Brett Chudá, Contributing Writer
Mulan – China’s dainty daughter turned military leader – still commands our imaginations today, more than a thousand years after her selfless story. Shen Yun’s 2009 show pays homage to her legend with the dance Mulan Joins the Battle. Drawing inspiration from this performance, battalions of designers and artisans at Shen Yun Collections have created an exceptional collection to immortalize Mulan’s legacy and provide one-of-a-kind treasures for aesthetes around the world.
You may have seen the four pieces of our latest Spirit of Mulan Collection, all handcrafted in Spain from full-grain leather: the tote bag, the small tote bag, the crossbody bag, and the phone bag.
But did you know that each bag is the culmination of over 400 hours of work by designers, product developers, leather tanners, pattern makers, leathersmiths, and hardware manufacturers?
Today, we’re bringing you an exclusive look at how exactly the Spirit of Mulan Collection came to be!
It all began with design. We had the opportunity to sit down with Anna Lo, the Spirit of Mulan Collection’s lead designer.
"As Mulan is one of our first collections," Anna told us, "the team put extra effort into how to deliver a unique piece to the customer."
"We asked ourselves ‘how can we embrace Chinese culture and this Shen Yun story [Mulan Joins the Battle, 2009] and incorporate them in a high-end, specially-branded product?’"
Another challenge she described was "perfecting the bag's design to delight the customer’s aesthetics and need for functionality."
Once these goals were in sight, the team began experimenting with ideas to bring the Spirit of Mulan tote bags to life.
They designed numerous different handles and tested them with prospective clients. The logo was changed from gold stamping to metal in order to stand out more. But what took the most time and effort was designing the shape of the bag.
"We wanted to deliver the perfect shape that could still maintain the softness and the texture of premium full grain leather," Anna said, "but with a sturdiness. We wanted the bag to maintain its shape. We made multiple samples for just this reason. Because what you might often see is that, when you add stabilizing material to keep the bag 'standing,' the leather’s texture is changed beyond recognition. It’s no longer soft to the touch."
After much experimentation, every piece in the Spirit of Mulan collection is perfectly soft to the touch yet impeccably maintains its shape and structure.
Regarding the designs on the totes themselves, even the simplest-looking lines are directly inspired by Shen Yun’s onstage depiction of the famous heroine.
Drawing from Mulan’s army general costume, the bag’s face is adorned with rivets and a rectangular panel design, representing strength and courage.
Mulan’s femininity is presented on the other side of the totes, which features a gently curved pocket design. These contours were particularly popular in Ancient China, commonly found in the collars of women’s clothing.
Further, the Spirit of Mulan Collection is available in a wide variety of vibrant colors, much like Shen Yun Performing Arts’s Mulan costumes. The mint and pink colors are notoriously difficult to achieve using leather — it even took a top Italian tannery over two months to properly balance this joyous vibrancy with sophisticated subtlety. In fact, this tannery now exclusively supplies these specially-colored leathers for Shen Yun Collections!Next, let’s take a closer look at how each Mulan bag is carefully handcrafted.
To ensure that Mulan’s legacy is properly honored, the Shen Yun Collections product developers turned to craftsmen in Urbique, Spain. Since the 19th century, these local artisans have been world-renowned for their handmade fine leather goods. Taking great care with each piece, they leverage traditional methods and generations of experience to guarantee the greatest quality.
At this point, a substantial number of hours have already been invested in the collection's design and material procurement. But the next step, actually manufacturing each bag, is where the bulk of the 400 hours are spent. The level of craftsmanship demanded by our premium leather bags cannot be achieved by machines, meaning our bags are all individually handmade. In fact, our artisans in Urbique even personally polish and package the finished products themselves!
Other details, such as zipper dye-to-match colors and customized hardware, also require months of effort.
A gold-toned dancer insignia is exclusively cast for the Spirit of Mulan Collection and is hand polished by top metalworkers in Korea. Such details are uncommon in leather products today due to the immense time and skill required to produce them. One metalworker we spoke to told us that working on Shen Yun Collections’s hardware is actually similar to creating jewelry due to the intricate detailing, including the dancer’s shoes, her skirt’s folds, and hair.
Divine Inspiration, Daily Application
The four hundred hours of work that go into creating our Spirit of Mulan Collection ensure the balance of high-quality elegance with deep symbolic meaning – perfect for the modern-day Mulans of the world!
No matter what challenges you may face, each piece of this collection serves to invigorate your spirit with the strength and elegance of China’s most famous heroine.