Susan Fang Spring 2020 Collection

SHANGHAI It was almost impossible to attend everything during Shanghai Fashion Week. Show venues were sparsely located along the Huangpu River that divides the city in half. Buyers and press would need to take a 30-minute tunnel-crossing trip from the downtown Xintiandi main show space to the Labelhood show space, the 80,000-ton warehouse that is the Minsheng Wharf, where the Prada men’s spring 2020 show was held in May, on the outskirts of East Bund. While the biggest trade show in town, Ontimeshow was located on West Bund, a 40-minute drive when there is no traffic.

But distance doesn’t stop people from commuting. The upgraded Xintiandi venue, which was built with sustainable materials, hosts most of the local fashion players and caters to their need to entertain government officials and regional distributors. Mainstream media and local celebrities attend the shows here religiously. Lily, China’s power player in the female professional-wear market, opened the 12-day-long fashion marathon on Oct. 9 here. 

While Labelhood serves as a creative hub for young talents, the Xintiandi venue was more similar to what you see at London or Paris fashion weeks, where local and international press, influencers and buyers gather to scout the next big thing. Each show here was run twice, once for the professional audience and once for fashion lovers who managed to reserve a seat months ago via a WeChat Mini-program.

Inside of Mode trade show, Shanghai Fashion Week's official trade show.

Inside of Mode trade show, Shanghai Fashion Week’s official trade show.  Courtesy

A Great Prospect 

According to the Shanghai Fashion Week committee, Shanghai had its best season to date. More than 60,000 designers, editors, buyers and creatives gathered there to showcase the latest fashion and ideas and explore what role they can play in the world’s largest fashion and luxury market.

Shanghai hosts the biggest fashion week trade show business in Asia. Some 101 brands showed on schedule and more than 1,700 brands participated in seven of the official showroom and trade show events this season. Each event — Mode, Ontimeshow, Showroom Shanghai, DFO, Tube, Alter and Not Showroom — has its own distinctive feel.

Ontimeshow, the biggest of them, announced a 10 million renminbi investment from Shanghai retail conglomerate Bailian Group. The funds will be used to expand its core business and upgrade the online business-to-business platform.

While the majority of the business in Shanghai caters to the mass market, some brands managed to attract attention from top buyers from big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Buyers from second and third-tier cities such as Chengdu, Chongqing, Wuhan, Changsha, Xi’an, Zhengzhou, Taiyuan are also on the rise, though these markets have very different tastes.

Michael Mok, general merchandising manager at Joyce, said Shanghai Fashion Week is getting more exciting every year. “Shanghai Fashion Week has become one of the most dynamic and influential fashion weeks in Asia,” he said.

Sensen Lii’s Windowsen was his favorite. “We definitely would love to showcase his work in our stores,” he said. Mok also likes works from Shuting Qiu, Ming Ma and Susan Fang.

Aliyah Shi, merchandising manager at Galeries Lafayette China, said: “Apart from the brands we already work with, like Shushu/Tong, Pronounce, Yirantian and Angel Chen, the likes of Angus Chiang x Peacebird, WMWM, Staffonly Homewear, Xuzhi’s men’s wear and Unrow also got our attention this season.”

Eric Young, owner of the Le Monde de SHC, a fashion boutique that is in the heart of former French concession and adored by Shanghai socialites, said he was particularly impressed by Samuel Guì Yang’s presentation at Yongfoo Elite, the former British Embassy in Shanghai.

“I like the subtlety and effortlessness of his new collection. I also like the fact that he found a fine balance between design and functionality,” he said. Young also said that the elusive actress Fan Bingbing spent four hours shopping there during fashion week and bought quite a few pieces from Samuel Guì Yang.

Young also favors Pronounce, Private Policy, Marchen, 8on8 and Lucency, a brand he discovered recently. Designed by Misha Lee, her bold female take on body and sex appeal has Young thinking Lucency could be the next big hit in his store.

Will Zhang, owner of SND, a top buyer store in Chongqing, in the South Western part of China, was also very impressed with Samuel Guì Yang, Caroline Hu, Shushu Tong and Ming Ma. Zhang said fashion consumption is growing fast in second-tier cities like Chongqing and Shanghai is great place for him to spot exciting designers for his customers.

“Chongqing is a city with highly diversified cultures itself, and SND is certainly one part of the scene. We aim to discover, promote and share cutting-edge and avant-garde designs and break geographic barriers, adapting fashion brands to local conditions to achieve a balance between daily life and fashion,” he said.

For international guests like Julie Gilhart, president of Tomorrow Consulting, Shanghai Fashion Week is a force coming up fast.

“The fashion is strong on the runways and in the showrooms. It’s a range of fashion from streetwear to designer and the expressions feel new. I think China is the new fashion frontier which will soon be a dominant force in terms of emerging talent and business,” she said.

Alexandre Mattiussi, the designer behind AMI, which staged a big show during Shanghai Fashion Week, thinks Shanghai is “dynamic and vibrant, a big source of inspiration, and the perfect location for AMI’s first show outside of Paris,” he said. “It is no wonder Shanghai is often called the Paris of the East. Paris is my city, my hometown. I immediately felt a connection when I visited Shanghai six years ago. It was almost the beginning of AMI, one of my first trips abroad for the brand.”

The Motoguo spring 2020 collection finale.  Constantine Qi/ Courtesy

Creativity Conundrum 

While Shanghai is undoubtedly on the rise, it is necessary to point out that some of the top designers, including many that buyers mentioned, did not show in Shanghai this time around.

The city had a creative talent explosion a few years back, and with easy access to London, New York, Milan and Paris, many designers have moved on and chose to skip showing in Shanghai and only sell via trade shows. These designers have put on shows outside the country, and doing a show in Shanghai doesn’t necessarily benefit them as they have already established strong presence in the market.

This situation left the official calendar filled with safe and less-aspirational brands, and the younger generation showing here is torn between getting orders from buyers and pleasing journalists for media support. This issue is particularly severe at Labelhood. Some designers drastically toned down their voices, while some changed their brand positioning completely.

It’s understandable that survival is the priority when the majority of Chinese consumers are not very receptive to new fashion ideas and higher price points. For example, Jingwei Yin of Oude Waag, a talented Royal Academy of Arts graduate, said his order doubled this season as he downplayed his creativity and offered more wearable items on the runway.  Two seasons ago, his avant-garde presentation resulted in only one order.

A few new names that offered refreshing voices during the week included Susan Fang, Motoguo, Yueqi Qi, Windowsen and Shuting Qiu. Susan Fang infused dance performances and Tibetan mythical elements to her presentation, while Yueqi Qi showcased her beautiful beading work in a fun, kitschy set, featuring a pile of pomelos, giant sticks of incense and a motorbike carrying flowers. Motoguo and Shuting Qiu’s collections exerted joy and optimism that was missing from many other designers. Windowsen’s over-the-top outfits were also full of energy.

Qiu Hao presented arguably the strongest collection in Shanghai. His label features beautifully made wardrobe stables with tasteful design. Qiu loves to use leather and fur, and contends they are real sustainable materials.

Qiu is no stranger to the local scene. Having won the Woolmark Prize over a decade ago, he chose to stay out of the limelight and keeps his focus on making clothes that last for his clients and allocates his energy and budget in refining design and production.

It took him a decade to figure out what is the best way for him to run a brand. While others are rushing to show on the global fashion stage, he said he will show his designs to the world when he thinks he is ready.

Winners of the K Generation Award with executives from Kering and Plug and Play.

Winners of the K Generation Award with executives from Kering and Plug and Play.  Courtesy

Sustainability Overload

When there wasn’t much going on on the runway, the attention went to a slew of events and forums hosted by brands and retailers. Unsurprisingly, sustainability took center stage in many of them.

Kering awarded three Chinese eco-friendly start-ups, Melephant, Heyuan and FeiLiu Technology, during its inaugural K Generation Award, for their work addressing sustainability challenges in the textile value chain.

François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive officer of Kering, flew in to Shanghai for the ceremony. Pinault said the formation of the award in conjunction with Silicon Valley incubator Plug and Play, reflected an underlying shift in the global industry in which China plays an outsized part in the sustainability conversation.

“China was one of the most important suppliers of raw materials in the fashion industry, but the markets and consumers were outside of China,” he said. “It was Europe, it was America. Over the last 10 to 15 years, China became also the most important market for all the luxury brands, all the fashion brands.”

“Now, China is the most important market for all the fashion brands, the most important supplier for raw materials for all the fashion brands, in the same market,” said Pinault. “Luxury cannot become luxury without sustainability, and sustainability cannot be sustainable without China.”

Shaway Yeh, founder of Yehyehyeh, an agency bringing together sustainability, creativity and innovation to instigate value-based change, and an advocate for sustainability practice in China, hosted Shan forum two days later. Her half-day sustainability forum highlighted conversations on customer expectations, technological innovation with the fashion and retail industries in China and beyond.

“There is a lot of talks, voice and awareness of sustainability. Everyone is trying to address this issue because it’s really hard to know what exactly we can do. It’s a very new issue,” Yeh said.

“The good thing is that more and more Chinese companies and designers are aware and agreeing they’re going to do this, we’re going to see the real results very soon,” she said, citing Erdos, a leading Chinese cashmere manufacturer, as a prime example. It showcased its first coed show with a live performance from Pu Shu, a Chinese rocker, in Shanghai Power Station of Art.

The company quickly implemented sustainable practice into its supply chain and saw an immediate result within two years. Land and resource preservation, particularly in their home territory of Inner Mongolia, “is our own cause, we have to do it, whether people like it or not,” said general manager Jane Wang, who sat on the inaugural K Generation jury. But “we don’t want sustainability associated with pain,” particularly for the customer, she added.

The company, who reaches beyond fashion into metallurgy and energy, is seeking a Chinese government certification as a green manufacturer before 2025, following guidelines issued as part of China’s 35-year sustainable development initiatives in the Nineties.

Yeh also hosted a talk for Prada on sustainability and the debut their new Re-Nylon short film “What We Carry Episode 4.” The event was followed by an intimate cocktail reception inside Prada Rong Zhai.

Stella McCartney with a fan in Shanghai.  VPhoto/ Courtesy

Retailers Seek Presence

International retailers in attendance showed a great interest in the market. German online luxury platform Mytheresa feted the launch of the Stella McCartney capsule collection with a fusion vegan dinner in the historical Cha house. McCartney also gave a talk at Tongji university about sustainability and creativity earlier that day, moderated by Yeh.

Farfetch cohosted a dinner with the British Fashion Council for the Chinese creative talents. Judy Liu, managing director of Farfetch China, said “they are the ‘creators,’ and we are happy to be their ‘producers.'”

Caroline Rush, who has come to Shanghai Fashion Week for two years, said “China keeps on playing an important part of our strategy. There is a constant appetite from British brands to have a presence in the market and vice versa. We aim to facilitate introductions for British businesses and creatives and create a network of partners who can help facilitate access to the market and raise awareness to local media but also the general public.”

Also from London, Harrods hosted a three-day open-house event at the penthouse of the Middle House, a luxury hotel in central Shanghai. VIPs of the retailer could get a complimentary personalized Teddy bear or IV drip wellness treatment.

Michael Ward, managing director of Harrods said “every time we visit China, it is always a special experience. Shanghai Fashion Week showcases the best and brightest of the Chinese fashion industry to the world, so we knew we needed to celebrate with something particularly special.”

“Our pop-up brought highlights from across our beauty, wellness, lifestyle and fashion divisions to Shanghai Fashion Week, and brought a little bit of the Harrods magic to Shanghai. It was wonderful to host our clients and friends from Shanghai inside our pop-up Harrods home. We are excited to return in December for our debut in Chengdu with a high jewelry celebration curated specially for the occasion,” he added.

An exterior view of Shanghai Fashion Week’s upgraded Xintiandi venue.  Courtesy

Looking Ahead

The tension between Beijing and Hong Kong and the ongoing Sino-America trade war seemingly did not cast any shadow on Shanghai. The city is in the mood for celebration. The iconic Shanghai skyline on the bund is decorated with millions of glittering lights and there’s a giant happy 70th birthday sign next to the landmark Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower.

Xiaolei Lv, deputy secretary-general of Shanghai Fashion Week, is also bullish about the future. “From what I have seen this season, I deeply feel that they are not only offering clothing, but a way of living that combines art and craftsmanship,” she said.

“I hope designers can establish their own business model in the future. Everything is happening too fast. I hope they can slow down the pace and consolidate what they have achieved and learn from it. I am also very happy to see everyone was busy traveling around town, checking out the latest fashion from our designers.”

Lv also believes promoting sustainability is an obligation, especially as Shanghai is the first city in China to implement new garbage recycling rules. “If you don’t share this idea with everyone in the industry, you will miss a lot. Four years ago, we began to consciously integrate sustainability into our agenda, because at that time, we felt that we can influence the consumers, and it will eventually affect the upstream of the industry,” Lv stressed.

“And we have the responsibility to communicate these valuable and meaningful ideas and practices to everyone in China. To guide more organizations or individuals to truly engage in environmental protection with professional attitudes,” she added.

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