SHANGHAI — Shanghai Fashion Week wound down Thursday after eight days of shows from Chinese designers and numerous events from major international brands, simultaneously held as part of the Shanghai International Designer Showcase.
The start of the week coincided with the one-year anniversary of Shanghai’s Lane Crawford department store, as well as the launch of Zac Posen’s capsule collection for local retailer Five Plus, and flagship openings for Pringle of Scotland and Shang Xia, the China-focused offshoot of Hermès.
The biggest name making an appearance in the Shanghai Fashion Week tents at Taiping Lake Park in Shanghai’s high-end shopping and lifestyle enclave of Xintiandi was Alberta Ferretti, who repeated the shows for her spring and latest bridal collections, and unveiled a capsule line of evening gowns designed especially for the occasion, all modeled by a parade of Chinese models in front of 700 attendees.
According to Ferretti, the major appeal of Shanghai Fashion Week for her was the opportunity to further connect with Chinese customers, who have become a more regular feature in her boutiques around the world.
“Now, more than five or 10 years ago, Shanghai is starting to be a focus of this kind of global fashion world. Shanghai Fashion Week and China Fashion Week are becoming an important way to reach such a large market, not just China, but also East Asia and the world,” Ferretti said.
“Chinese women are traveling often and are more and more interested in fashion and the luxury brands; this makes now the right time, and I think it will be even more important in the future to have an increased presence here.”
For Ferretti, as well as fellow Italian designer Giambattista Valli, showing as part of Shanghai Fashion Week was about the opportunity to connect to and learn about the market here, which is increasingly open to buying luxury brands that offer something high-end and unique, but haven’t yet been embraced by the masses.
Valli spent several days meeting with clients at Lane Crawford, introducing his Giamba line and exhibiting the Giambattista Valli couture archives, before restaging his latest couture show at the Shanghai Exhibition Center — an imposing Soviet-style building on the downtown shopping street, Nanjing West Road.
“It was extremely interesting because fashion isn’t always about meeting the customers, so it’s been a great experience for me to be in touch with these women and to understand them, to share, to explain, to listen and to digest,” Valli said backstage. “I think Shanghai now is like New York 20 years back, it’s new and arty and exciting and energetic. We need that. We need the energy, the enthusiasm of the people. The vision of customers here is so new.”
Though he says he does a “nice business” in China, particularly in Hong Kong, Valli — like Ferretti — is looking for continued growth, both in China and among Chinese consumers shopping elsewhere.
More established players in China, including Ermenegildo Zegna and Hong Kong-based Shanghai Tang, also took the opportunity to hold events in conjunction with Shanghai Fashion Week.
Zegna has been in China since 1991 and has recently faced stiff competition from new players in the men’s market, at the same time as the Chinese government’s crackdown on corruption and conspicuous consumption has hit the men’s market — which was more reliant on the practice of exchanging gifts to maintain good “guanxi,” or relationships, among business and government associates — harder than its female equivalent.
As part of the mission to regain ground in China, head designer Stefano Pilati helmed a film project, called “A Rose Reborn,” in collaboration with South Korean director Chan-wook Park, and featuring Daniel Wu, which had its world premiere in Shanghai on Wednesday night.
“I think a brand like Zegna and its presence in China shows that a Western brand can truly empathize with contemporary Chinese culture. We don’t want to seduce them to be like us. The message [of the film] is the opposite,” Pilati explained, adding that their presence at Shanghai Fashion Week was more about timing than a deliberate strategy.
“To be honest with you, as far as I’m concerned, it just so happened that we were ready to show the movie and it’s Shanghai Fashion Week. My awareness of Shanghai Fashion Week is not that much.”
The brand’s chairman, Paolo Zegna, however, was a little more generous in his estimation of Shanghai Fashion Week as an increasingly important destination for international players. “Shanghai Fashion Week is an event we like very much. China needs to be on the table for every brand and every business that wants to progress in the future. If you are in this world, then Shanghai Fashion Week is one of these occasions,” he said.
On the same night as Zegna’s film premiere, Shanghai Tang celebrated its 20th anniversary with a runway show and party on the extensive grounds of the Okura Garden Hotel, an Art Deco landmark.
Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman sat front-row for the show, which featured China’s top models Liu Wen and Du Juan, who also walked for Ferretti and Valli earlier in the week.
According to Shanghai Tang’s chairman, Raphael le Masne de Chermont, the idea for the event came about after discussions with fashion week organizing committees around Asia, who bemoaned the lack of international press attention allocated to design coming out of the region.
The three-part runway show from Shanghai Tang included the launch of their China Fashion Chic initiative, featuring two capsule collections from Chinese designers Masha Ma and Wang Peiyi. Though the concept made its debut in conjunction with Shanghai Fashion Week, de Chermont hopes to help the profile of modern Chinese design by taking it outside of China.
“Rather than trying to create something that only happens here, I want to take China Fashion chic to London, New York, Paris fashion weeks,” he said. “Instead of having journalists coming here now, it’s better that we go to the West and, as we build a critical mass, there will be more Chinese designers and perhaps eventually there will be the interest internationally, then [the West] will start looking at this part of the world.”
Timothy Parent, founder of local design agency China Fashion Collective and the man behind the Chinese People Do You Style blog, is a veteran of 11 Shanghai Fashion Weeks, as well as a past attendee at Beijing’s China Fashion Week and new player, Fashion Now, which launched in Beijing last year and just wrapped its second incarnation on Oct. 12.
He agrees that Shanghai seems the Chinese city most likely to build a high-level fashion week, though he has seen progress among the standard of local designers showing at Shanghai Fashion Week stagnate in recent seasons.
“Over the past few years, I haven’t really seen a lot of big changes. There are always one or two standout shows, a couple more quite good shows, and the rest is quite mediocre,” he said, of the local offerings. “They’re not doing enough to raise the standard and the consistency, so that it’s similar to international fashion weeks.”
Standouts among the Chinese designers showing this week included longtime Shanghai Fashion Week favorite Ji Cheng, London-based Haizhen Wang, as well as the ethereal Ban Xiao Xue and newcomers CJ Yao and Yi Ran Tian.
Xiaolei Lu, vice secretary general of the Shanghai Fashion Week committee, is the venerable elder stateswoman of the event and, not surprisingly, is positive about its future. She explains Shanghai Fashion Week’s mission as promoting Chinese designers, with the help of a few international names to help increase the event’s profile internationally.
“Our aim is to help young, emerging talent. But at the same time, we want to promote fashion in a more international way, to a more international standard and we need international brands to help us to do that,” she said. “Shanghai is the most fashionable city in China, and throughout the history of its development, it has accepted the most international influence. So I think this means Shanghai can lead the trends for China, but also I think for the world.”