Hundreds of fashion products melding inherited traditional skills with modern designs were on display at the Shanghai Design Week over the weekend showing how traditional heritage can be kept alive in today’s world.

The exhibits were jointly designed by handicraft masters, mostly from remote mountainous regions, and fashion designers from around the world.

The exhibition, jointly organized by the Shanghai University’s Academy of Fine Arts and Public Art Coordination Center at the Shanghai Exhibition Center, displayed how ancient skills can be used to craft modern products.

Shanghai’s traditional cloth, for instance, a listed city-level intangible cultural heritage dating back to over 600 years ago, was turned into scarves and handbags which were exhibited for the first time at the fashion week.

Some galsang flower-themed silver jewelry from Guoluo in northwestern Qinghai Province was developed into a fashion brand with the help of designers, while Tibetan silver jewelry was attached to French leather bags waistbands and other innovative products.

A prominent exhibit featured a multitude of the nation’s ancient cloth dyeing, weaving and embroidery skills that were combined into a modern art installation named the Maritime Silk Road.

Shanghai Design Week.
Photo: A fashion show, at cultural heritages, is staged during the Shanghai Design Week.

Several white sails, made with ancient silk weaving skills, resembled a ship with bamboo structures. A total of 56 cushions, featuring various dyeing skills and in the shape of drops of water, were placed around the ship. Visitors were invited to sit on the drops to listen to the sound of the sea and watch the centrepiece installation.

A fashion show was also staged during the week, with 38 fashion clothes involving a total of 18 listed intangible cultural heritages displayed. They were designed and made by 36 groups of designers and heritage masters.

Wu Maihua, a heritage master of Chengcheng embroidery in northwest Shaanxi Province, cooperated with local designer Lu Kun to develop the traditional embroidery on shoes into peacock-themed fashion clothes.

Though the Chengcheng embroidery is not as famous as those from Jiangsu and Sichuan provinces, the traditional skills express people’s longing for a better life, Wu said. She learnt the skills from her mother who is also a heritage master.

Six heritage masters on bamboo weaving, silver jewelry making of the Miao ethnic group, silk weaving and various genres of embroidery, worked together to design a group of costumes and jewelry for actors and actresses in a musical about a legendary love story between a white snake and a young scholar.

“Thousands miles of mountains and rivers,” a famous painting from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) painter Wang Ximeng was developed into a long dress with traditional silk weaving skills.

These works come from a Ministry of Culture training program, which sends those with traditional skills to study in university for a month.

Since the program began in 2015, 128 universities and colleges have participated in classes for 15,000 heritage handicraft masters in disciplines such as bamboo carving, silver jewelry making, mud sculpture and ceramics.

Shanghai University’s Academy of Fine Arts, a leading institute of the program, has trained more than 450 heritage handicraft masters and developed hundreds of products in three years with the help of professors and art design students of the university.

China has listed 1,986 items as national “intangible cultural heritage,” including in the fields of literature, music, dance, opera, sports, arts, handicrafts, traditional medicine and folk arts. It is fighting to keep them from being lost forever.