China's Zhu charms Milan with Italian vision of Krizia future

China's Zhu charms Milan with Italian vision of Krizia future
Mariuccia Mandelli, founder of the Italian brand Krizia SpA, says she is delighted to have found in Zhu Chongyun a successor to her work.

MILAN - Zhu Chongyun, the glamorous Chinese entrepreneur and designer who has taken over Krizia, has vowed to maintain the historic fashion house's made-in-Italy heritage.

Zhu, who bought the stricken brand from its iconic founder Mariuccia Mandelli earlier this year, outlined her plans in an interview with AFP in Milan during the Spring/Summer 2015 womenswear shows.

All being well, she will be back in the city in five months time to present a debut collection of womenswear for the Fall/Winter of 2015, although that launch date has still to be confirmed. "We hope it will be in February 2015 ... we hope," she said with a smile.

Zhu, who is based in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, has been spending the week in Italy's fashion capital, taking in the shows and putting together a creative team that will, under her leadership, be charged with reviving a brand that had fallen on hard times in recent years as Mandelli and Aldo Pinto, her husband and business partner, struggled with age-related health problems.

The willowy Zhu has also been cutting a dash on the fashion week cocktail circuit, thanks to a catwalk figure and youthful beauty that defy her status as a 50-year-old mother of two.

"She's a walking advert for staying out of the sun and not drinking alcohol," said an admiring Krizia insider with a smoke-infused cackle. "And it is obvious that she is a really strong woman, just like Mariuccia. You can see why she was attracted to the brand."

Phoenix from the ashes

Zhu's takeover is being marked by a multimedia exhibition hosted jointly by the city of Milan and Italy's national fashion chamber.

Backed by some of the country's most influential fashion publications, the exhibition is part tribute to Mandelli's heritage as a pioneering female force in the industry, part welcome for Zhu and also partly an exercise in reassuring everyone that Krizia's tradition will not be compromised as a result of the move to Chinese ownership.

Invitations to the exhibition's opening included a message frm Zhu outlining her vision for the brand. It read: "Krizia's identity will not change in substance, but will simply be updated to a contemporary sensibility.

"My fashion is aimed at independent women who have their own well-defined opinions and ideas, who live their lives in their own way, with curiosity and humour, and who, above all, can never be taken for granted."

Talking to AFP, Zhu added: "We want to keep the tradition of Krizia but obviously we will have more creativity, something more, something fresh." Fittingly, among the artworks commissioned to mark the handover of Krizia was one inspired by the mythical story of the phoenix that rises from the ashes, produced by British interior designer Faye Toogood.

As it is a private company, it is unclear how much financial trouble Krizia was in before Zhu stepped in but it is understood the sale was concluded for around $35 million, a figure that will look a snip if the company, which has a claim to having invented hot pants, can be restored to its former glory.

A dream realised

Zhu arrives in Milan with a backstory that is unique in its way, but also akin to the tales of dogged determination behind many of the Italian fashion industry's greatest success stories.

Born in Hangzhou to teacher parents, she gained a degree in electronic engineering and worked in industry and then food marketing before deciding to move to Shenzhen on her own in the early 90s, in pursuit of her dream of a career in high-end style.

After 18 months working for a company producing silk garments, she persuaded friends to back her vision and help finance the establishment of her company, Shenzhen Marisfrolg Fashion Co.

Within barely a year, she had two wholesale outlets in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and, two decades on, the brand has 400 shops, 4,000 employees and sales in excess of $400 million a year.

A stock market listing is being planned and a futuristic new headquarters is under construction in Shenzhen, from where Zhu will shuttle back and forth to Milan in a two-continent lifestyle akin to that of China's best-known international designer, Shanghai-based Uma Wang.

With her arrival in Milan, Zhu has achieved much of what she dreamed of, although she insists she is far from finished. "I love fashion, it's my passion and I want to continue on this road," she told AFP.

Unlike Wang, Zhu says her designs for Krizia will not be influenced by her heritage, even though the marque has a history of using Asian fabrics and styles.

"I don't think I will use a lot of Asian elements in Krizia. We don't want to mislead the public into thinking that because it is now Chinese-owned it is going to have more of an Asian culture: that is not what I want."

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