Designers scrambled to meet SFW’s deadlines as the event happened two weeks earlier than usual. The original schedule would have been too close to the Communist Party National Congress meeting in Beijing, which is likely to secure an unprecedented third term for China‘s President Xi Jinping.
Lu Yan called it “a mission impossible” but managed to put on a glitzy SFW debut for her womenswear brand Comme Moi at the official Taiping Lake Park venue near Xintiandi. “When SFW asked me to do a show, there was no doubt we would do it,” Lu said.
Chinese designers, such as 8on8, Garçon by Garçon and Staffonly, also decided to show at Taiping Lake Park. But the overall calendar was populated with more traditional commercial brands, such as Hong Kong menswear label Goldlion’s spin-off line Goldlion3388 and influencer stylist Huohuo Han’s Do Not Tag. Fan Bingbing, the Chinese celebrity involved in a highly publicized tax-evasion scandal four years ago, made a surprise appearance at U/Ti, a local Chinese womenswear brand founded 30 years ago.
For Giovanni Pungetti, managing director of Asia at Tomorrow Group, “less anticipation of events” made this SFW edition feel “low energy.”
For Eric Young, owner of local fashion multibrand store LMDS, glamour was amiss. “It doesn’t feel like a real fashion week,” he said.
“Overall speaking, this fashion week was a little low scale, there’s less happening around the city, fewer global events, fewer people, fewer influencers, fewer ceremonies, a little bit less of everything,” Pungetti said.
“People are excited to go to Europe now, which took out some important protagonists in Shanghai. For instance, Machine-A invited a lot of young designer friends to come to the launch, but they said to me they were in Europe,” he added.
This season, hot-ticket local designers who bring excitement and anticipation to SFW decided to instead concentrate on building influence abroad.
But for those who stayed in Shanghai, some still managed to offer elements of surprise. Highlights included footwear brand Untitlab‘s immersive art-like presentation “Delirium,” which featured masked models wrestling, venting and storming around a dark room while onlookers were careful not to step on a naked male model lying on the floor.
“It was an intimate presentation. You could feel their rage and anger up close,” said Chinese influencer Moli Dai. “It’s more attractive when the designers express a certain truth about themselves.”
Dai also liked Penultimate’s informal presentation at XC273, the multibrand store and event space. The brand’s designer, Xiang Gao, dressed friends and family at the casual gathering, as frequent Louis Vuitton collaborator and photographer Feng Li, armed with a selfie-stick and cameras, documented the event.
Labelhood, a Shanghai-based emerging designer support platform, community and fashion retailer, hosted shows by the Bund for popular brands Shushu/Tong and Louis Shengtao Chen at a soon-to-be-opened retail complex, gathering a crowd of fashion enthusiasts and street-style photographers to the scene.
With less excitement around the shows, retailers were hesitant to buy from new brands. Vicky Yu, the founder of Hug Boutique, said the store has been “more cautious with new brand selections” this season. “We will focus on more easygoing and simple designs with detailing and cut back on more conceptual pieces,” Yu said.
Chengdu designer shop Clap only added Lucency, a local brand known for its market-friendly Y2K designs, to its brand list. “It’s got a lighthearted perspective, with a reasonable price point,” said Luna Xu, buyer at Clap.
But for Young, maintaining commercial viability and having a conceptual edge is still lost on many brands this season.
“New designers should try to figure out what kind of people will appreciate, resonate and purchase their designs, not only focus on personal narratives. Fashion is all about ideas and emotions, but ultimately, it’s not fine art,” Young said.
But Young also pointed to two nascent brands that have hit the sweet spot from the get-go.
Office H, launched by California College of the Arts-educated designer Zewei Hong and furniture designer Li Lai, created a sportswear-driven brand with pops of color and mass market-friendly price points. Light outerwear sells for around 1,500 renminbi, or $210, while technical pants go for about 900 renminbi, or $126.
Another highlight this season was Osmos, a knitwear brand launched by Steven Oo, who has a background in knitwear manufacturing for brands like 3.1 Phillip Lim, Coach and Oscar de la Renta. Oo used his textile knowhow to create a sensual knitwear brand priced around 2,000 renminbi, or $281. “Osmos found a balance between independent designer brands and commercial brands. I think it’s a good try,” Young said.