Chinese designer Christopher Bu has his eye on the red carpet

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing in Christopher Bu at The Met Ball.
PHOTO: Reuters

Christopher Bu, the man behind Fan Bingbing's spectacular look, pays tribute to the Coca-Cola bottle with a new collection. He tells Sun Yuanqing, he likes to make clothes for women who want to stand out.

You might not know Christopher Bu, but you must have seen some of the dramatic looks he has created for Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, which made her a star on international red carpets.

His latest creation for her is the Forbidden City-inspired gown that she wore to the Met Gala in New York earlier this year. It put her on numerous best-dressed lists.

These signature looks have not only transformed Fan into a style icon, but also made Bu one of the best-known emerging designers in China.

Bu recently showed a new capsule collection in collaboration with Coca-Cola in a pop-up store in Galeries Lafayette Beijing.

The collection is dedicated to 100 years of the contour Coca-Cola bottle, a symbol of pop culture. It is also part of celebrations for the second anniversary of Galeries Lafayette Beijing, a one-stop shopping destination for both global luxury brands and indie Chinese designers.

The collection features dozens of jackets, skirts and dresses, all highlighting Bu's signature lively prints inspired by Coca-Cola's logos, shapes and palette.

The only indie Chinese designer to be invited by the soft-drink company, Bu was approached after the brand saw his designs, which are best known for their eccentric elegance.

"When I'm in a restaurant, I always look for the contour bottle. So when they came to me, I thought it would be great fun," Bu, in his mid 30s, told China Daily in September.

It took Bu a year to create the collection. He went through the archives of the brand over the last 100 years and created new patterns and shapes based on the archives.

"It (going through the archives) was like opening a treasure trove ... And it also teaches you how to build a brand over 100 years," he says.

"The way they have maintained and innovated on the original design was inspiring to me as an entrepreneur," he adds.

Aside from his namesake couture line, Bu has a ready-to-wear label Chris by Christopher Bu, which aims to dress more ordinary city women other than celebrities. It is also part of his business strategy.

"You have to feed yourself before battling. If the couture line is my spirit, the ready-to-wear line is my bread," he says.

Be it couture or ready-to-wear, Bu says he makes clothes for women who want to stand out.

"If it's couture, it has to make you shine on the red carpet. If it's ready-to-wear, it has to make you shine in the crowd."

While the ready-to-wear line takes up the bulk of his time, he devotes the rest developing the China Collection, a Chinese-inspired couture set of 12 gowns all highlighting Chinese motifs and craftsmanship. Six of them have been completed, and three have been worn by Fan.

To make these gowns, Bu has travelled all over China to look for traditional craftsmen and women.

"I love old things that have been filtered by time. They are classics. But this is a time of fast fashion and it's hard for people to settle down to do these things," Bu says.

Bu studied styling at the Beijing Film Academy before dabbling into fashion, movies, advertising and the stage. He has styled Chinese actresses Zhang Ziyi and Zhao Wei, and French actress Sophie Marceau. He has worked with Fan since 2006.

The varied experiences have led Bu to look at design more critically.

"No matter how good a design is, clothes are for people to wear. The dress has to complement the wearer, not overshadow her. Some dresses might look good on a model but not necessarily on real people."

This is also incorporated into his ready-to-wear line. For instance, Bu avoids using earth tones in his designs as he finds they don't flatter Asian skin in general. Instead, he has created what he calls the "whitening palette" that makes the wearer's complexion look brighter.

"You have to wear the clothes, not the other way around," he says.

Speaking about the increasing presence of Chinese celebrities at international fashion events and all the debate it has generated, Bu says people sometimes tend to take fashion weeks too seriously.

"It's like a big party. It's not the Oscars. You can wear whatever you like. Play a little, fashion can be fun."