way clothing should drape and hug a women’s body to make her feel comfortable as well as elegant. I am delighted today to be sharing an interview with the celebrated designer.
I understand that you started with art, and being creative in that form. Is your family artistic or creative – did you grow up around that lifestyle and inspiration?
My mum is very creative and strong, she is not artistically trained she actually works as a surgeon but when I was little she made all my clothes, she cut and designed them. She used to get a piece of newspaper and she would draw. And then she would cut and make.
She never really used pink, the typical girl colour – she always used browns, grey, navy, purple and burgundy – very fashionable colours. She never followed trends but went with her own eye. I don’t know where she actually got the fabric from!
But she is also a very normal Chinese lady – there is nothing special when you look at her that would say that she did this. She also always reads – she never watches TV. It really was amazing, she made all my clothes, she did embroidery, she also knit everything! She made dresses, trousers, jumpers, pretty much everything for me – I think I would certainly say that I gained my first inspirations from her.
Wow, I can see where you get it from!
Yes, it was all very organic when I grew up and to where I grew to.
When you were in college what was the biggest thing/lesson that you learned or took from your course?
Well honestly…. I partied a lot while in university in Shanghai! I really enjoyed it and also myself while at college and spent a lot on clothes – all the different types of clothes. Getting myself introduced to things like real punk – you know in China is not totally open but it is on the other hand quite open as well. Getting to see music concerts, travel around, get to understand pub culture, and alternative which I love. Even though I still love Damien Rice – you know music inspires me a lot.
I really took it very seriously when I came to the UK to do my Masters, it was a complete change and I understood that I had the passion to become a true fashion designer. To be able to create something from nothing – I create things out of my head and don’t look at other’s work.
I did a lot of architecture study -and that also influenced me. I looked at the light and the shadow and the shapes created. I then out the shape onto a mannequin and the whole share can be made out of paper. So I cut paper and the whole garment was made out of paper – and I got a distinction from it in university. I was first on the stage and to be honest I am still very proud of that piece and the work put in. To answer your question – the experience really made me understand who I am and what I was going to do.
It must have also given you a lot of confidence as well – to believe I can do it –
Yes, I think so, it was the first time that I understand the meaning of inner power. That it belongs to me – that I do have that talent. I think that in fashion and arts – sometimes it doesn’t matter how passionate that you are, you still have to be talented. So you have to be organised and very driven.
Being so driven can be hard?
Yes it can! Others get to go on holidays – and you can’t and that type of thing! But it is worth it at the end.
With regards Alexander McQueen, obviously that was an amazing opportunity. How did you go about applying for it?
I came to England because of McQueen. I didn’t come her to study – I applied to university as I realised that I cannot just come here wanting to work for McQueen. I have to come here to study to do it. That was it – I applied through university – I brought my massive portfolio with me and away I went! They offered me the interview, so I went to their office.
They looked at my work, I still remember it so well. It was my final project – they looked at my workmanship, how I sewed and my skill-set. They wanted to see was I good enough! And then the good news – they offered me the job!
Wow, well done. What were you doing while you were there?
Cutting the patterns, sewing, a lot of running around between all of the departments until the 2014 Paris Haute Couture Collection. We did a lot of sewing, a lot-lot of sewing and recreation based on his ideas. This gave me the opportunity to work on the mannequins with the draping and understand the process of this. To understand how the textiles work and how to work with different natures of fabrics and materials.
Even today I don’t just treat the fabric as a fabric, I use them as different materials, I look at how they work on your skin. I actually learned that from my time with McQueen. It really helped me as I can see as a designer that he had no boundaries and was so intelligent and was able to be himself. It is harder and harder these days to be yourself in the fashion world so I really admire that.
What I have found from talking to different designers is that they feel like the skills of pattern cutting are being lost as everyone wants to be a ‘fashion designer’, and it is not that easy! What advice would you have for someone who wants to get into the industry, on what it really takes?
I never thought I would have my own brand in the beginning. But now I have worked for other people and I know that I want to work for myself. I had enough contacts and understood enough to get started. It was a natural progression for me.
First of all, I think that the doesn’t need so many brands. The world does not need so many different brands and clothes shouldn’t be too expensive and the design has to be exquisite. The clothes created should be a point of view. If you want to become a fashion designer then you need to ask yourself – are you providing something that no one else has?
Unless you are super talented after college – then go work for someone that you really want to become and see do you have that creativity and also the personality to do it – this is very important.
You have certainly managed to do this – to have that unique viewpoint and create something that is new and fresh
I am still paddling hard – I want to be the next McQueen with a different format! There is only one McQueen but in terms of being original, I want my brand to be a different format/viewpoint.
When you were working for McQueen, did you get to meet other designers and see how they interacted with each other? Networking is so important in many industries and no doubt more so in fashion to know who people are.
Yes, I did and Fashion Week is like a war of creativity! Because at the end of the day, we need to be at Fashion Week we need to show our clothes so that they will also be stocked in stores and for the right customers.
Fashion Week is not just about showing your clothes, and I think that I am mature enough now to understand that. Afterwards, when the show is over, I care about where my clothes will sell – and that is most important. To make sure that my dreams and each season sells and the brand keeps to grow.
With regards the four-way stretch fabric that you use, how did you come across this fabric? It is such an amazing fabric – so soft and we were looking at the dresses closely earlier and genuinely it does not crease!
I know! I was at the airport earlier for over 3 hours and still in the same clothes – and no creases, you wouldn’t even know. I love fabrics and materials and noticed this one ‘the four stretch’. I actually noticed it being used in lingerie brands. I like to look at different types of markets for fabric research, so look at outerwear but also at fabrics used in performance as well as lingerie to gain experience and see how they are being used. How are they being used? Can I innovate and use a certain fabric for day-wear or occasion wear?
So that is how I developed it – I seen it and then knew that my key fabric would be four-way stretch. You need to be comfortable, the fabric needed to be body hugging, should not crease, should enhance in the right way. I saw it, I tested it and then when I put it on a few garments I realised the true beauty of it and it has now become a core of my business.
What is your inspiration for your Autumn Winter Collection?
It is the one that we just saw today – it is a luxury. I went a museum and was inspired by what I seen. So the exhibition was about luxury and it is not what you think – it is not about Tiffanys or Hermes. So, therefore, what is it? It is the time behind it. Time is a luxury – Creativity. Space. To create time to make space for creating. So that is what the exhibition was all about.
There was one painting called ‘The Golden Galaxy’, and it was like a map with gold in it -and obviously gold is a luxury, it is a beautiful material desirable and with this painting, they said that time is all consuming that it is endless, so it is a luxury. I love the pattern with gold – so I took that picture home with me and created many designs and patterns based around this, all the time trying to understand both me as a person and the customer – that luxury means less is more.
I mean you don’t need to have so many pieces of clothing in your wardrobe – you should buy a piece that you really invest into. For example, if you buy 10 pieces of clothing and dump after a season – you should invest that money into a dress or piece that you love and then you can pass on somehow and maybe that is what I want from my collections.
Based on that – is sustainable or ethical fashion important to your brand? They seem to be the keywords at the moment and are clearly important but how can a designer incorporate that into their brand?
I think from my point of view there are two sides of sustainability. One, the fabrication side and then two is the producing side of it. I would think as I said that we don’t need too many brands, even luxury brands. Just the good innovative brands should exist. Again this comes back to the War of Creativity and that is the same whether you are the luxury or high street.
I think stability starts with not making too many to start with. I don’t think that everything necessarily needs to be organic. As long as you stop producing so many then it would have a positive effect. It would have a positive effect on the environment.
I personally haven’t found a brand yet that has done ethical/organic in a way that it can compete seriously with fast fashion urban style yet.
I would agree and also not everyone likes that earthy look, some love it – I don’t like it to be honest! And Organic is still expensive to produce, so it still not good and the buying process for organic from natural plants is hard. I think that it is not fully achievable as of yet – we are just not there. It is moving in that direction but just not there yet.
But I do think that producing less and making less would have a good impact. Have less of the cheap cheap items and more middle price range would be better and be more conscious of the selection. The high price points are too dear and the cheap price points are too cheap – we need to work on balancing it.
You have obviously had quite a lot of success in your career so far, what has been the highlight to you?
Recently I have worked with Swarovski Collective, they selected me as one of the Asia-Pacific fashion designers for their Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter 2017 collections. They sponsored me last year and again this year, and helped me produce a beautiful crystal collection with my fabric. It is stunning and it let me relive my McQueen time as everything was tailor made and a dress costs like 200 hours of time to make. So true couture. That was certainly a joy to create and so important professionally as well.
Has there been a moment where you have gone WOW – I have made it?
Oh gosh, good question! I am really the tye of person that I don’t reward myself that much. At the time of something good happens that wow this is great, I feel good but then instantly thinking okay what next.
To see my product in the front of a store and to see my customer in the flesh, that really is important to me, I really enjoy that and rings it true to me.
What does the future hold?
I think that this year we would like PH15 to have online – to inject it online and to expand and go deeper with our current stockists – which is 60 around the world. And to work with people like Anthony Ryan to be able to do some trunk shows on how to wear my pieces and to understand solid customer feedback.
Working more openly with UK and US stores as well. To have a steady growth – I am happy with the growth to date but I think that there are lots of areas around the world that I have yet to tap into. In Europe, so far there is only UK and Ireland and I am in my third season so I am happy so far but to keep going.
We are designing four collections a year for PH15 so we are doing Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – not just two. We do not do so many pieces in each collection but we do offer good changing looks. There is no point in just showing twice a year, I prefer that we split it up and show four times a year. It becomes easier for the buyers as well – they do not have to buy so many in one go so this works well.
A massive thank you to Ping for the interview, it was so fantastic learning about her career to date and after seeing her work both on the catwalk and in person – I know that the quality, creativity of design and her drive will see her pieces for sale all around the world in the coming years.
PH15 can be found online here, as well as on Facebook and Instagram. And certainly, if you are in Galway pop into Anthony Ryans to see her pieces in person – I guarantee you that they will win you over in their beauty and also the fabric that she uses.