Shanghai Fashion Week closes today after more than a week of runway shows and surrounding events. Here, a look at three of the standout designers who showed during the season.
Born in Beijing to a Chinese mother and Russian father, Natasha Ivachoff migrated with her parents and three siblings to Australia in the mid-Seventies.
A 20-year career as a design consultant, including for Australian fashion brands Camilla and Marc and Sass & Bide, Ivachoff moved to Shanghai six years ago and launched her own leather-focused brand, Missy Skins, two years ago.
“Coming here is the best thing I’ve ever done, it’s given me the unique freedom of being able to dream however big I want to and know that, with some hard work and persistence, that can happen,” she said.
Currently designing a main line, including a core selection of machine washable, stretch-leather leggings, as well as a diffusion collection, Ivachoff has been pleasantly surprised by the response of Chinese consumers, with stores online (a Taobao store and also Nasty Gal internationally) and multibrand stores in Shanghai and around China doubling their sales from month to month.
“Missy Skins is recognizable as a brand because we specialize in leather, and that’s a little bit different, but there is a local sensibility with an international flair, and that’s been received pretty well,” Ivachoff said.
Over the next 12 months Missy Skins hopes to further expand in China, and open a flagship in its hometown of Shanghai, where the brand debuted last week at Shanghai Fashion Week with a sassy, sexy collection.
Because the firm is based in China and is able to save on production and running costs, the price point remains accessible, despite the use of high quality, imported materials. Leggings are 3,880 yuan, or $695 at current exchange, and moto jackets 4,500 yuan, or $725.
“China’s a big place and growing a brand here is different, it’s a lot more political with developers and retail space, that kind of thing,” the designer said. “I’d like to grow a big business in China, something that has some depth, not just a commercial brand, but something that has a little bit of story and heritage.”
Beijing-born designer Zhang Na was never in doubt about her creative path. Born into a family of artists, for her, fashion was simply the medium that made the most sense to her. “For me, fashion is just a medium; it’s a way for me to have my own voice. It could be anything, but I picked fashion,” she said.
After studying fashion design at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts and at MOD’ART International Paris, Na moved to Shanghai in 2008, where she has based her two brands, Fake Natoo and Re-clothing Bank. The former showed for the first time at Shanghai Fashion Week this week with a sophisticated collection of elaborate layers, exaggerated silhouettes and a series of looks made from Tibetan yak wool.
This higher-end line, which is priced up to 10,000 yuan, or $1,600 at current exchange, for outerwear looks, is aimed at fashion-forward Chinese women and is sold at 30 multibrand boutiques around China. “The Fake Natoo woman is independent, confident, has her own life and doesn’t care what people think of them, they’re a little artistic,” the designer said.
Na’s other brand, Re-clothing Bank, takes unsellable items from secondhand stores and remakes them into fashion-forward one-off pieces.
Though the upcycling concept is an unusual one in China, the sustainable aspect of remaking old clothes isn’t actually the most important to Na. Vintage clothing hasn’t caught on in China because Chinese people commonly believe that a person’s fate is carried on through their possessions, and many wouldn’t dream of chancing their own fate by wearing someone else’s potentially unlucky clothes. But Na tries to turn this idea on its head with Re-clothing Bank.
“The Re-clothing Bank isn’t just about sustainability; it’s about carrying on people’s stories, the histories of their lives,” Na said.
“Because contemporary Chinese history is quite heavy and complicated, especially the Cultural Revolution and everything, the last generation has some pretty heavy memories, so I want to use the Re-clothing Bank to reuse and make new memories for these clothes,” she said.
It was his pragmatic Shanghainese mother who pushed Lu Kun to pursue fashion as a career. Born and raised in the small, steel producing town of Baoshan, on the outskirts of Shanghai, Kun spent his childhood studying art, but his mother convinced him that he was better off going to technical school to study fashion, as at least he could always fall back on tailoring skills to make a living.
“My mother thought it was a practical choice because I can make a living with nothing but some scissors and a small sewing machine. People always need to wear clothes,” the designer said with a laugh. “I was a teenager; I didn’t know what I wanted, so I just did what my mum suggested.”
It was only a few years later the then-23-year-old borrowed 200,000 yuan, or $32,000 at current exchange, to launch his own brand with a fashion show on Shanghai’s Bund. “Suddenly, it was like a bomb went off and everyone knew me. Shanghai Fashion Week invited me and I was given an award by Vivienne Tam,” Kun said.
From that point on, his signature cutting and modern updates of classic Shanghainese styles have proven popular with the city’s elite, and have been worn by celebrities, including Paris Hilton on her visit to Shanghai in 2007.
“I love the Twenties and Thirties, this glamorous era that I never experienced, everything is based on old photos and movies, but that’s part of the history of Shanghai, it belongs to every Shanghai citizen and I wanted to bring that to the world,” the designer said.
More than a decade after that first fashion show, Lu Kun again had a coming out party at Shanghai Fashion Week, using the platform to launch his new ready-to-wear brand, Mikumkum. With pieces priced from 800 to 5,000 yuan, or $130 to $800 at current exchange, the line is primarily aimed at the next generation of Shanghai consumers and embraces Kun’s feminine aesthetic in high quality staples in luxe silk and velvet jewel tones.