BEIJING — A celebration of contemporary American fashion cascaded across Beijing’s Ming Dynasty City Wall on Friday evening, bringing together a mix of three prominent but young U.S. brands in a unique show in the Chinese capital.
The runway show, produced by the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund Initiative and underwritten by Hong Kong-born fashion industry mogul Silas Chou, brought together the fall collections of three Fashion Fund alumni labels — Proenza Schouler, Rag & Bone and Marchesa — on one runway with a cast of exclusively Chinese models over a dramatic, only-in-Beijing backdrop. The unusual runway show displayed the labels’ diverse looks to several hundred of China’s tastemakers, industry insiders and journalists.
This was the biggest event yet in CFDA/Vogue’s ongoing Americans in China initiative, a program that began two years ago with small exchanges between Chinese and American designers.
The China program, an outgrowth that developed on the heels of the success of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund’s Americans in Paris exchange, is intended to foster creative collaboration between designers and brands in China and the U.S., and potentially spark consumer interest in the massive Chinese market.
CFDA chief executive officer Steven Kolb said the China exchange was also crafted to help emerging American designers and brands develop a deeper understanding of the world’s fastest-growing luxury and fashion market. Even the biggest brands can get China wrong, so younger upstarts can have a tough time navigating what can be difficult waters here.
In an interview, Kolb noted how China is the buzzword across the fashion industry, but there is a widespread lack of on-the-ground expertise about how to excel in the business here.
“Everyone’s always talking ‘China, China, China,’ but maybe people are only understanding China how they want to, or they don’t really get how it works here,” he said before the show.
The dramatic Beijing show, intended to help bridge that knowledge gap, emerged from a casual conversation last year among Proenza Schouler designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez over lunch with Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour. “We were talking about our strategy on how to enter this burgeoning market, what we could do to make a presence in China,” Hernandez said, recalling the show’s genesis.
Wintour ran with the idea, turning it fairly quickly into reality. The planning drew in two more CFDA/Vogue award winning labels. Silas Chou jumped in with the underwriting (for a cost CFDA officials didn’t disclose but called “not cheap”), and the designers set out for a week of exploring and prepping for the event in Beijing. Chou told the designers that they’re living the American dream, and now he wants them to have a taste of the “Chinese dream.”
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke feted the designers at a cocktail reception at his home in Beijing on Thursday, while Vogue China editor in chief Angelica Cheung celebrated them with a private dinner after.
The three brands were chosen to show off a creative range of young American fashion. They each specialize in different looks and potential market segments, so their joint show would come off as a collaborative effort rather than competitive.
Kolb explained that Marchesa and Rag & Bone were invited to broaden the scope of the show, featuring labels that don’t necessarily compete with each other but give a wide glimpse of emerging U.S. fashion. But in fact, these brands might be called post-emergent, still young and fresh but also grounded enough that all three are sold in Lane Crawford, the Hong Kong-based store chain that has become a go-to for fashion-savvy Chinese consumers.
“The brands that are here are at a different level than the brands that go to Paris. Really they’re more established,” said Kolb. “Marchesa, Proenza Schouler, Rag & Bone — they’re established, you really can’t call them emerging anymore. We really wanted to introduce them to China, because let’s be honest, they’re probably not that known here.”
As for the designers, gathering in interviews the day of the show, their impressions of China and hopes for a bigger consumer audience here ran the gamut, from enthusiasm to a bit of skepticism about what lies ahead. A common theme on what surprised them all about Beijing: the difficulty of communicating in English, something that seems far easier in most of the rest of the world’s capitals.
Hernandez and McCollough, co-originators of the China show concept, said they were excited for their work to be exhibited in China and the possibilities it brings. The pair asked almost as many questions about China as they answered in an interview.
Their products are selling well in Lane Crawford and Joyce, the Hong Kong-designer warehouse with a shop in Beijing, and the design duo is exuberant about the possibility of opening a freestanding store in China, but intends to proceed with caution.
“Oh, absolutely. I can definitely see that,” said Hernandez. “We’re exploring and talking. To open something in China, you need a local partner, so we’re sort of testing the waters, meeting different people and seeing what’s right for us.”
Marchesa textile designer Keren Craig said she has long been inspired and influenced by Chinese fabrics, and was drawing in even more on her first trip to China. She’s also intrigued by China’s market potential and the chance to explore it on her visit and at the show.
“We were just so honored and excited to be invited, and to be with such peers,” she said. “That’s the amazing thing about the CFDA, is it’s really like a family and you get to know the other designers. It’s a home away from home.”
For Rag & Bones’ managing partners David Neville and Marcus Wainwright, Beijing also represented something of an exploratory mission. The two have some experience in China and said they want to move toward China slowly, building a base in the right way without taking undue risks. While elite Chinese consumers are looking for smaller brands and unique design, the mass market here remains beholden to large luxury labels, a fact Neville and Wainwright noted.
“We’ve been working with stores like Lane Crawford and I.T for a long time. We certainly haven’t been on a major push. It’s something we’ll have to digest after this trip,” said Neville. “We’ve been focused on America for so long, but it’s great to come here and see the opportunity. Everything’s about the right timing, finding the right partners.”
Said Wainwright: “It’s overwhelming if you just try to wade in, but we’ve learned enough lessons in other markets trying to do something like that.”
Exclusive: Nicola Formichetti is parting ways with @diesel after nearly four years. Formichetti, who served as Lady Gaga’s stylist in 2009, joined Diesel in 2013 as creative and artistic director. His first show debuted in Venice with a show held at the Venetian Arsenal. #wwdfashion #wwdnews
The polo shirt - an icon of preppy style - is roaring back into fashion in many creative guises, like this A-line polyester top from @carven, worn with @31philliplim cotton and elastane pants. Designers stretched a fashion classic into all kinds of new permutations this season. See how @mayteallende styled the preppy trend on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📸 : Kinya)
(Market Editors: @andrew_shang and @elmercer, Makeup: @amandawilsonmakeup using @fentybeauty, Hair: @gonn24, Model: @bara_holotova at @women360mgmt)
“I do like period [projects] a lot because I like creating those worlds, a world that is different from today," costume designer Mark Bridges said about the '50s British couture featured in @phantomthread. Bridges created the overall aesthetic and individual fashion looks for the film, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps. Pictured here is a gown he designed for Krieps who plays Alma – the love interest of Day-Lewis' character, Reynolds Woodcock. #wwdfashion
@prada is embracing the holiday season with a series of short movies about the art of gift-giving. "The Postman's Gifts", which was directed by American filmmaker Autumn de Wilde, focuses on the brand's signature Prada Galleria bag and features Elijah Wood as the postman. In the first two episodes, Wood's delivers the iconic bag to @emmaroberts, who plays herself as a movie star, and Sasha Frolova. #wwdfashion
“I think I never met the person while we were working,” Vicky Krieps said of Daniel Day-Lewis, who she plays the love interest of in “Phantom Thread.” Day-Lewis remained perennially in character, so much so that she feels she’s just meeting him now. “It’s interesting to see how different he is in real life to the character,” Krieps said. WWD sat down with the 34-year-old actress to talk about her new role in the period film, which brings the fifties’ gender dynamics into the mix. Read more on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @lexieblacklock)
@gucci has expanded its “Places” project to include six new cities. The initiative, which was first unveiled in July, aims to invite people to explore inspirational locations for the brand. On the list is the Biblioteca Angelica library in Rome pictured here. See the other five new venues on WWD.com. #wwdfashion (📷: @massimo_listri_official)
#ad From tools to lashes, WWD rounded up wellness and beauty products guaranteed to take your skin care and makeup routines to the next level in 2018. Follow along as @laceandleatherbyelyse, @ashnfashn and @elleisalwayshere experiment with these products on their Instagram profiles and blogs. #NewYearBetterYou
Blogger @camilacoelho is one of the fastest growing beauty influencers around the world. The bilingual blogger has worked with brands like @revolve Beauty, @dior, @louisvuitton and more and has an Earned Media Value of $34,338,441, according to @tribedynamics. But Coelho isn’t the only influencer making a major impact — head to WWD.com to see the other fastest-growing influencers in six key global markets. #beautyfridays (📷: @zefashioninsider)