The breakthrough story of the Taiwanese label dubbed the ‘Chanel of Asia’ as told by its Southeast Asian partner, Steffanie Chua.

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A soft peony pink dress lined in fur, from the Shiatzy Chen fall/winter 2015 collection worn by Steffanie Chua.

Like a power house that feeds on perpetual energy, the world of fashion is fuelled by the imagination of creative ingénues, each one more unique and innovative than the last. If you observe, modern fashion is more about interpreting the wearer and the skill of piecing a garment together, less about the story.

From the first sketch, Taiwanese haute couture label, Shiatzy Chen, had always been guided by a story unique to the Chinese heritage of historical symbols and mythology. Adept at combining fabrics and flattering silhouettes, founder and designer of Shiatzy Chen, Wang Chen Tsai-Hsia, is known to transform men and women before their very own eyes.

Five years ago, a Malaysian entreprenuer, Steffanie Chua, chanced upon a Shiatzy Chen store whilst shopping in Shanghai, wandered in and deliberately picked out a dress without a second thought. After putting it on, Steffanie glimpsed her reflection in the mirror and was stunned to behold a poised, softer and more confident figure.

“Although I’d tried a piece I wasn’t sure of, it led to the discovery of an inner beauty"

That was all it took to convince the owner of retail brand Identity Lab to put in a request  to bring the brand to Malaysia. Everything quickly fell in place. Not only did Steffanie become the sole partner of the brand’s Southeast Asian boutique of the 90 worldwide stores, she formed a close bond with Tsai-Hsia and her family, she informed us, as we toured the roomy and elegant store in Starhill Gallery. 

Humble beginnings
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Steffanie Chua wears a yellow cocktail dress from the Shiatzy Chen fall/winter 2016 collection.

Founded in 1970, the neo-Chinese chic brand had ambitions to break into the western world, and pursue, it did. From 2009, Shiatzy Chen gained recognition and respect as the first Asian-owned brand to showcase at Paris Fashion Week. Its atelier in Paris's Rue Saint Honoré has opened doors to the international fashion market, winning over loyalists with its eastern aesthetics. In return, Shiatzy Chen had incorporated western influences, specifically the figure-flattering cuttings of French couture.

For a niche Asian brand to be called the 'Chanel of Asia' alongside global luxury designers signalled a success at breaking ranks. Sealing the deal further in 2010,Tsai-Hsia was ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the 25 most influential Chinese in global fashion.

“Through these heritage design elements, I can make friends and communicate the Chinese culture to our customers”

As we pored over the collections, designs chronicle China’s most powerful dynasties, inspired by Tsai-Hsia’s personal curation of paintings, embroideries and poetry. 

A complex process


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A riot of colour splashed across dresses with traditional symbols and contemporary cuts from Shiatzy Chen's 2015 and 2016 collections.


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Meticulous embroidery from the spring/summer 2016 collection.


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Precious stone brooches that double as bracelets.


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Clutches hand-sewn with sequins, stud and embellishment.


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Close up of a monkey etched onto a dress from the "Journey to the West" collection.


For the 2016 collection,Tsai-Hsia paid tribute to the Chinese fantasy literature, “Journey to the West.” Whimsical embroideries of butterflies, mountains, monkeys and cobwebs are brought to life in a flurry of flowy romantic fabrics for spring/summer, and descend into the darker, hypnotic world of demons and cobwebs for autumn/winter.

Tsai-Hsia’s knack for translating her love of art into creations was experienced firsthand when the pair went on a fabric-shopping trip to Italy and France. “We started at 9am and ended at 9pm – I’d lost count of the factories we visited,” recalled Steffanie. “She would sketch designs herself and tell the factories to print them for a coming season. Tsai-Hsia had combined fabrics in her mind and envisioned eclectic dresses because the next time I saw them, they were on the catwalk,” marvelled Steffanie.

For Tsai-Hsia as a designer, even the inner piece makes a difference. A variety of organza and silk are matched with various colour combinations for a comfortable and structural result. Interestingly, shared Steffanie, Tsai-Hsia customises fabric and colour selection to the Malaysian climate, and only 25% of her original collections are available locally. 

In anticipation: spring/summer 2017

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Pieces from the spring summer 2017 "Cutting Clouds" collection.

Although heavily influenced by Chinese heritage, the well-travelled Tsai-Hsia has an eye for architectural beauty too as depicted in her spring/summer 2017 collection. Mesmerised by the light and moving clouds through the stained glass windows of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia, she created a geometric, 1920s Art Deco collection, "Cutting Clouds."

At the presentation, bright silks, light pleats and lavish floral details swished down the catwalk. Silhouettes were long and loose, with a touch of structure. Fabrics, a mix of silk print and print jacquard, with lace and sparkly embellishment.

Till today, Steffanie can’t pinpoint her favourite collection: “From the first to the last collection, every season has inspired me because every story is different."

Steffanie has a point there: in looking to western architecture for inspiration, Shiatzy Chen’s latest collection suggests at more surprises to come.

(Steffanie Chua photos and collection photos by Shaffiq Farhan, spring/summer 2017 photos from Shiatzy Chen)

The crème de la crème of society who love the brand as much as we dospotted celebrating Shiatzy Chen's 5th anniversary in Malaysia at a gala dinner

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