Masha Ma is the designer linking the East and the West
After obtaining a MA in Womenswear from Central Saint Martins in 2008, Chinese designer Masha Ma founded her eponymous label. During her degree, Ma honed her craft at Alexander McQueen and Veronique Branquinho after which her graduate collection was debuted during London Fashion Week. Masha Ma now splits her time between Paris and Shanghai; this situates the brand in a unique position where eastern and western philosophies meet and are translated throughout MASHAMA designs.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
You were born in Beijing. How did you first become interested in fashion?
My grandmother, who was a music teacher in Shanghai, had me interested in fashion from a very young age as she was always so elegant.
Why did you decide to move to London to study?
I moved to London when I was around 16 years old. I was eager to study at CSM. Everything in London was new to me. The details of London’s museums, opera houses, architecture and rich history, as well as the fusion of classical and modern in the city, continue to inspire my ideas and inspirations.
How did your experience at Central Saint Martins influence your approach to design?
I remember that once the tutors had arranged a project to be ‘white’. They just let me start without saying clearly what the project was. Was it about a fabric? Was it about the color? Material? Sound? There were no require- ments and no one told you how to do ‘white’. The endless, open opportu- nities were the spirit CSM wanted to convey. I think this played a major role in my future design.
You interned at Alexander McQueen and Veronique Branquinho. How do you think that kind of industry experience benefited you? Is it essential for students?
I think these experiences helped a lot as I got the chance to learn in a professional, European fashion industry which helped me how to think logically. I was accustomed to think in an eastern way and question everything I was doing. My work experiences taught me the value of a good designer and how they want to create a product or lifestyle that people can enjoy.
How would you describe your clothes?
It is a notion of ritual, a question to fashion, “Why can’t we?”
Where do you seek out inspiration for MASHAMA?
I seek inspiration from everywhere, and can be inspired by all of my surroundings.
“THIS IS AN ERA OF GLOBALIZATION WHERE CULTURES CLASH AND INNOVATION FLOURISHES.”
You now split your time between Shanghai and Paris. How has this affected your brand?
I genuinely believe that time and distance are not major factors that will affect creativity. Nowadays, juggling between two cities has become a part of my lifestyle, and the two cities are constantly inspiring me in different ways and introduce me to different opportunities.
Why is it important for your brand to show in Paris?
I have always felt that it is not about where, but more importantly what I am showing. With the current state, Paris Fashion Week is arguably the most-developed and mature platform for me to exhibit my work. More importantly, I really wanted to show the world what the new Chinese design is all about, which is the combination of the traditional heritage and the contemporary concepts of art.
How much would you say your work is collaboration between eastern and western aesthetics?
In every way, really. For a very long time, whenever people talk about Chinese elements, all they think of are embroidery, dragons, phoenixes and the color red, which are undoubtedly some of the very essential elements of the Chinese design. However, in order to elevate Chinese design to the next level, it is crucial to break out of those boxes and paint a fresh image for it. Hence, that is why I always try to apply more modern approaches into my design to convey the traditional beauty of our culture.
Do you find that the Chinese fashion industry is becoming a dominant force in the fashion world?
Yes, and no. Although there are signs of rapid developments in the Chinese fashion industry in the past decades, brands and individual designers are still exploring and trying to understand more about the market. There is more to learn and explore in terms of the different segments of the chain. Developed brands in Europe and North America often exhibit their pieces in two collections, which are the spring/summer and the autumn/ winter collections. This is what I saw; a lot of current designers and brands are working on in China. This has further pushed the development of the industry, and I do believe that there is a greater potential of the market in the future.
It is widely known that China has heavy restrictions on the incoming and outgoing of information, especially on the Internet. Is this something that has affected MASHAMA?
I only do my Internet surfing when I am in Paris, so I have more inner peace and rest from information chaos.
Do you feel, living between China and Europe, that you are in a unique position existing between these two spheres?
It is like the film Annihilation. We all live in sort of “Shimmer” in this world. But, nowadays, everyone is so connected. You get used to differences.
Since founding your brand in 2008, you have received worldwide acclaim. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in the past 10 years?
Honestly, I have lost count because there are simply too many. There is a Chinese saying stating that knowledge has no limits. Hence, everything I experience daily is a form of knowledge and enrichment for me.
What advice would give a budding designer about the industry today?
Be certain on what you want because the industry is not exactly what we picture in school. However, once you are certain that this is the path you want to pursue, go for it. People always assume that the Chinese culture is fading of its colors, but I don’t agree with that. This is an era of globalization where cultures clash and innovation flourishes. This has guided Chinese design to a greater stage with much more growing potential.
How do you approach each new collection? Do you design in Shanghai?
Every season is different, there isn’t a routine.
Who is the archetypical MASHAMA?
Intellectual, futuristic, ritual and everlasting.
How do you see your label evolving in the coming years?
We have our own blueprint and we are actively working towards it. I hope that we can develop more categories and product lines in the near future by bringing better quality products to a newer generation of China, introducing new ways and styles to express their individualities. I also want to experiment design in different sectors, enriching my clients’ lives in more aspects. Presenting the image of globalization through mixed of different culture designs is also something I want to focus on.
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