BEIJING — Attendees at China Fashion Week expressed disappointment at the event, calling for organizers to move away from antiquated designs and offer a better platform for young, emerging talent.
But according to the China Fashion Association, which organizes China Fashion Week, the nine-day event doesn’t have the same objective as other international fashion weeks, where buyers, trends and innovation are the main focus.
“We have an upside-down system. We don’t have a buyer system [in China] so [China Fashion Week] is good for promotion,” Pauline Su, vice president of the China Fashion Association, said, explaining how some fashion week participants are nominated by regional fashion associations and need to be relatively established to afford the hefty costs of putting up a runway show that can run between 300,000 yuan, or $47,349 at current exchange, to 500,000 yuan, or $78,905.
Of the 69 collections showcased at this year’s spring 2016 fashion week, 40 of them were young designers, according to Su. The collections varied from haute couture to ready-to-wear to a mixed bag of mom-and-tots apparel and shoes and make-up. Though more than half of the participants were young designers, Su couldn’t name one she looked forward to seeing.
“I’m focused on more mature designers [because] I know them from before, I’m not too familiar with younger ones,” she said, adding how many of the brands showing at China Fashion Week are bespoke brands that can help nurture the country’s apparel and textile industry, which has an output of 9 trillion yuan, or $1.4 trillion.
The mature designers Su was referring to include local stalwarts NE-Tiger, for instance, which began the week. The brand is known for its elaborate displays of classical Chinese-styled silk qipaos and costume.
However, some fashion week attendees contended it’s these types of antiquated designs that are stifling the event.
“Nobody wears that on the street in New York. Nobody even wears that [in Beijing],” said Mark Xu, a Canadian buyer who was on the hunt for something inspiring to haul back to private clients in New York. “NE-Tiger is too Chinese. There’s a long way for [organizers] to go in terms of the show’s management but they are doing better and better.…But there’s nothing that’s making me excited and that’s a pity,” Xu said, while touring a quiet showroom housing two dozen designer stalls in Beijing’s 798 art district, where the majority of the fashion shows were held.
Fashion week judge Adrien Roberts echoed similar thoughts after reviewing 20 fashion shows and writing a report for the organizers.
“I was so enthusiastic at the beginning because I saw one or two nice collections but then I saw a lot of bad designs…overall, there’s lots to improve. I don’t think I’ve seen the best of Beijing fashion … I heard Shanghai is hotter,” Roberts said, citing Shanghai’s trendier fashion week that’s known to showcase emerging designers. Roberts, the education director of Accademia Costume & Moda, a fashion and costume design school in Rome, said organizers were also mum about where his criticisms were going.
“It could be an award. I asked, but couldn’t get many answers,” he said.
Other criticisms of the event included disorganization, poor design and few fashion week social events, but it still managed to bring foreign talent to town.
Greek-born, Milan-based designer Angelos Bratis showcased his sleek and silky collection of draped dresses on the second day of the event. In attendance were Mario Boselli, the honorary president of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, and its current president Carlo Capasa.
Just hours before the show, Bratis managed to get his suitcase back from Chinese customs. The issue: 18 pairs of female shoes.
“They were worn and not new and I had no interest in selling them,” Bratis said after the show, explaining how he negotiated for his luggage back. Despite the hiccup, Bratis said he would return to China Fashion Week if he was invited again. “It’s an economy that’s booming and there’s a hunger for fashion, for luxury,” he said.
The next day, Bratis and Capasa went to Tsinghua University, where Boselli is a guest professor, to lecture aspiring fashion students about the industry.
“It was really beautiful. I feel they really want to make it — to be brands, to be international,” Capasa said.
The week saw an entourage of Italian industry heavyweights in Beijing. Among them was Giuseppe Mazzarella, president of Confartigianato Moda, who represents 700,000 small companies in Italy, focused on artisans and handicrafts. Mazzarella has been coming to China Fashion Week for the past two years, trying to warm up to the Chinese in hopes of forming an agreement between the two countries. As China moves from a low-end to middle- and high-end level of manufacturing, Mazzarella hopes to capture a piece of the market to pave the way for Italian businesses to enter the Chinese market and vice versa.
“We have the know-how, we have the production and we also know distribution,” he said. However, he admitted there is reluctance from some Italian small business owners, who feel an agreement could open the floodgates for copycats. “[They think] Chinese producers can copy, can take the know-how and produce their own [products] with a cheaper price,” Mazzarella said, citing this was a problem “10 or 20 years ago.”
Cindy Hahn, creator of the K-Fashion Project, an initiative backed by the Korean Fashion Association and South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, which aims to bring exposure to Korean brands abroad, said this was the first time she showed at China Fashion Week and will return next year despite a handful of logistical difficulties and differences in business culture.
“The biggest learning experience for me here was that when one responsible person says something in word, we need to trust their word. But it wasn’t easy for me to do it at first,” Hahn said of the verbal contracts and last-minute money wire transfers she had to deal with, among other issues. “It makes me very insecure…but I think [the organizers] value their word and contracts…I try to trust their word but it wasn’t easy.”
Hahn brought over three Korean brands to showcase: Jessi NY, a youth street brand; Twee and Zishen for more mature customers, and denim brand Buckaroo. The price point of the collections ranged from $50 to $150.
China’s growing middle class, which China Fashion Week organizers cite as their focus, is the country’s future superconsumers and the target shoppers for many Chinese designers at fashion week. “The middle class has been growing at a pace of 10 percent each year for the past 15 years,” said Zhang Qinghui, vice president and general secretary of the China Fashion Association.
As for plans to shake up next year’s fashion week, Zhang said he will look into helping emerging designers more but plans are not concrete.
Walking out of Chinese haute couture brand Jefen by Frankie’s show on Monday night, iLook fashion magazine editor Hung Huang said she was expecting something more.
“The workmanship, the dresses that came out, were perfect. So, [this proves] there was nothing wrong with the craftsmanship in China and you know they can make it…but since China is all for innovation right now, they can be more innovative,” she said.