Chinese Australian fashion influencer Margaret Zhang appointed editor-in-chief of Vogue China

Experts say the 27-year-old can help ‘keep the good ties rolling’ between the two countries at a time of ‘political skirmishes’

A 27-year-old Chinese Australian fashion influencer has been appointed editor-in-chief of Vogue China in a move experts believe could serve as positive soft diplomacy at a time of increasing tension between Canberra and Beijing.

Margaret Zhang, who was born in Sydney and grew up in the suburb of West Ryde, is Vogue’s youngest editor-in-chief – despite having never edited a magazine.

Zhang launched a successful fashion blog at the age of 16 and has worked as a consultant to brands looking to enter the Chinese market including Airbnb and Mulberry. She has 1.2 million Instagram followers.

Anna Wintour, Vogue’s global editorial director, believes Zhang can help grow the magazine’s reach in China some 16 years after it launched an edition in the country.

“Her international experience, exceptional multi-platform digital expertise and wide-ranging interests are the perfect combination to lead Vogue China into the future,” Wintour said.

Li Li, managing director of Condé Nast China – Vogue’s publisher – praised Zhang as understanding “the emerging trends of a new generation of Chinese”. Zhang previously collaborated with Vogue in China, producing and appearing on two covers of spinoff titles.

“We welcome her creativity and innovation in defining new media approaches and look forward to her bringing global fashion to China while taking Chinese culture to the rest of the world,” Li said.

In announcing her appointment, Vogue described Zhang as “an unmistakable presence on the front row” of fashion shows around the world, noting her trademark brightly dyed hair – which is currently a “vivid shade of blue” – and her “minimal yet eclectic” sense of style.

Outlining her vision for Vogue China, Zhang said “there’s a lot of context about China that is lost”.

“Often it’s looked at as this one monolithic entity, as opposed to a country of individuals and innovations,” she said.

“Vogue China has an immense platform to communicate about those individuals not only to the world but to its own citizens. There’s a huge opportunity to champion local talent — in film, music, and the fine arts, in addition to fashion — and bring it to a global stage because it’s such a recognizable brand and so trusted.”

Zhang’s rise to prominence in the fashion world came as she studied commerce and law at the University of Sydney – where she was involved in campus life, including being involved in law faculty student camps.

The woman who put a penguin onesie in my wardrobe is Vogue's youngest ever editor. (Legit, she ran the parties at first-year law camp. It was 2013; judge not lest ye etc.)

— Mary Ward (@marywardy) February 25, 2021

She grew up in Sydney, after her parents moved from Huangyan, in Zhejiang province, but has been based in New York for the past five years, while travelling to China every couple of months.

It’s those links with Sydney, and the networks she takes into the role, that will be an important projection of positive Australian culture in China at a time when ties between the countries have deteriorated, said Tim Harcourt, an economist of international business at the University of New South Wales.

The fact Zhang will begin editing the magazine from Sydney – where she is currently living before moving to Beijing when the pandemic eases – adds to the potential for her editorship to serve as soft diplomacy at a time when traditional diplomatic channels are failing.

“Australian fashion designers have done pretty well in Asia in general, and this is just the natural progression of that trend,” Harcourt said.

The academic said there was now a generation of Chinese Australians about Zhang’s age whose parents moved to Australia after the Tiananmen Square massacre and who now operate businesses linking the two countries.

Harcourt, who is working on a television show about Chinese Australians and social media ties between the two countries, said there were many influencers, especially across food and fashion, based in Australia whose blogs and posts on different sites are seen by millions of users in China.

“When something positive comes out of Australia, or from an Australian, there’s the ability to humanise and generate interest in our culture and lifestyle,” Harcourt said, noting there had always been a fascination within China about Australia’s environment.

“Yes there’s rhetoric between our governments, but the Chinese people are still fond of Australia, and vice versa.

“This is another avenue to keep the good ties rolling during the political skirmish. It is creating ties between the Chinese and the Australian people.”


Elias Visontay

The GuardianTramp

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