Interview: Angelica Cheung

The editor of Vogue China on Chinese designers and her tough reputation

As editor-in-chief of Vogue China, Angelica Cheung is one of the most powerful women in the fashion world. Ahead of China Fashion Week, she talks to Time Out about next season’s trends, the future for Chinese designers and her ‘tough’ reputation

It’s a hectic Friday morning at Vogue China as we arrive to interview the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Angelica Cheung. British actress Joanna Lumley is running around the editorial department of China’s fashion bible with Cheung in the background, girlishly laughing at her antics. The eccentric Lumley, known for her role as Patsy Stone in the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, is shooting a documentary with her camera crew, doing retakes of her and Cheung walking in and out of office doors.

‘Isn’t this fabulous?’ says Lumley, as she presses her cheek against the wall of the office’s glam reception, pouting her lips and making exaggerated model poses. ‘We must Instagram this,’ says Cheung cheerfully after taking a picture with the famous actor.

This is not what we were expecting at all. Fashion editors have something of a reputation for being tough, demanding characters, something we’re familiar with through industry experience and, of course, obsessively watching The Devil Wears Prada.

After Lumley departs, Cheung returns to her office, which is simply decorated with a sleek white table, Philippe Starck ‘Ghost’ chairs, white orchids and a wall lined with small Polaroid pictures of future Vogue pages. ‘It’s like placing puzzles, you know? There are loads of creative factors, logistical factors and lots of political factors [to consider],’ she says.

Before sitting down to chat, Cheung changes out of her black Salvatore Ferragamo pumps for a pair of slender, nude-coloured Louis Vuitton heels. The switch gives a lighter touch to her spotted drop-waist silk dress from Chloé, which is accessorised with a Tiffany pearl tassel necklace.

Cheung is obviously aware of her reputation for being hard-faced: ‘Because of my hairstyle and the fact that I’m quite straightforward in the way I talk, a lot of people who don’t know me are a little bit scared of me, they think I’m tough and hard to deal with. I like to think I’m actually very nice and very easy to get on with, so I guess that’s something you didn’t know!’ Indeed, Cheung is well known for her asymmetrical bob – a style she’s had for 13 years. ‘I’m trying to grow out my hair. My daughter says I look like a boy,’ she jokes, referring to her seven-year-old daughter, Hayley.

Her employees constantly buzz around her with slight trepidation, not wanting to waste a second when beckoned – understandable when you’re working for China’s foremost fashion figure. But Cheung exudes a genuine nature about her. And, for the record – she really is nice.

Cheung wasn’t always immersed in the fashion world. In her early days, she cut her teeth working as a journalist in Hong Kong, until the handover in 1997. After stints as editorial director at Elle China and editor-in-chief of Marie Claire Hong Kong, she was cherry-picked by publisher Condé Nast to launchVogue China in 2005.

The 48-year-old editor is a woman of substance – emanating the intelligence, wit and glamour that you’d expect of someone in her position. It’s these qualities she looks for when selecting her cover girls. ‘All our cover girls... yes, they’re obviously fashionable on the outside but really, [the Vogue girl] is a loving person, she’s optimistic, she’s positive, and she has a certain contribution to [offer] the world.’

Cheung is constantly on the road. She travels four months of the year for business and fashion weeks around the world. But when she’s home in Beijing, she’s a typical working parent. She’s up at 6.30am, gets her daughter ready and takes her to school by 8am, before heading to the office for 8.30am, where her days are filled with internal meetings about the magazine and receiving visitors from around the world. ‘I try to finish work between 6 and 7pm. I try not to work on the weekends, but I do tend to end up spending half my weekends flying around for business trips.’

"Angelica-Cheungv"When Vogue China launched nine years ago, Cheung says the fashion scene barely existed, with few homegrown designers and an apparently unprepared market. ‘Everybody thought we would lose, that we would fail,’ she says. She explains that industry observers thought the Chinese audience wasn’t ready for a high-fashion magazine such as Vogue. Boy were they wrong – the magazine now boasts 1.2 million readers and prints on average 400 to 500 pages every month. ‘Every issue is a September issue for us,’ she says.

The September issue is important for other Vogue editions because the autumn/winter season commences in August and the climax of the fashion calendar falls in September, when people begin to shop for the season. In China, it’s slightly different. People don’t shop just for that month, they shop throughout the [next] few months. Our October issue is usually bigger than September. Then, November, December is pretty much the same size.’

Over the years, Vogue China has become known for providing a generous platform to small-scale Chinese designers, creating a stairway to stardom for many. But now, Cheung is trying to find a more sustainable way to support local young talent. ‘Because we feature them, every media features them. Now I’m starting to think there’s an imbalance because, on the one hand, it’s great to promote them... [but] I feel sometimes it’s not really good for them to become so well known while their operation remains at a lower level. It’s actually very destructive to a young talent sometimes.’ She stresses that talent and operations have to work hand-in-hand, but nevertheless remains optimistic for the future of Chinese designers. ‘They still have time to grow,’ she says.

As for her own achievements, Cheung credits Vogue China’s success to its ability to meld the Chinese and international fashion worlds together. ‘I think that’s what China is about today. It’s obviously, well, Chinese, but at the same time, the whole world is coming to China; and the Chinese, they’re going everywhere in the world. So this is the magazine that represents today’s mood of the Chinese – which is when China meets the world.’

Angelica Cheung's A/W fashion forecast

For comfort and ease at the office
Trainers. ‘Stumbling around in vertiginous heels feels silly when you have sleek trainers designed by the likes of Dior, Chanel and Adidas. Stan Smiths are the current favourite among industry insiders, and are sported by everybody from Pharrell to Phoebe Philo.’

For warmth
A shearling coat. ‘You can go bright and daring like Prada or Gucci, or stick to the natural shades favoured by Tommy Hilfiger, Coach et al. The choices are endless.’

To jazz things up
A single earring. ‘It’s an easy way to update your look. Large dangling earrings were worn solo at the key shows this season.’

China Fashion Week is from Saturday 25 to Friday 31 at various venues. Some events are open to the public. For more, see www.english.chinafashionweek.org

Comments