One day I came across this phrase: “Five sets of clothes are enough for a lifetime.” I was intrigued but also puzzled. Then I met Yuxuan Jiang, the founder of Fuzang, a lifestyle company.
Jiang explained that the “five sets of clothes” come from the ancient Chinese habit of wearing layers. People would often have two long gowns for the spring and summer, then add a long vest for the autumn, and finish off with a coat for winter. At the time, that was considered enough clothing for the year.
Jiang studied philosophy at university before evolving herself into a spiritual practitioner. “I believe the ultimate purpose for human beings is to find the way home. That’s also the original intention of Fuzang—to ‘find the way home.’ It’s a sense of belonging that we’re always looking for in our daily lives.”
She started a fashion business in Beijing about 20 years ago. The business flourished, but after five years, she stepped off the path of material success, sold her company, and went to Beijing University to conduct post-graduate study in Oriental philosophy.
For the next few years, her friends lamented the loss of her business opportunities, yet Jiang felt she was on the path of returning to her true self. She buried herself in books and toured extensively throughout China. From Song Dynasty temples to Tang Dynasty street alleys and Dunhuang grottoes in the Gobi Desert, the experience was a spiritual journey that led her to the next chapter in her life.
That chapter began in 2011 in an entrepreneurial zone for cultural projects in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, where she opened her Fuzang studio to showcase traditional Chinese lifestyles, especially food and clothing.
“It wasn’t my intention to create high-priced collectables enshrined in ivory towers,” she says. “I wanted a practical approach to living that allows people to explore the meaning of life and beyond through clothing, food, spaces, and other aspects of life.”
Food & zen
There’s a saying, “China is where you go to experience food; Szechuan is where you go to experience taste.” Being Szechuanese, Jiang is a natural-born foodie and a good chef. When she entertains guests, she assumes the title of gluttonous master of the Zen dining room. The Chinese word Zen has the same pronunciation as the word gluttonous. So, in a tongue-in-cheek move, she calls her dining room the gluttonous hall instead of the Zen hall.
The gluttonous hall takes its rightful place on the top floor. Natural lighting pours in from large skylights to feed her bamboo and wisteria collection. The old, weathered look of her Chinese furniture is welcoming and unpretentious. Here, the Chinese name for menus, which is literally translated as “list of dishes” is changed to “list of food,” emphasizing the connection food has to the human body, more than its taste or aroma.
Different seasonal and regional produce is carefully selected and paired to balance the yin and yang of the human body and harmonize it with the five elements.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Szechuan cuisine without chili pepper. Chili peppers from around the country fill the cupboard. There are small rice peppers from Hunan, bullet head peppers from Yungui, lantern peppers from Jiangxi, and Er Jing Tiao from Szechuan. The red chili oil is entrancing as it dances in her custom silver hotpot—even those who don’t eat spicy food would be tempted by all this.
A Fuzang dinner
Jiang designs her own silver pots. “This is a pure silver hotpot. During the Tang Dynasty, only officials over a certain rank could use a silver pot for dining. Soups cooked in silver pots have a fine and delicate taste.”
This one is an 11th-generation design. “The previous designs were more angular. We’ve improved the design so it has more curve.”
Jiang serves a vegetarian hotpot: mushroom, bamboo shoots, wood ear, and tofu together with homemade sauces. Boiling in the traditional nine-grid silver cookware, her hotpot dish brings out a calm and refreshing taste even with the fiery chilis.
Dessert is a sweet congee made of lotus petals and jackfruit and served with a flower-petal-shaped spoon.
Jiang summarizes her dining philosophy: “Eastern aesthetics emphasize following nature. It’s a Chinese culinary tradition I believe in. Eat only what’s in season, and no artificial additives. Use the best ingredients and apply the smallest amount of processing possible.”
Tea & books
Opposite the dining room is a tea study. Upon first glance, it looks like a boat. Jiang got her design inspiration from childhood memories of boating with her grandfather on the Wu River.
The study is furnished and decorated with Song Dynasty inspiration. During the Northern Song period, Chinese people sat on the floor, so the floor covering is similar to tatami mats. On the other end of the room is a tea table with five low stools next to it. Low tables were popular during the time of Southern Song.
“People in the past knew how to live. They sat very low. This is actually the most comfortable position for sitting, as it puts less pressure on the heart,” she says.
We sit in this meditative space as Jiang makes tea. It’s peaceful and relaxed. Birds chirp outside the windows. The ink in the ancient books on the bookshelves next to us gives off an aroma that makes us feel like Song Dynasty scholars leisurely enjoying an afternoon gathering.
We talk more about Fuzang. “Actually,” she says, “what I’m doing right now isn’t something that has a definite goal or conviction. I’m just focusing on what I like to do, not what I should do. And looking back, I discover that I’ve actually realized my dreams.”
Even though she’s often called the founder of Fuzang, she sees herself more as an enthusiast who promotes Eastern aesthetics, living philosophy, and food culture.
Clothing & meditation
We talk about her clothing designs, and she says, “I love tea and often meditate. But I couldn’t find clothes that suited me.”
Whether on the road or at home, she couldn’t find clothes that gave her the experience she wanted. She decided to design the outfit she truly wanted, and in doing so, materialized the Fuzang brand. Inspired by monks’ rugged robes, she designed a long robe for herself, which still hangs in her studio today. Long robes, in her view, best elongate the Asian physique. Some time later, she designed her iconic Ink Fragrance collection for men.
The Ink Fragrance collection was created through a serendipitous encounter.
“The first time I saw ink dyeing was at an airport. A Korean monk walked past me. His clothes were so beautiful! The colour was warm grey, not as rigid as industrial dyeing. Later, I went to South Korea and learned the craft.”
Chinese ink dyeing can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Period (771–403 B.C.). Confucian scholars and literati all wore ink-dyed clothes.
Jiang says, “The Ink Fragrance collection conveys the ancient culture of Chinese scholars, literati, and aristocrats. The old aristocracy wasn’t based on financial status like nowadays. They were spiritual aristocrats, in harmony but different. They had fortitude and integrity. That’s what I want to express. As for craftsmanship, it serves the spirits and is a language to express the spirits.”
She defines Fuzang’s style through four characteristics: relaxed, free, easy, and natural.
Essence of style
Relaxation is important in Chinese culture. Whether writing calligraphy or playing instruments, ancient Chinese techniques required the body to be relaxed.
Free invokes energy and vitality. Easy is a reference to the carefree and easygoing state expressed in the Tao school. Natural means to follow the natural course and get ever closer to the origin of all things.
The Ink Fragrance collection is an example of expressing the essence without focusing on the superficial. The collection doesn’t have a strong traditional Chinese style in appearance, but is rather a current expression of ancient culture from a modern designer’s meditations.
Jiang gives an example: “Bamboo represents the courtesy and integrity of the literati. The ancient literati would grow bamboo at home, but they didn’t draw bamboo on their clothes. Anything that’s too tangible is not typically Chinese. Traditional Chinese culture is very restrained.”
Fuzang pushes people to explore what’s on the inside.
“Just imagine the peace and serenity you feel while enjoying a cup of tea,” she says, “and the relaxed and natural state of being that you experience as you sit, sleep, walk, and move about. Everything in your life is connected and should be harmonious.”