World tak­ing no­tice of Fash­ion Week

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - Mike Bastin The au­thor is a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nomics in Bei­jing and a se­nior lec­turer at Southamp­ton Univer­sity. The views do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect those of China Daily.

Euro­pean play­ers in the in­dus­try need to place this event in Shang­hai very high on their ‘must-at­tend’ list

Shang­hai Fash­ion Week, which ended on April 3, has seen a fur­ther surge in pop­u­lar­ity and pub­lic­ity. Shang­hai has now pow­ered ahead of re­gional ri­vals Seoul and Tokyo with an ap­par­ently un­stop­pable rise onto the world stage. One of the main rea­sons be­hind Shang­hai’s in­creas­ing re­gional and in­ter­na­tional pres­ence is the bur­geon­ing net­work of trade shows that com­ple­ment the cat­walks and other events.

Euro­pean fash­ion in­dus­try play­ers need to place Shang­hai Fash­ion Week very high on their list of “must-at­tend” fash­ion events, es­pe­cially when tar­get­ing fur­ther ex­pan­sion in China’s sec­ond- and thirdtier cities. It the emer­gence of in­creas­ingly dis­cern­ing and tech-savvy Chi­nese ur­ban fash­ion con­sumers in sec­ond- and third-tier cities that ex­plains the bal­loon­ing num­ber of trade shows each year in Shang­hai.

An es­ti­mated 3,000 buy­ers at­tended this year’s Shang­hai Fash­ion Week, many of whom are rep­re­sent­ing the grow­ing num­ber of sec­on­dand third-tier Chi­nese city multi­brand stores. Euro­pean fash­ion buy­ers in par­tic­u­lar, there­fore, must now see Shang­hai Fash­ion Week as an es­sen­tial event and not merely an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant stopover.

Shang­hai Fash­ion Week has grown in im­por­tance across China, too, and now pro­vides a per­haps unique in­sight into the chang­ing na­ture of Chi­nese fash­ion con­sump­tion. In­creas­ingly in­de­pen­dent of over­seas de­sign­ers, younger Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers can be found from many parts of the Chi­nese main­land. Younger Chi­nese con­sumers, typ­i­cally mil­len­ni­als, can also be found all over China. Euro­pean buy­ers, de­sign­ers and fash­ion brand man­agers can gain in­valu­able in­sight into a much more con­fi­dent and dis­cern­ing Chi­nese fash­ion consumer.

Cer­tainly, the over­all feel of the lat­est Shang­hai Fash­ion Week re­flected a per­haps new­found to­geth­er­ness be­tween younger Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers and younger Chi­nese fash­ion con­sumers, with both driven by self­de­ter­mi­na­tion, in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion and a re­jec­tion of the typ­i­cally Western fash­ion mega-brands. Euro­pean fash­ion brands should take note.

In par­tic­u­lar, the Euro­pean fash­ion in­dus­try should be­come very fa­mil­iar, very quickly, with La­bel­hood, an in­de­pen­dent show­cas­ing plat­form that op­er­ates un­der the um­brella of Shang­hai Fash­ion Week. La­bel­hood op­er­ates as a sort of fash­ion in­cu­ba­tor for younger Chi­nese and Asian in­de­pen­dent fash­ion de­sign­ers, ex­pe­dit­ing the emer­gence of lo­cal tal­ent on the world stage.

In­deed, it is the La­bel­hood shows and ex­hi­bi­tions that have con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to col­lec­tions that are par­tic­u­larly cre­ative and orig­i­nal and that bear no trace of or re­sem­blance to any Western de­signer la­bel.

In ef­fect, Shang­hai Fash­ion Week is fast carv­ing out an im­pres­sively unique niche, based on ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, orig­i­nal­ity and fun. This is much more than an an­nual event. In short, it rep­re­sents a mi­cro­cosm of change across China.

Euro­pean fash­ion in­dus­try lead­ers and man­agers should ac­tively seek long-term part­ner­ships with this new breed of younger, typ­i­cally Western-ed­u­cated Chi­nese fash­ion de­signer, and Shang­hai Fash­ion Week is the perfect place to make ini­tial in­tro­duc­tions.

Th­ese younger Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers, partly spurred on by the chang­ing na­ture of younger Chi­nese fash­ion con­sumers, do not re­gard fash­ion as some form of elit­ist ex­pres­sion or sta­tus sym­bol, but in­stead view fash­ion as the perfect op­por­tu­nity for in­di­vid­u­al­ity and self-iden­tity.

Typ­i­cally, their first goal is to in­spire more or­di­nary Chi­nese ci­ti­zens to rein­vent them­selves via fash­ion with very orig­i­nal, al­most co-cre­ated fash­ion de­signs. Euro­pean fash­ion de­sign­ers will strug­gle to fur­ther pen­e­trate the Chi­nese main­land mar­ket with­out close work­ing re­la­tions with th­ese younger Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers.

Per­haps typ­i­cal of this breed of dif­fer­ent and in­ter­na­tion­ally as­pir­ing younger Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers is Huang Wan­bing . Huang, who stud­ies womenswear at Lon­don’s Cen­tral Saint Martins, jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to ex­hibit her cur­rent col­lec­tion at the re­cent Shang­hai Fash­ion Week. Huang pre­sented a pleat-cen­tric col­lec­tion that was ex­tremely well re­ceived, with the over­all ma­tu­rity of the de­sign per­haps most im­pres­sive of all.

Huang ad­mits to an in­sa­tiable ap­petite to­ward fash­ion de­sign, with an abun­dance of orig­i­nal ideas and creations. Cen­tral Saint Martins and other pres­ti­gious, Europe-based fash­ion ed­u­ca­tors pro­vide the perfect breed­ing ground for th­ese younger Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers, and Shang­hai Fash­ion Week is keen to show­case their lat­est work. The Euro­pean fash­ion in­dus­try’s fu­ture links with Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers could be­gin at Cen­tral Saint Martins and other sim­i­larly au­gust fash­ion schools.

Huang is not alone. Wong Shasha is an­other ex­am­ple of this au­da­cious new type of Chi­nese fash­ion de­signer. Hav­ing grad­u­ated less than a year ago from the Royal Col­lege of Art, Wong ex­hib­ited her first knitwear la­bel, Sway­ing, on the cat­walks at the re­cent Shang­hai Fash­ion Week. Orig­i­nat­ing from the south­east Chi­nese sea­side re­sort of Xi­a­men, Wong ad­mits to inspiration from child­hood mem­o­ries of this coastal jewel in the crown of Fu­jian prov­ince. In par­tic­u­lar, Wong re­calls vivid mem­o­ries of per­son­ally knit­ting nets for the fish­er­men of Xi­a­men.

Wong, like an in­creas­ing num­ber of oth­ers, now sees Shang­hai Fash­ion Week as the ideal op­por­tu­nity to ex­per­i­ment with cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion driven mostly by per­sonal mem­o­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences.

An­other dis­tinctly lo­cal feature of Shang­hai Fash­ion Week is the in­creas­ing use of lo­cal celebri­ties and also in­ter­net or so­cial me­dia celebri­ties or key opin­ion lead­ers. The Euro­pean fash­ion in­dus­try should look closely at the grow­ing in­flu­ence of Chi­nese so­cial me­dia celebri­ties. At the just-con­cluded Shang­hai Fash­ion Week, re­al­ity TV idols were fea­tured along­side some of the ex­hi­bi­tions, and so­cial me­dia celebri­ties broad­cast per­son­ally on apps such as Ing­kee, pro­vid­ing al­most a run­ning commentary as the event was un­fold­ing.

In­evitably, livestream­ing via pop­u­lar Chi­nese shop­ping plat­forms such as Alibabaowned Tmall is fast be­com­ing a pre­req­ui­site, and fast-ris­ing Shang­hai star de­signer An­gel Chen took full ad­van­tage at the re­cent event. Chen’s show was re­port­edly seen by an in­cred­i­ble 89 mil­lion view­ers via video stream­ing.

The Euro­pean fash­ion in­dus­try, par­tic­u­larly the lux­ury sec­tor, should be quick to in­ves­ti­gate the ef­fec­tive use of Tmall, which is ex­pand­ing its cov­er­age to all sec­tors of the global fash­ion in­dus­try.

For lesser-known Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers, work­ing with trade show part­ners of­fers an­other av­enue aimed at brand build­ing.

But it is the chang­ing mean­ing and image of this brand-build­ing led by Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers that the Euro­pean fash­ion in­dus­try needs to un­der­stand most, and not just the need for an om­nichan­nel ap­proach that makes full use of Chi­nese so­cial me­dia plat­forms.

Un­til a few years ago, Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers were driven by a de­ter­mi­na­tion to es­tab­lish them­selves as in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers with creations in­flu­enced by estab­lished Western fash­ion de­sign­ers and Western mega-brands. In­creas­ingly, how­ever, as ex­em­pli­fied clearly at the lat­est Shang­hai Fash­ion Week, th­ese typ­i­cally younger Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers are not only re­ject­ing this pre­vi­ous di­rec­tion, but at the same time em­brac­ing their own cul­tural her­itage in their ef­forts to find orig­i­nal­ity and self-ex­pres­sion. Ex­pect this trend to con­tinue.

And it is Shang­hai Fash­ion Week that pro­vides a unique in­sight into this process of seis­mic change.

As a re­sult, the Euro­pean fash­ion in­dus­try must now el­e­vate Shang­hai Fash­ion Week to the same level of im­por­tance as the shows of Lon­don, Paris, New York and Mi­lan, and con­sider more long-term con­nec­tions with younger Chi­nese fash­ion de­sign­ers. If this is not the case, then fur­ther Chi­nese main­land mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion by estab­lished Euro­pean fash­ion brands will strug­gle to suc­ceed.

ZHANG CHENGLIANG / CHINA DAILY

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