Born: Hangzhou, China. Education: Graduated from Zhejiang Art Academy, Southeast China. Career: Began career designing scarves in the U.S., in the 1980s; first full-line collection, 1995; created costumes for performance pieces "Helix" and "Gandhara," 1995-98; moved into home furnishings, mid-1990s. Awards: Honored by the Asian American Federation of New York, 1995. Address: 333 West 39th Street, New York, NY, 10018, USA.
Gumpert, Lynn and Richard Martin, Material Dreams (exhibition catalogue), New York, 1995.
Goodman, Wendy, "Living with Style: Hang Feng Comes Round the World to Spin Heavenly Tales in Silk," in House and Garden (New York), June 1993.
Enfield, Susan, "Meditative Pose," in Avenue (New York), September 1993.
Spindler, Amy M., "Bringing New Life (and Bamboo Bra Tops) to the Party," in the New York Times, 3 November 1993.
Staples, Kate, "Feng's Fashion: Smooth as Silk," in Departures (New York), March/April 1994.
"New York: Han Feng," in WWD, 7 November 1994.
Schiro, Anne-Marie, "Designed for Retailers and Real Women," in the New York Times, 5 April 1995.
Louie, Elaine, "Cool, Summery and in the City," in the New York Times, 31 July 1997.
Schiro, Anne-Marie, "Finding Motifs On Other Shores," in the New York Times, 6 November 1997.
Klensch, Elsa, "Exotic Cross-Continent Clothes Cover Feng For Fall," on CNN, 30 November 1998.
Ma, Fiona, and Heather Harlan, "Fusion Fashion," in Asian Week, 25March 1999.
Klensch, Elsa, "Feng Lets Fashion Flow," on CNN, 18 June 1999. Givhan, Robin, "N.Y. Collections Sway Their Hips to a Latin Beat," in the Washington Post, 14 September 1999.***
Amy Spindler, writing in the New York Times, compared Han Feng's clothing to her contemporaries, stating, "she offers a few lines of the poetry of Romeo Gigli and Issey Miyake, but for much lower prices." Spindler rightly perceives the affinities of the gossamerpleated yet practical clothing and accessories Feng designs, but it may be that a touch of poetry is just the levitating apparition we need in the midst of practical clothing. Feng creates unremittingly real clothing, wearable and practical, but with a concise, haiku-like hint of the historicist romance conveyed by Gigli and of the Cubist authority suggested by Miyake. There is something about Feng's inventiveness that is so radical a disposition for clothing that, like Miyake's pleats, it will either be a significant historical interlude in reform dress (for an avant-garde margin of the population) or a revolution in the way in which all people dress.
One wonders, however if clothing is the ultimate or exclusive goal of a designer who, growing up in Hangzhou, China, a great silk city, has become a devotee of the extraordinary organic materials that yield even more possibilities of organic shapes. A graduate of the Zhejiang Art Academy, Feng approaches her work as an artist. She began her work in the U.S. in the 1980s creating scarves, and the effect of the clothing is still a wondrous wrapping and veiling uncommon in the tailored West. Her clothing wraps the body as the clouds enclose a mountain; her "smoke rings" are wraps of the kind made by Charles James and Halston, allowing a gentle helix of cloth to fit from hand to hand and sheathe the shoulders in an arch out of nature.
In as much as Feng is using materials Wendy Goodman described as, "magic out of silk' (House and Garden New York, June 1993) the organic compositions are only reinforced by the pliant materials, diaphanous delicacy, and classic shapes, often defying clothing as ceremony. She all but ignores tailoring and, in fact, uses many of the same experiments in textiles for her home furnishings. Not bothering with tailoring and instead assembling the garment as a light sculpture on the body, Feng fulfills the most predicted expectations in the West of design from the East. Spindler notes, "Her most beautiful dresses were of organza, which was gathered in little puffs, as if filled with helium. Han Feng's vision is so romantic that the clothes look dreamily feminine even when draped over the tattooed form of the auto mechanic-cum-model Jenny Shimizu." Feng offers soft shells of body wrap and comfort that return us to the most primitive, pretailored sensibility for dress.
In delving into clothing at the fundamental principle of wrapping, Feng is offering an alternative to the evolved forms of Western dress. It was unlikely that a relatively young, unknown designer had the opportunity to transform so thoroughly and effectively the principles of fashion, yet Feng's work has the visionary impact to cast a wide and important influence. Even in apparel, pleated, weightless ringlets do not seem to be the stuff of insurrection, but in this case they were an anticipation of clothing for the 21st century. It is not surprising that Feng's work was prominently featured in the Museum of Modern Art's Christmas catalogue in 1994.
Critics considered 1995 to be a breakthrough year for Feng. She presented her first true full-line collection, consisting of fitted items such as tailored suits, coats, and furs, as well as her trademark accordion-pleated scarves and dresses. She continued to play with shape and texture, integrating curves into seams, collars, and backs. In terms of fabric, her eye was still set on silk, whether silk velvet, silk and wool blends, silk satin, or silk organza. With her broader line, Feng was able to attract a more diverse roster of buyers than before. Retailers such as Dayton-Hudson, Brown's in London, and Isetan in Malaysia and Singapore joined the upscale department stores and boutiques already carrying her designs.
In the mid-and late 1990s, Feng expanded into items for the home, including table linens, bed covers, pillows, and other soft goods. She also moved beyond the realm of products, creating costumes for the performance pieces "Helix" (1995) and "Gandhara" (1998), commissioned by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The pieces' theme of East meets West was perfectly suited to Feng's style.
Each season, Feng's runway shows illustrate an evolving sophistication. In her fall/winter 1998 collection, she was inspired by the story of a love affair between a fabric trader and a young women along the silk road to China. Woolen coats, strapless dresses, fox shawls, and velvet jackets incorporated reds and burgundies, sometimes combined with pinks and greens, and accessorized by iridescent pleated scarves. In 1999 her focus was on the neckline; one item was a high-collared Chairman Mao jacket accented with a chinchilla scarf. Roses and rosette patterns were a theme throughout the collection, carrying from a rose-patterned long gray chiffon skirt with a pleated ruffle to evening wear featuring velvet pants, skirts, and coats with rosette smocking.
Feng's spring/summer 2001 collection highlighted her signature accordion-pleated skirts and crinkled silk blouses, printed with Impressionistic floral patterns. An asymmetrical, sculptural silk tube dress was pleated into a single sleeve and seemed to show the influence of Miyake. Despite Feng's evolution as a designer, the scarves for which she originally became known remain a central element; in this collection, pleated scarves featured woven ribbon inserts in blue, yellow, turquoise, and lilac.
In all her collections, Feng's designs are about fabrics and textures, pairing an American sensibility with Chinese and Japanese textiles and silhouettes. Her narrow skirts, wide pants, column dresses, and asymmetrical sweaters highlight her own distinctive style, dependent on light and balance but not on changing trends. Uneven hems and asymmetric cuts are her signature, as much as her pleating and origami-styled folds. Her palette combines colors in subtle ways, highlighted in items mixing burgundy with fuchsia or combining several shades of light green, enhanced by printed patterns. Her main focus is often reds, from geranium to cerise, with a secondary love of greens and blues from chartreuse and lime to lapis and turquoise. Han Feng keeps her customer at the forefront, always designing for the career woman who wants to be comfortable yet beautiful.
updated by KarenRaugust