The pursuit of mastery

The pursuit of mastery

Chris Ran Lin is a Chinese Australian designer steeped in both cultures and pushing the boundaries of male fashion.


What a difference a year makes…


On the 12th of March 2020, Chris Ran Lin was showcasing his 2020 collection at The Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival is an annual celebration of fashion, arts and ideas. A few days later the city’s first pandemic lockdown would begin.


Ran Lin was due to fly on the 20th to China. He was looking forward to starting work on a collection there with his newly established Studio. The trip was put on hold. One year later, the designer has still not been able to travel.


Ran Lin arrived in Australia in 2004. He came with his family, his parents and two younger siblings. They moved to be near family here. By the time Chris arrived, his love of fashion design had already solidified.


The pursuit of mastery


Ran Lin grew up in the perfect environment for a designer. His mother owned a fabric shop where she also worked as a dressmaker. His grandmother was a handcraft artist who knitted and embroidered dresses as a hobby.


In the shop, in Guangdong, Ran Lin became his mother’s little assistant, watching how clothes were put together. In time, he started to have his own ideas for changing and improving the designs. Luckily for him, his mother was open to hearing them.


“I didn’t have any concept at the time about fashion design. I started to think about changing design elements, making suggestions like – you could change the neckline.” He was around 12 or 13 years old at the time. His parents supported his interest and he began studying fashion design in China, before the family moved.


On arrival in Melbourne, Ran Lin had first to learn English and after that he enrolled in TAFE then RMIT to study fashion design. He stood out for the originality of his designs and the craftsmanship which he had developed over many years.


After graduating in 2011, he did a Masters Degree. Later he became a tutor in tailoring, a tribute to the many thousands of hours he spent developing his craft. He encourages his students to absorb the methods


Challenging the status quo


Ran Lin works by hand, stitching imaginative garments that lead fashion trends rather than following them. He’s drawn to experiment with styles and methods.


His designs are truly inventive, “Some elements can come from mistakes. That’s the beauty of doing it myself. It’s more about exploring the design and technique. The final product is all about the process. It ends up with some incredible results you never expect. That’s how I can keep my designs so original and organic. I see what comes up.”


He aims his designs at a group of male customers who are looking for something different. It strikes a balance between modern menswear and traditional craftsmanship. His designs include high-quality fibres and fabrics throughout.


In 2020 the colours were lush, his new 2021 line “zero” looks set to be in more sober colours with softness on hard structures.


Defying categorisation


It’s impossible for the designer to identify the influences on his work because he is both Chinese and Australian and so steeped in the experience of both cultures.


As Ran Lin says, “My work defies categorisation. It has some Asian flavour, but it’s not obvious. It might be there organically.”


He’s grateful for the level of attention his work has received. He thinks it would be much harder to get noticed in China. At the same time, the market potential is huge.


“When I started my label, it wasn’t very commercial. I was lucky that Creative Victoria presented it to the fashion world. They support small labels to get more exposure. Since then I’ve changed the business model to make it more commercial.


But still, it’s been a hard year for luxury fashion. A year like no other. And Ran Lin is waiting and hoping that things will pick up soon.


Ran Lin remains hands-on.


“I still basically make everything myself, at least for the prototype. It’s important that the designer knows every detail of their own designs.


Sometimes, if I don’t have the machinery to do what I want, I ask the factory if they can make a tool to do it.


There are also a lot of new factory techniques becoming available now which are interesting to experiment with for new results.”


Everything is still so uncertain


Asked to reflect on how the Chinese have responded to COVID-19, Ran Lin explains,


“The Chinese look at the pandemic very seriously. Most Chinese are living in larger family groups. They really care about family. They know if they get sick they might get the rest of the family sick, so they are happy to comply with restrictions. They don’t even need to be told to.”


What now for Ran Lin?


“The first step is to survive. Everything is still so uncertain.” Like so many other Australian creatives, the challenge is to hold on until things pick up again.


He’s still working towards Shanghai Fashion Week in April without being able to travel in person.


He’s been hand making the garments here, as usual and sending them through customs to arrive in China. It’s a slow process, but worth it as the Chinese luxury market grows.


He’s still trying to break into the Chinese market, but the reward could be very high if he succeeds. Ran Lin is a designer to watch.


Watch the Fashion Unites 2021 film featuring Ran Lin’s work here.


Sara Tiefenbrun, writing for Multicultural Museums Victoria, 2021

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