Katherine von Rechenberg has been living and working in Beijing since 2000. The fashion designer first travelled to China in search of a rare and almost forgotten fabric.
Tea silk or xiangyunsha, (which translates as ‘fragrant cloud organdy’) is silk which has been through a complicated natural dye process with traditions that date back to the Ming Dynasty (14th – 17th century), when it was considered to be the most luxurious fabric. The silk is dyed 30 to 40 times with a type of tannin-rich yam, and laid out flat to dry between each immersion. It is covered with a particular type of uncontaminated, iron rich river mud, which endows it with its characteristic dark sheen. In the past, the silk was washed in a stew of leftover tea of it’s namesake before finishing. The process results in a natural, uneven shading; dark on one side and a rust brown on the reverse. The lustrous finish increases with age, like a pearl and as the material ages, the colour darkens and texture softens. These magical qualities mean that sometimes the silk is stored for years, before being fashioned into hand-stitched clothes.
Rechenburg’s couture philosophy encompasses a passion for fine fabrics, timeless elegance and understated exclusivity and as such, tea silk suits the atelier perfectly. She explains it’s appeal: “Its uniqueness lies in a complicated dying process as well as in the unique quality of the end product: tea silk is extraordinarily smooth, fresh, glossy, it’s comfortable for the skin and it’s antibacterial, thanks to a special dye bath,”
Simple, geometric cuts create a contemporary Asian look that shows off the tea silk to it’s best advantage. Von Rechenburg plans to continue to explore other natural dye practices ensuring the survival and preservation of stunning, ancient colour.