LONDON — You know it’s not an easy purchase when the order has to be signed off on by Rei Kawakubo herself.
But that was the case for Chinese fashion influencer Dipsy when he was trying to snag a runway look: an oversize black and white dress in which the bottom half resembles octopus tentacles, from Comme des Garçons’s spring 2022 collection shown in Tokyo last month.
With around 8 million followers on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, there is almost nothing Dipsy can’t get in China. Like many other top influencers in the market, he is showered with expensive gifts from top brands on a daily basis. In the last 30 days alone, he was tapped by Chanel, Hermès, Balenciaga, Gucci, Valentino and Canada Goose to promote their new styles.
“I was rejected last season by her. This time my salesperson at Dover Street Market Tokyo finally got her to agree to make this look for me after a weeklong persuasion,” he told WWD, adding that in order to get approval from Kawakubo, the sales team will submit his social media posts to help her evaluate whether he is a fit for the brand. Dipsy described the experience similar to a job interview to become her assistant.
“I paid around 1 million Japanese yen, [or around $8,823] for it, including all the taxes. I didn’t love this look at all when I was looking at the pictures, but if you watch the video, you will see that the look resembles a walking octopus. I was hooked. I will look so good in this when I wear it to go out and shopping,” he added.
For Bohan Qiu, founder of the Shanghai-based communication agency Boh Project and a respected figure for Chinese fashion market intelligence in the west, buying vintage and archive pieces is far more interesting than getting the latest “It” bags.
On top of browsing through Grailed and Vestiaire Collective, he often shops and sells on Xianyu, which is Alibaba’s answer to vintage e-market.
“From Space Age Italian lamps and vintage room dividers from late Qing dynasty, to 2000s Dior Homme and 1980s ultra-rare Japanese Fender guitars, the stuff nowadays on Xianyu has definitely gotten super interesting. I shop also from Grailed for vintage but shipping into China can be a pain sometimes with customs and duties,” he said.
Senser is another new platform that Qiu has been using. The site sources products directly from European shopping malls and offers more than 600,000 products from more than 3,000 brands. It claims that more than 70 percent of the app offerings were new arrivals, and are sold for 30 percent to 40 percent less than those at a branded store in China due to its strong bargaining power.
“Now that we can’t travel overseas, the daigou [a process where exporters outside of China purchase items for those living in China] business has concentrated and been systematically organized into this platform, and they cover new to old seasons and sometimes even more stuff than Farfetch at pretty competitive prices. It’s quickly taken over my shopping habits,” he added.
Also shopping online is fashion influencer Tao Liang, commonly known as Mr. Bags. He has been going to online auctions to buy his favorite rare bags during the pandemic.
Last December, he dialed in during a dinner at a local Hunan cuisine restaurant to an auction hosted by Poly Auction, and spent near 1 million renminbi, or $156,500, on a Himalaya Birkin. This year, he acquired two additional bags from auctions: a black Kelly 40 and a Kelly Teddy 40.
While Dipsy, Liang and Qiu look outward, Yu Zheng, the man behind the popular Weibo account Fashionmodels with more than 10 million followers, prefers local talents.
Most recently, he has been buying from brands like M Essential, Garcon by Garcon and Qiuhao, the first Chinese Woolmark Prize winner.
“M Essential is a great representation of what I call modern Chinese fashion,” he said. “From the fabric, embroidery and shape, it all comes from Chinese tradition. With a friendly price point, you get great value for what you are paying. Garcon by Garcon fits the Asian body well. I usually order around 10 pieces each season. Qiuhao is great for leather jackets and shearling coats. After a media discount, I usually spend 30,000 renminbi [$4,696] every season.”
Yu added that he won’t buy too many pieces from luxury brands because most of the trendy items will be gifted, but he is willing to invest in timeless pieces like a black tweed jacket from Chanel’s recent Métiers d’Art collection.
On the other side of Eurasia, fashion influencer and interior design Louis Zhang is interested in something smaller but much more valuable. Last year, a series of videos about his wardrobe, filmed at his riverside apartment in London, went viral on China’s video site Bilibili, helping him gain a loyal fan base there.
He recently purchased 4 carats of yellow diamonds, 2 carats each, for around $80,000 from a friend, whose family owns a diamond factory in Shenzhen. He plans to turn them into a pair of earrings.
In terms of shopping preferences, Zhang said he “enjoys buying things that will never go out of style. I don’t really chase the trend anymore. I am more into making my own trend and style — more like a leader than a follower.”
During the pandemic, he fell in love with vintage couture pieces mixing Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Dior with bespoke tailoring from Savile Row tailor Welsh & Jefferies or made-to-measure pieces from his close friend, fashion designer Huishan Zhang.