SHANGHAI — The physical return of Shanghai Fashion Week after China reopened to the world saw team members from Harrods, Galeries Lafayette and Machine-A coming back to check out how local talents, who mostly focused on the Chinese market over the past three years, have evolved.
The atmosphere this season felt drastically different from how things were pre-pandemic, a time when local young talents were struggling with pricing, production and supply chains like the rest of the world.
Thanks to a fashion boutique boom during the pandemic, where buying internationally became almost impossible, local designers seized the opportunity and transformed their businesses to cater better to local demand.
Brands such as Xiao Li, Xuzhi, Renli Su and 8on8, whose founders were trained at top fashion schools like Central Saint Martins and Royal College of Art, now are able to sell to retailers at competitive price points that are around half of what their global peers are asking because of near-shore sourcing and manufacturing.
Now that the in-person communication between East and West has resumed, many of them express the desire to return to the international fashion calendar, only this time with much healthier businesses at home to fund the showcase.
The 8on8 brand, for example, which was founded by Gong Li and recently got financial backing from local fashion giant Peacebird, will present its spring 2024 collection as well as its collaboration with Asics in London this fall.
The Chongqing-based designer Louis Shengtao Chen, a semifinalist in this year’s LVMH Prize, is looking for a Paris-based public relations firm to work on his possible Paris showcase.
“I’m looking forward to being in a very culturally bumping environment where designs are presented in an aggressive way. I don’t mean aggressive negatively, but to be very sharp and sure of themselves, both visually and in the form of presentation,” Chen said.
Meanwhile, on their own turf here in Shanghai, a handful of brands proved that they are able to stage elevated shows with collections that are Milan or Paris-worthy.
Oude Waag, an avant-garde fashion brand founded in 2017 by Royal College of Art alum Jingwei Yin, had models wearing Dune-like creations walking around two giant oval installations hung on the ceiling. The collection showcased his precise proportions, and how fabric interacts with the body when moving.
Yin said the collection was inspired by colorful marble, a stone that serves as a metaphor for foreign conquest and a symbol of power and strength in the days of the Roman Empire.
“We combined its hard, cold elements with soft body parts to form a giant stone in organic form, which represents our understanding of the complexity of women today. We suspended it in the air of the show to create a futuristic and primitive atmosphere.
“We also developed these abstract marble prints on different textures to create soft armor that is both sexually charged and sculptural but also transformed into a second layer of soft skin that is the polar opposite, representing two distinctly feminine forces,” explained Yin post-show.
The designer added that he is eyeing presenting his next collection in Paris.
For Zhao Chenxi, founder of Fabric Qorn, a self-proclaimed “unapologetically Chinese” contemporary label that plays around with nostalgic kitsch, the showcase presented him with an opportunity to appreciate “the forgotten beauty in Chinese society and blur the lines between the grassroots and elite, high and low.”
Taking inspiration from the grassroots class in modern Chinese society. Zhao used a northern China red flower fabric as the lining of coats and jackets, and he deconstructed hotel towels from the ’80s to make shirts. He also used Chinese door handles on trenchcoats and gave the Mao suit a timely update for today’s wearers.
The show set was based on what a weekend farmer’s market looks like.
“We made installations like pick-up trucks, corn, coal piles, and all sorts of Chinese old items to match the theme. This sort of gathering gradually lost its meaning as the exchange of products and money goes online in this 5G era, but the market didn’t disappear. It’s still alive in rural parts of China because the market has a deeper meaning than just buying and selling. People who attend the farmer’s markets will talk for hours. This hustle and bustle of city life can’t be replaced by the internet,” he said.
Susan Fang took her misting dress idea, first presented in London, to a new level in Shanghai with an off-schedule show at the rooftop of the water-facing Yicang Art Museum, a place where Fang had wanted to show since 2019.
“For many years, I always hoped to do a show outdoors, and also in an art museum; it felt more connected to nature with an open space and more creative and modern energy in a museum. Yicang has this stunning view of the Shanghai skyline that’s super unique,” she said.
Fang styled the collection very differently for the repeat show, with more surreal hair and makeup, and cute shoes from her collaboration with Ugg. She also installed eight color-changing craters to create a feeling of misting clouds floating in the sky to add to the fantastical element of the showcase.
While the mist in London was blended with rose extract, the Shanghai edition was mixed with the new scent Lili Fantasy from Juliette Has a Gun, the French niche fragrance brand backed by the Cathay Capital private equity group.
“Our theme is Air-Topia, which it’s about a positive outlook for our future, inspired by this book for children called ‘Ami, Child of the Stars,’ where the law of the universe is love, and love should be the priority above technology, knowledge, everything. It was very inspiring and idealistic, and charming how it brings back our inner child and how we can embrace technology with positivity if we keep that imagination and love we are born with,” she said.
For the finale, to paint a picture of what that a love-embracing world would look like, a model walked out with all the children holding hands and wearing the designer’s debut kidswear line.
M Essential Noir, a successful local brand that opened Labelhood two seasons in a row, continued to explore the opulent nature of traditional Chinese aesthetics. Muki Ma, creative director of the brand, took inspiration from the British fantasy opera “The Tales of Hoffmann,” creating a “Dream Ball” with models in strappy sandals and flower pedals dangling from their eyelashes. Traditional Chinese garments, including qipao and Chinese jackets, were combined with high-waisted ballgowns that had exposed crinoline or corsets, which Ma called “semi-eveningwear.”
“We wanted to explore the underlying influence of Western culture on Eastern aesthetics and how it plays on in womenswear throughout history,” Ma said. “The Noir collection is a more girly version of the M Essential main line. Thus we could more freely explore the melange between Western codes and traditional Chinese garments.”
At showrooms such as Not Showroom, Tube Showroom and Ontimeshow’s Roomroom, local talents displayed thoughtful concepts paired with commercially friendly pieces which, to some extent, painted a better picture of what Shanghai has to offer.
Sakura Chan, a womenswear brand heavily inspired by the ’70s rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, took a page from The Velvet Underground and Nick Cave this season.
“Rockers are all the same, they’re forever rebels, so I couldn’t help but see some similarities between the way Lou Reed and my boyfriend, the way they went about in the world,” said Chan of her partner Liu Ge, the lead singer of Beijing’s favorite underground band The Molds.
Chan designed a leather blazer akin to what Liu would wear at concerts but bleeding red silk throughout, to emulate how Liu would sometimes get into heated rows and hurt himself.
A tormented musician calls for a strong-minded woman to tame the beast. More leather jackets with rivets punched throughout, silk blouses that cinched tightly at the waist and super high-waisted sheer bodices completed the portrait of a tormented rocker’s girlfriend while the models were made up to look like their faces were bruised. “The theme of this collection is Jesus’ Ball & Chain,’ love can hold you captive, but sometimes it hurts you, yet you can’t let go,” Chan said.
Qiuhao, the first Chinese winner of the prestigious Woolmark Prize 15 years ago, has been stationed at the Roomroom by the West Bund for the past few years. His brand occupied an airy white cube that showcased his modern and minimal designs favored by powerful women.
The black and white collection, with dashes of red, continued to explore wardrobe staples such as turtleneck wool bodysuits, stretchy leather biker jackets and cocooning wool jackets that formed a fierce silhouette.
“For me, design is working through the essential pieces and refining the details,” said the designer of his namesake brand.
A fragrance collection crafted with the Chinese perfumer Yili Li and Qiu Hao’s partner, the perfume influencer Jun Huang, was also being presented at the brand’s showroom, adding a touch of romance to Qiu Hao’s expansive universe.
Untitlab, a footwear and accessories brand founded by Sans Peng, Tian Cai and Justin Zen, continued to play with a diverse range of materials and color stories in its latest collection.
Inspired by surfer shoes, flat sneakers with bold embossment allow the wearer to “feel the ground under your feet,” Peng said. “I like to walk around a lot in the city now that I live in London, so I designed a shoe that has a very thin sole. It’s also a slip-on, which is even more freeing.”
The brand’s bestselling derbies, cowboy boots, hitch boots and shoulder bags are all updated with a natural dyeing technique found in Yunnan province, which offers the wearer the freedom to oscillate between formal attires or “sporty vibes.”