Tony Li: Orientale Afresh

That he dares, and loves, to clad himself in Scottish attire reveals an unconventional philosophy behind famed Chinese make-up artist Tony Li’s aesthetics. Convention is cliché. Imitation is trite. Li has become one of the most sought-after make-up artists and image consultants in China, with a reach that goes beyond the brush and palette.

With the opportunities that come his way, Tony Li endeavours to thrive on rejuvenating Oriental aesthetics in the global fashion amphitheatre. Rather than simply a make-up artist, he identifies himself as ‘an entrepreneur’. His China-based fashion empire, which comprises salons, cosmetics institutes, management agencies and many others, has proved a thrilling success both locally and worldwide. His work has not only provided the industry with its own sense of home grown pride, but has propelled his unique aesthetics into the forefront of the region, affecting perceptions of Chinese beauty internationally.

WestEast attempt to explore Tony Li’s ideas of beauty, the changing face of China and his expectations of the country as a fashion powerhouse.

What do you think is unique about Chinese beauty?

With a history of a few thousand years, China enjoys a rich cultural heritage and a hybrid culture. Against such a historical background, Chinese art is diversified in its own right, assimilating virtues from varied sources while upholding an Oriental inner beauty.

The reform and opening-up policy has gradually broadened Chinese people’s horizons. Over the past 30 years, Chinese people have cultivated a whole new philosophy of Chinese lifestyle, one that embraces Western aesthetics and reinterprets virtues of indigenous culture. From imitating others to coming into its own being, Chinese aesthetics has advanced at such a stunning pace.

You have been working as a top make-up artist for years in China. What change is have you seen in the fashion and beauty industries over these years, as China rises globally?

It has been more than 20 years since I started my career. In those years, I managed to witness how the Chinese fashion and beauty industries have manifested prosperity.

With continual economic growth, liberation of the press and the ‘Internet Era’ in China, designers and consumers now enjoy more individual freedoms to express their thoughts, and get ever closer to the rest of the world. A strong purchasing power and a robust consumption market have collectively pushed Chinese cosmetics and fashion brands to an unprecedented development level.

That Chinese citizens become more open-minded has also fostered interaction between different industries in China.

In your opinion, how will the economic and political power of China affect the international perception about Chinese people and Chinese beauty?

China’s economic and political strength has grown considerably, which has boosted a sense of belonging to the motherland among its citizens. Countries from around the world now pay due respect for China with a more in-depth or new understanding of Chinese beauty, and Chinese citizens will have more confidence in their own culture and lifestyle.

Where do you see China in 20 years?

China will come to the global forefront in 20 years, its huge market capable of impacting all industries over the world.

You have made up some of China’s biggest stars. Whose face has inspired you most?

Over the past 20 years, I together with my team have worked with numerous famed film and TV stars, models and celebrities alike. Each era is replete with varied people who give me unique inspiration. It is the plurality of people, each of whom with a distinct personality, that makes it difficult to say who is most inspiring.

Who do you think are the top Chinese models at present?

Lu Yan, Liu Wen, Du Juan, Chun Xiao,xx, Shu Pei-qin, Wang Wen-qing Anna, Xi Mengyao, Sun Fei-fei, Li Xin, to name a few.

Do you think that Chinese faces will ever come to dominate international fashion, as Caucasians do now?

The answer is a definite ‘yes’. In the future, people from China’s fashion and beauty industries will surpass others from around Asia and reach the pinnacle of the world.

Who are your favourite designers in the fashion business?

Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, Ann Demeulemeester, Vivienne Westwood, Martin Margiela, Giorgio Armani, and Jean Paul Gaultier.

Your career has been a successful and esteemed one, but do you have a secret dream job that you would like to do?

I’ve for long been interested in technical training, salon operation, and graphic design; that’s why our Tony Studio has expanded business to varied markets such as salons, education institutes, management agencies and professional studios. An integrated approach has yielded tremendous success for us. In future, we’ll embrace the reinforcement of the whole industry chain – speeding up the development of D.T Tony Studio, Cosy Café and sports brand DSpace, and building a closer relationship with our customers.

I also have a particularly strong passion for interior design and décor; I believe people who know us can trace such passion from the numerous branches of Tony Studio across China.

Text: Nicky Ng
Interview: Jing Zhang

Published in Issue 31 CHINA, 2010