Londoners got a personal insight into Chinese fashion and culture from TV host, publisher and media mogul Hung Huang at the Southbank Centre China Changing Festival last weekend.
Often referred to as ‘China’s Oprah Winfrey’, Hung Huang has worked as a fashion magazine publisher for 20 years in China, as well as building up an impressive media profile in the US.
Speaking with leading China journalist Tania Brannigan at the event on Saturday, Hung reminisced about her first encounters with fashion growing up in 1960s Beijing. Her godmother, a Shanghai fashionista and designer, shaped her early memories. “She loved French fashion … she would have people smuggle in magazines for her from Hong Kong,” she said. Hung also became her fashion model, if not always willingly: “whenever [my godmother] made a dress for herself, she would make a version for me too … I remember photoshoots together in our courtyard house in Beijing, doing all these ridiculous poses.”
As a child living through China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1970s, Hung also lived through some difficult times: she recalled the day when Red Guards attacked her godmother and cut off her hair in the street for looking too ‘bourgeois’. Hung’s family sent her to boarding school away from the turmoil unfolding in Beijing, where she remembers how the Cultural Revolution influenced her classmates’ choice of clothes. “The only thing people wore was army surplus,” she remembers. “There was no law that said it, but it was an ethos. Everybody got into it.”
A few years later, Hung went to the US to study English. She remembers being sent to a tailor to be suited and booted with new clothes so her New York classmates would have a good impression of China, but was surprised when she arrived to find that “everyone was wearing ripped jeans and t-shirts … we would have fitted right in wearing our army surplus!”
Drawing on her experiences in media, Hung also reflected on the changes in Chinese attitudes to life, especially among young people. “I think lots of Chinese people have become more vocal about what they want from life,” she said. “Most Chinese millenials have been way more exposed to global culture than previous generations.”