Shanghai-based Jing Zhang is no stranger to the Hong Kong and global fashion scene. Spending her formative years between China, England and Hong Kong, she settled in this city in 2007 to work with WestEast magazine before a 7 year stint as Fashion Editor of SCMP, and becoming a leading authority in Asia on style, fashion and culture. Currently, she is Editor-at-Large at Prestige, contributing editor at Nowfashion.com, and a correspondent for SCMP, imparting valuable insights on the world of fashion and style. We caught up with her recently to talk about how her career began, noteworthy emerging designers, and the most interesting pieces she has worked on as a journalist.
Were you always interested in journalism when you were growing up?
No. Growing up, I wanted to be either a psychologist (because of Frasier) or a lawyer (because of Ally McBeal). Granted, American TV dramas aren’t the best places to go for career advice, but I did end up studying Psychology at university, then a masters in Anthropology. I sort of fell into journalism because I enjoyed writing so much. I landed my first full time job at WestEast Magazine, moved up the ranks to editor and then later moved to the SCMP newspaper for 7 years before going freelance. I sometimes still dream of giving up fashion for a career in neuroscience: more brains and less human interaction.
What have you observed about the Hong Kong/ China fashion scene since you moved back and started working in the industry?
Hong Kong has mostly moved away from cheesy cocktail dressing to something more cool and chic in the last 10 years. The Chinese industry is most interesting in terms of scale and speed of movement (no one can keep up!) and there’s a real sense of youth culture driving fashion, whereas in Hong Kong, the establishment still dictates taste. In many ways, Chinese fashion has this “Wild West” feeling, it’s exciting and also maddening.
What do you think needs changing most (if anything!) in fashion in the future?
Today we’re focusing mostly on just the glam, surface driven parts, but increasing demand for industry transparency means bigger consciousness about how shopping (and consuming) affects the world. I’m also hoping for less celebrity designers, unless it’s Rihanna.
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Which few emerging designers do you think are most promising currently?
I’ve been focusing a lot on Chinese designers lately. I really like Daniel Xuzhi (womenswear) and the menswear duo behind Pronounce (Jun Zhou and Yushan Li).
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about being a fashion editor?
That it’s all play and glamour. We actually do a lot of work and a lot of negotiation. There’s some truth to how fashion has lost some of it’s cultural relevance because of industry myopia; we really need to start looking outside our small world to become more authentic again and the most successful editors are doing this.
Shop the look: Manolo Blahnik shoes
What do you think was the best thing(s) you have written as a fashion journalist?
I enjoy writing short, sharp opinion pieces and interviewing designers I admire like Ralph Lauren or Riccardo Tisci, but often more detailed industry pieces are really rewarding. I recently did a non-fashion story on the #Metoo movement in China for the Hollywood Reporter – this I can be proud of as a journalist.
You have moderated a good amount of panels with fashion designers and icons, what do you think are important skills that make a good moderator?
Prep and directing the flow of the talk in a way that’s natural and interesting. It’s really important to get a sense of the designer’s personality (and vice versa) to minimise awkwardness. Sometimes designers just want to touch on their key “brand talking points” but this can be incredibly dull. Fun, personal anecdotes and talk of times of struggle always makes conversation more human. I’ve also realised that I have a major resting bitch face….(just see these photos) so I’ve been reminding myself to look more friendly and smile, but not be a grinning idiot. It’s a fine balance – you can be the judge of my success level if you come to my next event!
You studied psychology and visual anthropology when you were in school, how do you think that contributes to your current career in fashion?
Immensely – knowing patterns of how people think, cognitive biases on a personal and cultural level is key to having an upper hand in many careers. Design and creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Fashion tribes are a cultural phenomenon and the relationship between identity and clothing goes deep – for example looking at fashion in post-Socialist states is fascinating. Having this background instinctively directs you to look beyond the obvious. But then again, as much as there’s the urge to intellectualise, most people today are more into clicking on sensational listicles rather than reading in-depth essays.
What is (one of) the most memorable experience in your fashion editing career?
At one WestEast Magazine shoot in Beijing with the Oscar-winning art director Tim Yip (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame), our art director and I had to find: a dancer willing to have red paint poured over them, a crate of watermelons, a giant dinosaur toy, a live lobster (sorry Peta!) and other such miscellaneous items for a 40 page editorial in the space of 2 days. It was frantic but rewarding. We didn’t know the city, were young, naive, and I ended up in a loud argument with his producer about nipples. Oh the heady days of youth!
Who was the most interesting / memorable person you have ever interviewed?
They’re not from the fashion world, but Malcolm Gladwell and Zaha Hadid come out tops.
Who do you admire most in the industry?
I like designers who’ve stuck to an individual/independent way of working, often against the tide. Whether it’s Stella McCartney’s anti-animal product agenda before it was cool, the late Azzedine Alaia’s personal approach or Dries Van Noten’s quiet way of things in Antwerp, I have a lot of respect for that kind of thing. Ralph Lauren, Karl Lagerfeld and Miuccia Prada are of course legends for good reason.
What would you say is the treasured item in your closet?
I’ve got a long black Reformation gown and a pink Dries coat that I’m very attached to. Also I there’s this ancient Nabatean ring that I bought at a Jordanian flea market – but I never wear it for fear of losing it.
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