La styliste chinoise Lucia Liu, de T Magazine China


The world of stylist Lucia Liu

Beijing-based Lucia Liu divides her time between styling super models for China’s T Magazine and the country’s film stars, and manages to squeeze in other projects and worldwide travel. She tells K magazine how she does it.

“It’s hard to unite ‘China style’ into a few words", says the country’s best-known stylist, Lucia Liu.  “Beijing style is more colourful, with lots of prints, while Shanghai uses less colour but pays more attention to the cutting".

La styliste chinoise Lucia Liu, de T Magazine China

The subject becomes more complex when one takes into consideration the eagle eyes of China’s fashion-hungry general public. “Something too exposing on the red carpet is not acceptable to most audiences. Cute sometimes wins out over sexy", she adds.

Liu should know. Alongside serving as the executive deputy editor in chief and fashion director of China’s T Magazine (the local edition of the New York Times supplement), which she joined at launch, Liu dresses some of China’s best-known stars. Her regulars include the actor, singer and director Zhao Wei; actors Yao Chen, Zhou dong Yu and Bai Baihee (known for Shi lian 33 Tian). At the festival de Cannes, this year she styled the young actor Sandra Ma Sichun whose film credits include Left Ear.

Liu’s career in styling wasn't planned. Born in 1983, she graduated in 2006 with a First Class BA(Hons) degree in fashion design from the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design in the UK, having initially signed up to study English. After moving to London her editorials soon appeared in publications like i-D, Glass and Dazed & Confused amidst a slew of other prestigious titles.

La styliste chinoise Lucia Liu, de T Magazine China

Cover stories

Her return to China in 2009 was not planned: “I did not come back because I had a job offer or anything like that", she says. "The idea crossed my mind one day; then I packed my things in two weeks and arrived in Beijing. In the first month, I was approached by Glass magazine to style their first issue with [actor] Maggie Cheung in Beijing. I then styled [actors] Li Bingbing and Fan Bingbing for a L’Oréal campaign.”

Then in 2012 she was invited by the photographer Chen Man to style an i-D magazine cover. “I was then appointed by Harper's Bazaar China as the style director. I worked, for example, with the iconic singer Faye Wong for her long-time come back, for the cover."

Beijing style is more colourful, while Shanghai uses less colour but pays more attention to the cutting.

Although her styling work is high profile, Liu says she works more on the editorial side. Still, her non-editorial styling career got going, following some work that she did on Alexi Tan’s 2010 film Color me Love (Ai chu se), starring Joan Chen. The film is a sort of Chinese Devil Wears Prada, highlighting the arts and fashion scene in Beijing. It’s a romantic comedy featuring an artist, played by Liu Ye, and a fashion-magazine editor, played by Yao Chen. “It began working with Yao Chen for the film and ended up styling the leading roles.”

La styliste chinoise Lucia Liu, de T Magazine China

Establishing strong connections with multiple brands on the movie also helped her establish her own Beijing-based company. “We kept the working relationship from the film until now, and this was five years ago", she says. “At the same time, I started my office, theBallroom, part of which is working closely with celebrities on assorted projects". Through this company, she currently works closely with ten regular clients and with some others on a project-by-project basis, she says.

Suits to a tee

The market in China is very celebrity-driven.

Today, she also has major responsibilities at T Magazine. “For every issue, I am in charge of the cover shoot and sometimes one or more inside pages of editorial. For every shoot, you have to think, coming up with the concept, contacting the cover star, budget control, organising a team, the shoot, the image selection. It is not fully finished until it goes to print."

The T China launch issue featured Sun Fei Fei, shot by Paola Kudacki in New York. Then followed covers with Xiao Wen Ju, shot by Sean and Seng in Paris. The New Face number featured Trunk Xu in Beijing. "For the March issue 2016, I styled the very first cover with Leah Dou, a future super star, and the daughter of super singer Faye Wong and Dou Wei. I was in contact with her team for almost half a year to get to shoot this cover story in Japan. It was also shot by Sean and Seng. The market in China is very celebrity-driven."

But what informs her style? “For editorial, it involves working very hard on the concept", she says. “For the red carpet, it is more about the girl in every way". But it is also about the designer. Liu’s favourites include a slew of Chinese labels, such as Huishang Zhang, Angel Chen, Xu Zhi, ChrisOu by Dan; and a few western ones: Christopher Kane, Prada, Proenza Schouler and Rodarte.

La styliste chinoise Lucia Liu, de T Magazine China

The eye travels...

But she also likes to get away from it all. When we first connected, she was in Iceland. “I live in Beijing but I travel a lot", she says. A collage of her work, including images from the Iceland trip, can be seen on her live mosaic page on the Business of Fashion website. It also includes some of her T Magazine China covers, featuring young stars like Li Bingbing, dressed like a quirky nymph.

Ever in demand, her other projects include working on "China’s next top model," and wardrobe design for Divorce Lawyers, one of the most successful Chinese TV shows in Asia, "I never stop”.