Designer Ma Ke was the first Chinese fashion designer to be invited by the Chambre de Syndicale to show her collection in the prestigious Parisian world of haute couture. A bold voice in contemporary fashion, Ma Ke asserts the culture and social dimension of clothing the human body. She stands in opposition to China’s cheap, homogenized mass-market production, poorly paid labor, and undervalued skills. By default challenging the values propagated through clothing in modern culture, Ma Ka critiques consumerism, superficiality and the commercialization of design at the cost of the loss of unique local culture. Her work features superb craftsmanship, highlighting the complex interactions of clothing, culture and the body, while promoting socially, culturally and environmentally sensitive design and production.
While still a student, Ma Ke found that her ideas of unique designs that incorporated local cultural value, sustainable materials and skilled craftsmanship, were considered “wuyong”, or useless in Chinese. Not satisfied with the practical and ornamental functions of clothing, Ma Ke instead prefers designs as art, a personal language of an individual creator inspiring deeper thoughts and conversations. “I believe clothing could be a specific creative language, and has infinite possibilities for communicating ideas and transmitting thoughts, for inspiring you and shaping your behavior.” Ma Ke is an advocate for luxury as simplicity and austerity, and her work is full of powerful, sculpted forms, referencing China’s rich history. In a fashion scene dominated by foreign labels, Ma Ke decided to develop her ‘useless’ concept of design, naming her collection WuYong. Producing simple, organic and locally inspired casual wear, Ma Ke demonstrates conceptually creative designs. Working only with natural fibers such as cotton, linen and silk, she subverts the idea of luxury through her use of humble materials, designing for the unsatisfied needs of human beings, emotional and spiritual inheritance. “I give value that does not reside in the object, but in the use that is made of it, in the person who uses it.“ Believing that genuine fashion should not follow trends, but should uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary.
“In a world of conflict and never ending wars, of polarization between rich and poor, we face a deepening environmental crisis caused by the short sightedness of human activity. Our resources are running out, while our desires are proliferating. Cultural variety and regional diversity are being assimilated through economic globalization. Traditional craftsmanship is disappearing from our daily life… Through these tremendous social changes, my country is undergoing a heart breaking loss of tradition for the sake of an irresponsible pursuit of the future.” Ma Ke believes that designers, as the creators of the living environment, must no longer isolate themselves and indulge in the luxury of dreams. Designers must be responsible for damage done to the eco system through their production, and must not work for purely commercial interest. Designer must consider the recyclability of their and not create disposable products.”
With a slew of global awards to her name, including the 2010 Young Global Leader, Ma Ke was also named Best Asian Fashion Designer by the Elle Magazine in 2007. Her work has been exhibited by the V&A London, and the Joyce Gallery in Paris. She has also designed costumes for Dadawa for the stage production of Singing in Heaven.