COURTESY MONIQUE ZHANG
Designs from Cicada by Monique's La Charme Collection include this ensemble of iridescent silk taffeta and organza ($3,885). A fabric artist, Monique Zhang utilizes applique, piping, stitchwork and dyeing techniques to add texture and surface interest to garments.
Giving fabric its own style
Although most people would describe Monique Zhang as a fashion designer, she considers her role as a textile artist to be an equal, if not more important, aspect of her work.
La Grande Collection
Cicada designs by Monique Zhang
» On view: Monday through Feb. 24
» Place: C.S. Wo Gallery, 702 S. Beretania St.
» Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends
» Personal design appointments: 11 a.m. Tuesday to Feb. 15, and Feb. 17-19
It's the opposite of what fashion observers see on "Project Runway," where the silhouette comes first and selecting the fabric is a matter of grabbing a compatible, ready-made bolt off a store shelf.
"Most students who go to fashion school learn technical skills, but they don't worry about fabric. Their designs are based on whatever (fabric) exists. It's different from textile studies," Zhang said by phone from her San Francisco studio.
Zhang will be showing some of her work at C.S. Wo Gallery, which is celebrating Chinese New Year with a display of about 10 pieces from Zhang's Cicada Fashion Collection. Zhang also will be available for design and styling consultations, a ritual she performs with all her San Francisco clientele. In her custom work, she considers all aspects of a client's wardrobe and personal style, taking them from muslin sample to finished garment in about three fittings.
Zhang's use of hand-couture techniques of pleating, appliqu, embroidery, and resist- and ombre-dyeing appeals to those seeking a truly one-of-a-kind garment.
"I'm not just doing it for glamour," she said. "I work with art collectors, museum and opera supporters who devote their lives to the arts. They don't need to wear a 'name' designer. They have their own ideas."
COURTESY MONIQUE ZHANG
A high-neck Mandarin gown with leather piecework collar and python-pattern fabric ($3,285).
ZHANG'S INTEREST in textiles started with a love of art and history dating to her childhood in Taiwan. "I'm really from an island, and for many of us the bigger China was an ideal. Getting closer to the motherland was a fantasy."
She began studying the history of costume in China, and was particularly fascinated by garments worn by minority tribes, whose influence traveled with Silk Road merchants. That inspiration was carried along the trade route by weavers and textile makers, including those from the Middle East, who added to the cultural mix that worked its way back to China.
Zhang moved to the U.S. in her 20s and found support from Sandra Sakata, a leader in the 1970s art-to-wear movement. Zhang chose the name Cicada for her business as a play on her late mentor's name, which also fit the symbolism of the cicada.
"The beetle is important in Asian tradition because it represents longevity and posterity, to remind us of different lifetimes."
Zhang said Sakata connects her to a long art and fiber tradition shared by the Chinese and Japanese. "I look at fabric as my canvas so I can create clothing totally from scratch. It's not just about being a fashion designer. Part of my mission is to preserve techniques perfected by the Chinese and Japanese.
"The Japanese really work on textiles because they create an extra dimension that's exciting and aesthetically pleasing. They've adopted technologically enhanced pleating, and they've also preserved the culture of dyeing.
"It takes every personal effort to create art. It's not about me, but about touching the joy in people's hearts through what they see and wear."