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Looking in the first lady's mirror

(China Daily)

09:06, April 03, 2013

When Peng Liyuan stepped off the plane in Moscow, the whole world wanted to know who dressed the elegant first lady. Chen Jie lifts the veil on designer Ma Ke.

Peng Liyuan has been wearing Ma Ke's designs for more than a decade, a fact that was only highlighted recently when the first lady accompanied her husband President Xi Jinping on his first state visit to Russia and three African countries. The elegant and glamorous Peng, formerly a popular singer, has been compared to the US' first lady Michelle Obama and France's Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, since stepping off the airplane in Moscow on March 22. Suddenly, everyone was curious to know more about the first lady's wardrobe.

Even so, Ma has been reluctant to raise the veil, as she prefers a low-key approach. "If you eat a tasty egg why would you want to see the hen?" she says of all the media attention.

Ma's relationship with Peng began 10 years ago after a concert in Guangzhou when a reporter told Peng she knew the designer behind the label Exception de Mixmind, which was based in the provincial city. Peng asked for an introduction because she was a fan of Ma's designs and had been wearing them for years.

The two naturally became friends.

"I never choose a customer, the clothes do this," Ma says.

"The painting reflects the painter, and the writing mirrors the writer. Clothes reflect both the designer and the wearer. Desire for fame and wealth, or love and compassion; what you have in your heart is reflected in the design.

"If someone does not share my philosophy they will not buy my clothes. Professor Peng is a caring person, dedicated to charity and environmental protection, which is exactly what I'm doing now."

Ma calls the first lady "professor" as Peng was the first Chinese soprano to earn a master's degree, and was a visiting professor at China Conservatory of Music and the Music Institute of Shanghai Normal University.

It was three months ago that Ma received an order from the first lady to design her wardrobe for her debut state visit.

"I did not feel surprise or any pressure. We've been friends for many years and I know she loves and understands my designs."

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