Young creative Margaret Zhang operates as a “lone wolf.”
For the “FashioniSM” collaboration with The SM Store, the Australian-Chinese artist did everything: produce, direct, shoot, style, model.
She even edited the campaign video shot in Shanghai and arranged the music.
“I was fortunate to have been given unprecedented control—the luxury of living on Margaret Island,” Zhang said.
SM gave her a “diverse product selection” to work with, and her assignment was to establish the “FashioniSM” concept —“how to wear SM on the streets,” and “how to express (style) in a way that is quite eclectic, but not predictable.”
“I played with it,” Zhang said during the recent launch at SM Makati. She wore a floral top from Smyth, the SM youth label, layered with a stylized black jacket and trousers. Her trademark pink hair was adorned with dainty bling from SM Accessories.
“I didn’t intend to have these many clips on my hair till the campaign!” she said.
Zhang’s dynamic aesthetic and grace come from her background as a ballet dancer and classical pianist before putting up a website at 16 (“I was just talking to a void”).
She finished her law and business degrees at the University of Sydney and, at age 25, has already worked with global luxury brands such as Chanel, Dior, Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
These brands, plus The SM Store, consult with her on “where to put their eggs,” fashion-wise.
“Consumers have the power to choose, and there are so many options,” she said. “The internet democratizes everything: You can decide what’s cool, my brother can decide what’s cool.”
She goes to her brother and dad, for “nonfashion, noncreative advice,” but always follows her instinct, “which is generally right”—something she picked up from growing up in “a very Chinese household” where language and culture are valued.
“My mom is accidentally chic. She’s never concerned with what other people are doing,” Zhang shared. “For her, it’s really important to focus on your skills, and being good at what you do in a substantial way.”
And we can all learn from Mama Zhang’s teachings: “Appearances mean nothing if you don’t have the education or skills to back it up. You will fall down eventually if you don’t have the foundation. You can’t be frustrated with people appearing to do so well because, in the end, it’s substance that will get you through as a person and as a professional.”
Such upbringing helped Zhang land on Forbes Asia’s 30Under30 and TimeOut’s 40Under40 lists, win ELLE Magazine’s Best Digital Influencer of The Year Award, and have her work recognized by the Business of Fashion BoF500 Index.
Asked for her thoughts on Asians finally being recognized following the success of the “Crazy Rich Asians” movie, she said, “It’s a movement that needs to continue, and we can never be too complacent.”
She added, “I get annoyed when people say, ‘It’s so great that Asians are having a moment right now.’ There’s always culture coming out of Asia. We’ve always had talent; you’re just not paying attention, and it’s not my problem.”
Zhang shared some style lessons.
“It’s not a formula; it doesn’t matter how expensive, well-designed or interesting your clothes are if you are not confident in them.”
Take note, kids: “What you’re wearing is an extension of yourself, so if there’s not enough of you to express, then the end result is never gonna be super strong.”
And always remember that learning style is a process, and confidence can be developed.
“I am a natural introvert, and a trained extrovert. I overcame public anxiety through speaking and debating in high school,” she said.
It is also important to be social-media smart, “to be able to differentiate what is real from what is not, and not be intimidated because what you see on the internet is only a small fraction of people’s real lives.
“When people tell me, ‘Your life is so glamorous and you travel so much’—that’s only 0.05 percent of what I am actually doing,” Zhang says.
So what else does Margaret Zhang do?
She makes films. She forces herself to read up even on subjects that make her uncomfortable. She updates herself on what’s happening in global economy, international politics, and other art forms.
She rests, too, sometimes.
“I work as a crazy person, but it’s important to be conscious of how you are, because if you’re not the best version of yourself, then you’re not gonna be able to do your best work.”
She has also learned to put her gadgets down. “I used to take photos of everything, but the sun will set again tomorrow; I take time to just appreciate what is happening right now.”
Coming to Manila to meet with the SM team was also important to her, since she works online and never sees her colleagues.
“The older I get, the more I realize the importance of face-to-face interaction—it gets things done more quickly.
“It’s also nice to see my actual work,” she said, pointing at the huge “FashioniSM” backdrop at the center of the mall.