It wasn’t too long ago that a Chinese or Taiwanese designer on the schedule at a major international fashion week was a real novelty.
No longer. This season, the big four cities—New York, London, Milan and Paris—featured eight Chinese or Taiwanese designers on their main schedules, doubling the four shows from Chinese designers two years ago. For the first time all four cities also hosted China-centric showrooms designed to introduce dozens of up-and-coming new talents.
New York had the “Fashion Shenzhen” showroom, featuring 15 designers from the southern Chinese city, including Lizzy, Guyan, Bennis and Grace Deng.
London hosted two China-centric events: a showroom, “Design by Shanghai,” and exhibition, “Crossover East,” while Milan held its first Chinese designer showroom in “Style East,” mainly a press event to introduce Chinese and China-based talent.
In Paris, the established “China in Paris” showroom moved beyond its press and marketing beginnings to include serious buyers, including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Opening Ceremony. Nine Chinese designers, including Ji Chen, Miuki Wen, Jie Si and Kilin Chen, participated.
On the main runway schedules, new faces—new outside their homeland, that is—Oudifu and Broadcast showed in New York. Established Chinese names popped up elsewhere, too, including Uma Wang in Milan, Shiatzy Chen and Masha Ma in Paris, as well as Central Saint Martins and Dior alum Huishan Zhang in London.
While individual in their points of view, their collective aesthetic is aligned with many of the international spring trends. Though respectful of their heritage, these designers may be less prone to sartorial clichés—i.e. cheongsams, the color red—and more interested in capturing global chic.
Since pioneers like Frankie Xie and Ma Ke first presented shows at Paris Fashion Weeks (in 2006 and 2007, respectively) they have paved the way for many more Chinese faces, including Taiwanese brand Shiatzy Chen, which showed on Paris runways 12 times since its 2008 debut.
“In recent years, more and more young designers have presented their designs on the international stage,” Shiatzy Chen founder Wang Chen Tsai-Hsia says. “Most of them are graduates from famous design institutes. I think it is wonderful to see China’s young talents are improving.”
“Asian designers [primarily Japanese] have had a strong presence at international fashion weeks for decades. With the strong growth of the Chinese economy over the last years, it is natural that Chinese fashion plays its part,” six-time Paris Fashion Week veteran Masha Ma says after her slick show in the Marais district, which featured densely detailed pieces for spring, such as a bomber jacket with ruched elements.
Complete with antipollution face masks, Ma’s collection advanced her aesthetic mission: to encapsulate the increasingly sophisticated—and commercial—style of modern, urban women in China.
For her, showing in Paris is great marketing, as customers from China and around the world appreciate the prestige inherent in participating, though concrete commerce is the main attraction.
“Having a show in Paris is a vital part of our commercial strategy, as it provides an aesthetic experience that a showroom by itself would never be able to achieve,” Ma says. “The buyers and press are presented with a complete vision and subsequently are invited to have a detailed look at the clothes in our showroom.”
In Milan, the brand Luvon by Liu Lu participated in the first edition of the Style East showroom, a press event that garnered coverage for designers in magazines including Elle and Vogue Italia.
Designer Liu Lu was emphatic about returning for the event again next year after a positive initial experience, and recommended all Chinese designers who are serious about an international future take advantage of the proliferation of China-centric showrooms at world fashion weeks.
“We participate in such events during Milan Fashion Week to see how fashion really works in Milan,” she says. “And for the brand in terms of exposure, we can have an opportunity for future development and a space to learn and improve.”
Central Saint Martins grad Haizhen Wang became the first Chinese designer to join the schedule at London Fashion Week after winning the Fashion Fringe prize in 2012.
This season, his work was featured in London’s “Crossover East” exhibition. Showing internationally is about getting his name out there, as well as making the right connections.
“We are working carefully at this stage, as we want to work with the right stockists and partners,” he says. “London has been beneficial in terms of meeting prospective stores that we can build relationships with and work with in the future.”
Also featured at London Fashion Week was “Design by Shanghai”, a showcase organized by the Shanghai Fashion Designers Association and Chinese multibrand retailer Dong Liang. It featured 12 design talents, including Ban Xiao Xue (a former China-region winner of the Woolmark Prize) and London College of Fashion graduate Min Wu.
Dong Liang cofounder Tasha Liu explained that the Chinese fashion industry is still very much in its infancy, and therefore lacks the infrastructure—as in specialist p.r. agencies, agents and buyers—more prevalent internationally.
In her view, the current group of internationally educated Chinese designers looking to make their mark in their homeland and beyond is reaping the rewards of early success stories.
Liu points to longtime fixtures on the international scene such as Uma Wang, who parlayed a fashion education at London’s Central Saint Martins into a successful label known for its signature draping and texture.
Since launching in 2005 and showing in London, Paris and Milan, Uma Wang now sells to more than 70 stores worldwide—a number Liu attributes in large part to her international exposure.
“Although a single person can’t [convince] the world of fashion to appreciate Chinese design, it takes one person to break through and then a group effort to show what China has to offer. I think now we have a group that can show that,” Liu says.
Street-style favorite, creative consultant and former Elle China fashion editor, Leaf Greener has been an international fashion week fixture for years and noted a marked increase in her compatriots showing their wares in recent times.
“My god, it’s better than 10 years ago, because the culture and economics has provided Chinese students with the opportunity to go abroad and have a professional education, but I feel it’s just at the beginning,” Greener says, pointing out that making it on an international schedule is no guarantee of success.
Newcomers often find it hard to secure competitive times and locations, thus making it difficult to attract top international media and buyers to their shows.
A further complication may be the downturn of the Chinese economy, which Greener believes might lead to less of a fascination with all things China from the fashion world, though she is encouraged about the possibility of Chinese designers continuing to measure themselves against the best in the world.
“I hope more Chinese designers will be willing to go out and represent themselves on the international stage and not just do local shows in China, where we don’t have a really serious, professional stage to measure up to,” she says. “If you go to international fashion weeks, this is a real test of how good you are.”