Ximon Lee presentation during Shanghai Fashion Week.

SHANGHAI — Emerging Chinese designer brands stole the spotlight at Shanghai Fashion Week, the highlight of the East Asia fashion calendar, while buyers from around the globe said they were impressed with the variety of labels on offer. 

“I fell in love with both Shanghai and its designers,” said Ida Petersson, women’s wear and men’s wear buying director at Browns, who visited Shanghai with her team for the first time. “You can really feel the energy buzzing throughout, and I was completely blown away by how established their trade shows were. The scene is huge.”

The standouts for Petersson included Susan Fang, Angel Chen, Caroline Hu, Ximon Lee, Pronounce, Xuzhi, Shuting Qui and Samuel Guì Yang.

Oude Waag fall 2019 presentation at Labelhood during Shanghai Fashion WeekCourtesy Photo

During the 11-day event which will wrap on April 8, 111 brands showcased and more than 1,100 labels attended the affiliated trade shows and showrooms, a 10 percent year-on-year growth, the Shanghai Fashion Week committee revealed.

Xiaolei Lv, vice secretary-general of the Shanghai Fashion Week committee, said, “In the past five years, we have worked hard to create an ecosystem that is in line with our own positioning. I am pleased to see more designers, brands, buyers, media and industry leaders coming to Shanghai from China and around the world. Shanghai Fashion Week has become an important outlet for Chinese fashion export, and we are also fully prepared to attract more global attention.“

Emerging designers were the highlight. They showcased their latest works in between Xintiandi, the main venue, Labelhood in Tank Shanghai, an art space on Westbund, and Xcommons, in Colombia Circle.

Michael Mok, head of merchandising at Joyce Boutique, said: “Shanghai Fashion Week has become a significant fashion week in Asia with a lot of talents showcasing. It’s definitely a good place to discover new Chinese talents.”

Sara Maino, deputy editor in chief of Vogue Italia and head of Vogue Talents, said the number and quality of emerging Chinese designers in Shanghai has continued to improve in recent years. She saw at least 30 designer brands this time and reckoned their collections are ready for international examination.

Karchun Leung, editor in chief of Numero China and Modern Weekly’s style section, said he thought Marchen, Oude Waag and Caroline Hu delivered some of the most memorable collections. He was also impressed with Xiao Li’s new collection at Tube showroom.

Xu Zhi fall 2019 collection backstage at Shanghai Fashion Week.  Courtesy Photo

Thomas Ye, better known as Gogoboi, China’s number-one blogger in terms of fashion influence, said he was most touched by Xu Zhi’s new collection. “My Daniel [the designer’s name among friends] had a breakthrough this season. Before, he wove the threads like in a poetic Chinese landscape painting. This season, with the addition of Swarovski crystals, he achieved harmony on heaven and earth,” he said.

Erica Chen, who was name-checked by Petersson and Leung, said her fall line was inspired by modern hippie culture. “I am discussing how people nowadays are fighting with mainstream values and trying to be part of it at the same time. The conflict of the current generation and the modern theory of freedom have stimulated me to convey ideas through the weaving of patterns and materials in a dark but edgy vision,” she said.

Jingwei Yin, the designer of Oude Waag, created an immersive experience with film production company Craft Creations for his presentation in Labelhood. His new collection, entitled “A Moth Is Drawn to a Flame,” featured murky prints and frontless draped maxidresses. He said he was looking to “capture the fleeting beauty of seeking light in the devouring darkness.”

While some designers shone brightly, a number of Chinese talents referenced Western brands a little too heavily. There were a few Chinese equivalents of old Celine, Balenciaga, Marine Serre, Valentino and Simone Rocha showing in Shanghai.

Susan Fang RTW Fall 2019

Susan Fang RTW Fall 2019  Courtesy Photo

“They are confused when it comes to brand positioning,” said Shuang Tang, editor in chief of InStyle China. “When I am asking them, ‘Who are you selling to?’ most of them couldn’t give me a clear answer. The problem with fresh graduate designer brands is that they don’t know what the consumers need and they run the brand from a pure fashion point of view. ”

Business in the showrooms and trade shows was booming. Ontimeshow, the largest trade show during the week, spanned 270,000 square feet, and ran from March 28 to 31. There were 15,885 registered visitors and some 5,215 of them were buyers, 31.5 percent up from last season.

By comparison, the fashion week’s official trade show, Mode Shanghai, had 12,420 visitors from March 27 to 31, while Showroom Shanghai had 6,655 visitors, up 29 percent, and 3,103 of them are buyers, a 51 percent growth from the previous edition, according to Ladymax.

Designers said stores from second-tier cities were on the rise. Liushu Lei of Shushu/Tong said: “I have never been so busy. Before my Chinese clients were from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but this season I could clearly see that a lot more stores from lower-tier cities such as Fuzhou, Huzhou, Hangzhou — and even Yiwu — placed orders. What’s more interesting is that their buy can be very deep.” The brand has around 40 stockists in China and sales at Tube Showroom.

Jase Li, cofounder of Lost General, a streetwear brand that sells in Showroom Shanghai at Shanghai Exhibition Center, said new second-tier cities such as Dongguan, Guiyang, Dalian, Suzhou and Wuhan, placed a considerable amount of orders. “But buyers are more price-sensitive this season,” he added.

Ming Ma illustration by Yvan Deng  Courtesy Photo

Ming Ma said he got a lot more orders from Chengdu and Chongqing, the southwestern region of China, this season, and Angel Chen said her orders are set to increase 40 percent, with contribution from stores in the Sichuan, Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces.

Yushan Li, designer of Pronounce, pointed to another trend that emerged. “A lot of stores will bring their own fitting models. With better knowledge of their customers, they are more targeted with their product selections.”

Some stores from second-tier cities want more than a purely commercial relationship with their favorite brands, and want to create a deeper bond. HCH, a Wuhan-based retail concept with seven stores that are known for selling brands like Uma Wang, Guidi and Jil Sander, launched a showroom at Ontimeshow, representing brands such as Tommy Zhong, Ms Min and Ricostru.

Chunhui Hu, founder of HCH, said she came here, because Shanghai is where fashion businesses are made. “In order to cultivate the Chinese designer brand market and promote the multibrand retail model, which is new to China, it is necessary to have face-to-face communication in Shanghai with the whole industry,” she said.

Rico Manchit Au, designer of Ricostru, said: “I chose to partner with HCH because they have many top-quality sales agents-turned-store connections. It provides us with a new way to expand our sales channel. Also, I have known Mrs. Hu for years. She really understands my brand.”

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HCH Showroom inside Ontimeshow  Courtesy Photo

The Shanghai-based, publicly traded fashion company Ribo is also looking to grab a share of the global talent pool. The company expanded into the showroom business this season with R130 Showroom, featuring a group of designer brands such as Asai, Marie Yat, Marta Jakubowski, Minju Kim, Ovelia Transtoto, Reike Nen and Sirloin as a part of its ambition to incubate the next generation of fashion talents with production support and China market access.

The British Fashion Council’s showroom and the Paris-based trade show Tranoï entered China this season via Ontimeshow. Some 195 buyers visited the BFC showroom, which showcased fall collections from Roksanda and Peter Pilotto.

David Hadida, chief executive officer of Tranoï, who has been coming to Shanghai for the past four years, said he is “proud that Tranoï is now a part of the landscape,” and that he’s “ready to bridge the gap between the two continents, using the same model as we just did in Shanghai, bringing full support to the Chinese brands who want to enter the Western market.”

Xin Tokyo, a Japanese showroom, brought 24 brands such as Aseedoncloud, Bodysong, Balmung and Koto Hayokozawa to Shanghai with two venues set up at Mode Shanghai and Ontimeshow. This was the eighth season Xin Tokyo has come to Shanghai. Yasu Kouda, cofounder of the showroom, said sales doubled compared to last season in Shanghai.

Designers at the Pitti Uomo China Guest Nation announcement event.  Courtesy Photo

Outside the trade shows, international brands and organizations had a big presence. Vivienne Tam and Reebok opened Shanghai Fashion Week with two strong shows, while Converse hosted a worldwide preview with key local press on a series of upcoming designer collaborations.

Pitti Uomo revealed in Shanghai that its upcoming guest nation will be China. Labelhood will bring 8on8, Danshan, Ffixxed Studios, Junwei Lin, Percy Lau, Private Policy, Pronounce, Samuel Guì Yang, The Flocks, Staffonly and Untitlab to Florence in June. The project also includes a fashion show by Pronounce, and a photography exhibition of Leslie Zhang, curated by Dan Cui, fashion consultant and former fashion director at GQ China, at Spazio Grotte.

Diesel collaborated with designer Xander Zhou with a pop-up shop in Labelhood. Renzo Rosso of OTB, Diesel’s parent company, said he wants to return to Shanghai as often as he can.

It’s incredible to see the young generation here, the movement, the street, the energy, the culture, the way of thinking. It’s very modern and I am very attracted to it. I hope that with my 40 years of experience and with this new energy we can do something super great,” he said, revealing that John Galliano had expressed interest in visiting China with Margiela.

Xander Zhou and Renzo Rosso  Courtesy Photo

Asked about the struggling Diesel business, Rosso said: “We are in a particular moment. I am now back on board, and we’re starting to work on the product first. Diesel is an incredible machine. It made a lot of money, we had a lot of exports all over the world, but now it’s not that way anymore, so we are changing the products.”

He said he hopes that the Diesel Red Tag line, which collaborates with top fashion brands, will make the brand relevant again. “We’ll take away the old management and put in something new. They have done a good job, but they don’t have the modernity that Diesel needs to have,” he added.

American designer Nicole Miller showed at the Xintiandi venue. She added some new pieces to the fall collection that she showed in New York, such as a denim jacket with an embroidered “Nicole Miller Loves Shanghai” slogan written in Chinese characters on it, and a handbag line for China. She changed the styling of the show for China as well.

The brand entered the Chinese market after signing a partnership deal with Shanghai Shenda, one of the world’s largest textile manufacturers, last year. Nicole Miller will be the first designer brand to work with the company to enable it to grasp a whole different audience.

Nicole Miller Shanghai Fashion Show Finale  Courtesy/Shiori Vision

Miller was impressed by Shanghai’s rapid change. “I actually did a fashion show here about 20 years ago. It was very conservative in those days and, you know, it wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now,” she said. “China is a tremendous market. I really think it’s very fashionable and affluent, and it’s only going to get bigger and better.”

British designer Jenny Packham — who opened her first China store in Beijing last year, unveiled a Shanghai store on Wednesday at the Peninsula Hotel on the Bund and hosted a fashion show — is focusing on creating a luxury retail experience for Chinese consumers.

“We are working with the Empress Group, our brand development partners. I think that having the shop in Beijing and Shanghai is a great platform to move forward into different sort of licenses, brands and developments with the clothes. At the moment we have eveningwear and bridalwear in the region,” Packham said.

Thanks to feedback from the Beijing store, the company is developing new products exclusively for the Chinese market. “My understanding is that there are not so many events for long dresses yet, and size wise it’s not about making a petite style, it’s just a slight proportional change, which we’re getting our heads around,” she said.

Jenny Packham fall 2019 collection fashion show during Shanghai Fashion Week.  Courtesy/HZF

Packham believes her bridal business opportunity in China lies in the second or third part of a wedding ceremony. “I have visited quite a few of the shops and really understood the bride here is very different. There is a lot of hiring, as they hire the first dress, which is the biggest dress, so therefore that isn’t something that we are particularly interested in doing. I think our dresses would fall into the sort of the second or third part, the sort of slimmer, lighter dresses. The shops that we sell to here are very happy with that particular product.”

The fashion week schedule is packed well beyond the runway and trade shows. Numerous luxury brands hosted events, capitalizing on the in-town fashion crowd during the week.

Elle Fanning launched a new scent called Twist for Miu Miu near Xintiandi. Fanning said she was more excited than ever to be in Shanghai. “I hope to spend some more time here. It’s a very quick trip, but it’s a special one because I get to spend it with Miu Miu. This fragrance is such a great mix of girliness and edginess,” she said.

Xia Chun, Elle Fanning and Zuer Song at Miu Miu “Twist” perfume launch.  Courtesy Photo

Burberry showcased Riccardo Tisci’s new collection with Chinese brand ambassadors Wei Zhao and Dongyu Zhou, with a party on the Bund. Loewe partnered with GQ China to celebrate the launch of a limited print with actor and idol Zitao Huang, known as Tao, at 44KW, Shanghai’s hottest nightclub right now. Zitao also appeared on the cover of the latest issue of GQ Style China. 

“Loewe chose to work with us because GQ China understands luxury brands’ positioning in the market and we gather the right crowd,” said Paco Tang, publisher of GQ China.

Retailers also got in on the action. Galeries Lafayette opened its Pudong store on the eve of fashion week, while Joyce threw a party celebrating the Labelhood pop-up shop in their Plaza 66 store, featuring eight Chinese designers. “The event was very well received. We definitely would like to collaborate with Labelhood again in coming seasons,” Mok said of Joyce.

Le Monde de SHC, a select shop at the heart of the French Concession, opened its three floors of retail experimentation on March 31, where 8on8 took over the ground floor and hosted a one night only pop-up shop.

Le Monde de SHC in Shanghai  Courtesy/GUKUN

The shop has a café and stocks a good selection of designer brands such as Huishan Zhang, Marchen, Samuel Guì Yang and Yang Li, as well as lifestyle brands and vintage clothing from Christian Dior, Chanel, Christian Lacroix and Yves Saint Laurent.

Eric Young, who owns the store and designed it from scratch, said: “I want the shop to be a style destination, representing a fun and astounding contemporary Shanghai style, with an international outlook. I also hope that I can support the most talented designers and present them in a different light.”

So many things were happening every day that visitors found it difficult to attend all the events. Westbund, where Ontimeshow and Labelhood were located, is on the outskirts of the city. Other events were scattered across downtown Shanghai.

“I can only go to one show every two hours, because it’s hard to get a car to go back and forth. I wish the scheduling could be more friendly next time,” said Matthew Liang, an exhibitor from Guangzhou.

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