Han Feng may now be a leading light in China's burgeoning fashion industry, but for nearly two decades, she shunned her home country, choosing to live in the US. "I grew up during the Cultural Revolution and it was difficult," explains the 45-year-old designer. "At graphic design college, I started out painting how my teachers wanted me to, but then I became this crazy person who wanted to be different. That's when I decided to get out and study more."
Feng, who relocated her showroom to Shanghai in 2005, says home-grown designers are now challenging the dominance of mass-produced Western brands in China: "It'll be hard for them in future," she adds. "Lots of people don't want to wear the same thing any more."
This month, Feng features in the V&A's China Design Now exhibition – the first time she has been presented as a Chinese, rather than American, designer. Feng moved to New York in 1985, and landed a sales job at Bloomingdale's, then started making clothes herself. After selling pleated scarves from her home, she expanded into full womenswear in the mid-1990s, and is now known for her use of coloured silks and traditional Chinese embroidery.
Feng has since branched out into furniture, glassware, and even cookery – though she is best known here for her elaborate kimonos in Anthony Minghella's recent ENO production of Madam Butterfly ( a range of which is now on show – alongside pieces from her ready-to-wear collection to buy – in Liberty).
Next up, she's designing uniforms for hotel and restaurant staff at the Beijing Olympics – though she's not about to pander to the Chinese government. "They asked me to be fashion director for the opening ceremony, but wanted to control my time and get me to work for free – forget it!"
C hina Design Now : V&A, London SW7 (0870 906 3883), from Saturday to 13 JulyReuse content