Binbin McNiven

Following stints with Marchesa and McQueen, this Guilin girl's tba label is one to watch.
Which part of China do you hail from and is it possible to trace any ‘orientalism’ in your designs - however subtle - do you think?

I am from Guilin in South China. I came to England ten years ago to study fashion and after working for fashion brands here I decided to set up on my own. I work mainly in silk and so I think that it would be impossible for me not to instill some Asian tendencies into my designs.

At what age did you imagine you’d work in fashion and was there a catalyst that spirited that decision?

I have dreamed of working in fashion since I was a little girl. As far as I can remember I used to sit in class doodling dresses and shoes.

How did you come to be designing with or for Alexander McQueen and what was the best lesson you learned from that?

I was lucky enough to be introduced to him by one of my University tutors who was aware that working there was my dream way before I arrived in England. Working for other designers before starting up on my own gave me an insight into all the different aspects of running a label. Mostly, I learned to remain true to your own design signature.

Who’s the woman you design for, what age range is she?

For my very first collection I was really just designing for myself. Four collections later on I have started to see a specific kind of girl wearing tba in the press and on many fashion blogs. There is not so much an age as a philosophy. The tba girl has a very discerning eye for elegance and is not afraid to experiment, mixing up vintage and contemporary with an effortless style and enthusiasm.

You sell in Little Black Dress in Hong Kong. How did you come to be there and not say, D-mop, or I.T or Harvey Nichols?

Those are all great places that I love to visit when I am in HK - but my label is still quite young and we don’t have an agent for Hong Kong yet. Little Black Dress have been really quick to see what is happening in the UK and incredibly they were one of the first boutiques in the world to sell tba. In fact, they bought my very first collection!

What’s your feeling about Hong Kong fashion and creativity?

Hong Kong creativity is really exciting - the designers are a lot less precious about tradition and because of that they are not held back by any notions of what is considered wrong or right which makes for some really interesting work. In particular they have been happy to push new boundaries and collaborate across brands in ways that are only now becoming common in Europe.

Which women would you most like to have wear your clothes who haven’t yet?

I was going to say Alexa Chung but she just wore a dress from my SS11 for her recent Superga campaign! Claudia Schiffer and vivian Hsu also wore tba recently so the people still left on my list are Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Chloë Sevigny, Clemence Poesy and Audrey Tautou.

What’s your first fashion memory in the UK?

It is not related to my professional experience but not long after I arrived I saw Naomi Campbell in Miu Miu on Bond Street. I remember thinking ‘Wow, that would never happen in Guilin!’

China and fashion - how do you feel about it? Will you go to it, or will it come to you?

China is becoming stronger in fashion all the time. It is easy for westerners to write it off as just a place for manufacture because it is home to some of the most talented pattern cutters and incredible silks. But more and more we are seeing some really interesting designers coming from China and the consumers there are becoming much more sophisticated.

What’s the best film you’ve ever seen from a fashion perspective?

A Single Man. [Tom Ford]

What’s the biggest fashion faux-pas from your point of view?

Mullets and shoulder pads.

Which books are on your bedside table?

A Conversation With Our Daughter by Wang Shuo.

Who would you have most liked to have dressed in history?

The iconic Marianne Faithfull and Brigitte Bardot when they were at the height of their powers.

What are your top three bookmarks? highschool/

How has blogging affected how you choose to market your brand/product?

It is thanks to fashion bloggers taking the label to their hearts and their willingness to experiment with fashions that has helped give my label so much exposure. We don’t have the budgets for any glossy advertising campaign and yet there are still people on hundreds of blogs talking about and sharing pictures of my clothes and almost two thousand fans on the tba fanpage on Facebook. We try and engage with bloggers as much as we can because we recognise that their passion and impartial comments on what they like and don’t like makes them very important to the future of fashion.

Bags? Are there any yet? Could we see one?

My wish is to expand my collection each season to include my dream bag! I am working on it but it’s still under wraps for now.

How do you choose the pattern/ prints/fabric?

It comes from very clear inspirations at the start of each season. The main fabric of each collection is luxurious silk and we mix into this leather, wool and other interesting textures depending on the season. The ballerina print used for SS/2011 was inspired by a Seventies vintage illustration.

Russian ballet is an influence in this SS11 shoot. Where has that come from? Black Swan or Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes or somewhere else entirely?

Black Swan only released in the UK last month and my SS11 was finished last August so it is a happy coincidence if there is an interest in ballet at the moment! It was just a stream of consciousness when I was considering silk and tried to think of an iconic figure that epitomises this kind of balance of feminine, delicate but very strong.

There are Bardot influences in this collection. What’s your favourite Bardot film and why?

Viva Maria because it’s sexy but also very light hearted and fun.

Has being a mother suddenly made you more interested in infant/baby/kids fashion?

Buying baby clothes has become a guilty pleasure for me. My little baby girl mostly wears delicate little vintage pieces that I can’t resist dressing her up in. I’m very interested on that level but at the moment designing for adults is taking up the rest of my time.

Silk is your preferred fabric it seems. What specifically works for you when it comes to silk?

Silk is a fabric with magical qualities. It is incredibly comfortable on the skin and it is warm in the winter but cool in the summer. Once you have worn luxurious silk it is hard to go back to wearing anything else. It is part of my heritage. Silk was invented in China and we have been manufacturing it since around 4000 BC and has the largest selection anywhere in the world - so it gives me an excuse to come home every season!