Local fashion designer, new mom expands business to Shanghai

C/FAN Anita Shawl (Jeffrey Lee / Lee Gong Zi Studios)
The Autumn-Winter 2014 Anita Shawl in black and red print. (Jeffrey Lee / Lee Gong Zi Studios)

By Mallory Hughes

Native Chicago designer Christina Fan is hoping to change the way women wear furs.

In 2008, Fan designed and launched C/FAN, a women’s wear collection, out of her apartment in Wicker Park. Responding to demand, the line quickly evolved into a contemporary fur accessories brand, featuring hats, scarves, vests and sweatshirts made from rabbit, lamb, fox and raccoon.

“It was born out of necessity due to our weather,” Fan said. “I wanted to offer something that was playful, season-less and easy to wear.”

Fan transforms furs, which can be considered serious and stuffy, into luxurious, often witty items can be worn every day. Her hand-knit rabbit beanies have fuzzy ears sewn on top ($124 – $135), while the cowls come in multicolored zigzag patterns or vibrant solids like fuchsia, aqua and lemon yellow ($207 – $238).

(Jeffrey Lee / Lee Gong Zi Studios)
Christina Fan, the president and head designer at C/FAN designs, wearing one of the first items of 2015, the Penny Vest.
(Jeffrey Lee / Lee Gong Zi Studios)

“It is a traditional material that is quite challenging to work with,” Fan said. “I like to use it in novel ways and change the perception of furs as stodgy and matronly.”

Just one year after her line launched, C/FAN caught the attention of Gen Art, a national arts and entertainment company that showcases emerging fashion designers. They chose her as one of their Fresh Faces in Fashion in 2009, and her first runway show in Chicago that November attracted approximately 900 people.

In 2010, Fan was chosen as a Designer in Residence at the Chicago Fashion Incubator, an organization that provides a complete workspace and showroom, business skills and general mentoring with periodic workshops to help designers launch their careers in fashion.

“Lara Miller, the director at the time, was an inspirational mentor,” Fan said. “This is where I really expanded on my creativity.”

Fan was always interested in fashion and style, she said, even at a young age, experimenting with her personal style throughout middle school and high school in Lake Zurich, IL.

“I was very much into the 90’s look,” she said. “And still love it.”

Attending Northwestern University and majoring in history, Fan wanted to go to law school, and hoped to work at a firm focused on intellectual property. After months of traveling in Europe and Asia, she returned home to Chicago.

“I decided I would take a year to follow my dreams and test out the waters,” Fan said. “I turned down a full scholarship [to law school] and decided to try my hand at fashion.”

In November 2011, while Fan was in Shanghai on business, a mutual friend introduced her to Toby Snuggs, who worked for Apple. Two years later they were married. And in January, they welcomed a baby boy.

“It’s my first month of motherhood,” she said. “So it’s pretty full on and rewarding, but exhausting.”

(Jeffrey Lee / Lee Gong Zi Studios)
The C/FAN hand-knit rabbit fur Waldo Scarf in black and white stripes. (Jeffrey Lee / Lee Gong Zi Studios)

After relocating to Shanghai in 2012 Fan expanded her business, opening a second design studio there. She now splits her time between China and Chicago.

“It’s great because I always have a hand on the production and sampling as I’m close, geographically, to our workshop,” Fan said. “It can be tough with the time difference working with the U.S.”

Fan is most proud of her Autumn-Winter 2015 C/FAN collection; its market launch coincided with her first month of motherhood.

Buyers are making purchases at the market launch now, and the collection will be available in August at two Chicago retail stores: Elle Val, 2320 N. Clark, and Kiz, 2035 W. Division.

“We are expanding into different accessories and some really cool techniques with fur ready-to-wear,” Fan said. “I’m in LOVE with some of the new products.”

The white leather Gypsy Jacket that has dusted pink fur sewn in a zigzagging pattern was spotted at New York Fashion Week in February.

What’s next for Fan and her fur brand? She has one of Paris’ largest, most vibrant and innovative boutiques in her sights.

“I would love to see C/FAN in Colette,” she said. “That would be a dream come true.”

Photo at top: The Autumn-Winter 2014 Anita Shawl in black and red print.
(Jeffrey Lee / Lee Gong Zi Studios)