The recent Consinee Group runway show in New York at Cipriani’s intended to showcase the company’s cashmere and high-end yarn via a collection of more than 100 looks. The event featured a 100-foot runway, and drew designers, retail buyers, influencers and fashion industry media.
The show aimed to present cashmere’s inherent versatility, noted the China-based Consinee. But the event also served to illustrate the evolution of Chinese fashion design.
Chinese-German designer Yujia Zhai-Petrow, who is a consultant with Valentino Haute Couture in Paris, served as the show’s creative director while the China Fashion Collective, a New York-based boutique branding agency served as the event’s chief consultant.
The China Fashion Collective, founded in 2016, positions itself as a conduit between Chinese designers and retail buyers. The agency partners with established and emerging Chinese designers on fashion week shows in New York. Cofounders of the agency, Yuhan Liu, who is also executive producer, and Claire Lin, told WWD that Chinese designers are shattering stereotypical assumptions held by the West.
“Chinese designers serve up more than just a fresh perspective, they offer a glimpse into the Chinese imagination, their collective fantasies, aesthetics and sensibilities,” Lin explained. “It is important to note that Chinese designers are no longer concerning themselves with ‘Chinese designs,’ in that their palette is often far from the familiar cranes and dragons and Ming vases and imperial colors that so enthralled the public in the Met’s 2015 exhibit. The contemporary Chinese designer’s work may not be immediately recognizable as Chinese — and in that lies their true value.”
Lin’s background includes launching the New York Observer’s bilingual glossy, Yue in 2011, which included collaborating with top fashion brands such as Chanel and LVMH. It was at the Observer that she met Liu who was a journalist that had stints at the China Daily and The New York Times. Liu had gained notoriety for a Times series in 2015 that was based on a yearlong investigation into “abusive practices” in the nail salon industry.
Regarding the evolution of Chinese fashion, Liu noted that while many designers in the country vie for international attention, they also crave domestic media mentions. “What’s pushing Chinese designers to step into the global limelight?” Liu said. “There’s a push and pull, the designers are interested in exposure to a wider audience, especially press and influencers, but interestingly for many of those who have shown at international fashion weeks their major sales initiatives are focused on the China market domestically.”
Liu said one the firm’s past clients, Cai Meiyue, is China’s “most prominent bridal designer” who presented at New York Fashion Week, “but she was clear with us that she wanted a considerable amount of Chinese industry press,” Liu said. “After all, she retails in over hundreds of locations across China.”
Lin said China’s role in fashion continues to evolve. “Ten, 20 years ago, China’s role in the fashion industry was cost-effective manufacturing,” Lin said. “Now as Southeast Asia takes over the mass and lower end, China’s B2B producers aim for progress in sophisticated technology and luxury clients, like Consinee Group.” Lin noted that China’s massive strength in consumer spending then came into play in the past decade “and especially their appetite for luxury labels.”
“We saw that gap between these two roles in production and consumption, while not enough Chinese creative voices were heard internationally,” Lin said. “Japan had Watanabe, Miyake, Kawakubo, who interpreted Japanese’s philosophy in modern terms. Chinese design, like Chinese contemporary art, has long moved past ancient visual motifs, and we hoped to illustrate this at our [China Fashion Collective] shows.”
Liu said since the agency’s inception, the founder’s “dream has always been to be able to help Chinese designers, from the established to the emerging, with their international debuts and how they present themselves strategically.”
She said clients of the agency have “run the gamut from the aforementioned Cai Meiyue to Consinee Group, to more avant-garde designers like the Lolita-subculture-inspired designers we hosted for our first show.”
“When we say help, we mean more than strategic counsel, we also work to link them to sponsors, VC funds and collaborators so that their business can be enriched in the long term,” Liu explained. “Last year, we had Related Companies, developer of Hudson Yards, as a sponsor, and that allowed us to keep costs lower than market standards so that emerging designers can afford to have a shot at NYFW.”
Liu said the firm’s goal is to have “steady sponsorship deals every year so that we can focus on discovering and supporting emerging talent, in fact, part of our business is to connect Chinese consumer brands with international sponsorship opportunities so that they can be aligned with A-list organizations and names.”