Han Feng is adding more layers to her complex design array.
The ready-to-wear and costume designer, sculptor, chef and artisan is launching handbags and jewelry. The bags, made of black Chinese silk adorned with crystal, wholesale from $125 to $150 and will be available at Neiman Marcus in the fall.
"She has an interesting and unique passementerie treatment with her detail," said Sandra Wilson, accessories fashion director for the upscale specialty store. "The fabrics of her bags give them a vintage feel, but updated."
Feng, a Chinese-American, who splits her time between New York and her native Shanghai, sought inspiration from the Far East for her jewelry collection, which features medleys of crystal, freshwater pearls with silk knotting and irregular-shaped pieces of jade. Feng even included teacup and glass bottle scraps in some of the one-of-a-kind pieces, which wholesale from $400 to $600.
"Everything is antique and different-sized," said Feng of her jewelry collection. "I love mixing new and old. In my country, we believe what you wear brings you good luck. These stones bring good luck."
The collections aren't Feng's first foray into accessories. Four years after moving to New York, she made her mark in 1989 by creating pleated silk scarves for Bergdorf Goodman and Henri Bendel. Her ready-to-wear career began after a Henri Bendel buyer requested she make a blouse for the store. By 1993, Feng was showing her collections at Bryant Park and operating a 4,500-square-foot showroom in Hell's Kitchen.
But Feng has since closed shop in New York; after Sept. 11, 2001, she found it hard for small designers to thrive, and moved her business to the more cost-effective Shanghai.
"In Shanghai, we have an entire design studio for ready-to-wear and accessories," she said. "I went back and there are so many craftsmen. In New York, creating unbelievable things costs a fortune. In China, there is so much room to grow."
Since then, Feng's career has taken some extraordinary turns. In 2005, she became the first Chinese designer to create costumes for London's English National Opera production of Anthony Minghella's "Madam Butterfly." She worked on the same opera a year later at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.The Cooper-Hewitt museum currently houses her vases. Even her airy apartment in Midtown Manhattan showcases her contributions to art and taste, from her vases all over the floor to the piles of cookbooks in the kitchen. Feng has appeared as a guest chef on "The Martha Stewart Show" and "Today," and her dinner parties and trips to China have been frequently documented in gourmet magazines.
"I am not only a fashion designer; I see myself as an artist. I like to do different things and design different products," said Feng. "And now I am in the perfect position to cross both cultures, to be an American designer and an international designer."
"She has a such a keen and creative eye," said Neiman's Wilson. "Her vibrant use of colors and mixing is special, very unique to her."
A true symbol of an East-meets-West success story, Feng stands at a crossroads between the U.S. and China and understands the countries' fascination with each other.
"We are travelers today. It's a new century; we go different places," said Feng. "We do not belong to one country anymore. We are worldly. With China, the economy is moving so unbelievably fast. It's fascinating what's going on. You go to Shanghai and you're shocked — it's so international. You can have a Western life and an Eastern life."
She has famous friends, has even dined at the White House with the Clinton family, and yet few people outside the industry know who Han Feng is, and that's just fine with her.
"When I did my first runway show, this p.r. company said, 'We're going to make you rich and famous,'" she said. "I said, 'No, no, I just want to be rich.'"
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