“Define China Fashion for me,” is a question we at Temper Magazine are asked on a more than frequent basis. How can one pinpoint the soul of a major scene in full developing swing, we in turn ask of the inquirer. From circus to chique, the China Fashion pendulum freely and ferociously swings across the judges panel, with an equilibrium not yet in sight. Lucky for us, whilst the jury may still be out, confessions of a status quo have been leaked. HighSnobiety reports.
The Middle Kingdom is one of the largest fashion markets in the world and home to many a glistening, innovative young designer who ofttimes has had the chance to foster and hone their craft at the world’s most prestigious fashion design institutes. The question justifiably remains… Why has The New Made In China label yet to conquer the world?
“China has become more closely integrated into the global community over the past decades, which means that there is now a more enabling environment than ever for the fashion scene.” Designer Xander Zhou in HighSnobiety
Temper Magazine’s Trending segment casts a net upon all that is throwing tantrums within the world of China Fashion across a variety of global sources. This very necessary segment dips its toe into the deep indigo-dyed pool that is the ocean of Middle Kingdom fashionable astonishment.
This time around, we turn to HighSnobiety’s Alec Leach who plunges into the depths of China Fashion — freefalling style — and sums up one highly insightful and detailed status quo. Lead us to the light, Leach!
It’s not just buying power that makes China the mightiest fashion consumer on the planet. It’s the workshop of the world, the country that makes the phone in your pocket and the clothes on your back.
Rain pours down outside a nondescript shopping mall in Shanghai. Passersby clutch umbrellas or hail cabs to escape the downpour. A roll call of Chinese fashion brands on LED billboards signal that this is one of the official locations for Shanghai Fashion Week, but there are no photographers, hangers-on or event staff crowded outside, just a couple of guys in BAPE hoodies staring into their smartphones as they shelter from the rain. A Gucci billboard the size of a football pitch looms over them.
Elsewhere in the city, the scene is much the same. There are enormous screens celebrating the city’s fashion week, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s actually there to see it. There’s none of the buzz, crowds or mad rushes of photographers that you see on the streets of London, New York, Paris or Milan. That doesn’t mean the city is without its ambitions: Vivienne Westwood opened Shanghai’s SS12 season and the week’s organizers are hoping the city will overtake Tokyo and Seoul as Asia’s fashion capital.
It’s a strange paradox China finds itself in at the minute. Nearly half of all the world’s luxury goods — 46 percent to be precise — are bought by Chinese shoppers. Luxury stores across the world employ Chinese-speaking staff to cater for the countless retail tourists walking through their doors. Every high-ticket shop on the planet relies on China’s globetrotting nouveau riche to pay their bills, and luxury brands have invested so heavily in the country that the thought of another economic slowdown there makes executives shudder. When Chinese shoppers reined in their spending back in 2015, Burberry CEO and Creative Director Christopher Bailey had to take a 75 percent pay cut to offset the brand’s plummeting sales.
It’s not just buying power that makes China the mightiest fashion consumer on the planet. It’s the workshop of the world, the country that makes the phone in your pocket and the clothes on your back. President Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ shtick promised to take back many of the countless jobs that have been outsourced to China in recent years. That won’t change the fact that pretty much every manufacturer on the planet has China incorporated into its supply chain in some way or another—and fashion brands are no exception.
If China consumes, produces and exports such a vast amount of clothing, why are we still wearing clothes designed in America, Europe and Japan?
China’s manufacturing might have created a stupendous amount of wealth in the country, and like emerging middle classes all over the developing world, being seen spending your money is a vital sign of success—hence all the luxury shopping. The world’s most populous nation is now flexing its muscles abroad—China is investing in vast infrastructure projects in over 60 countries, from a nuclear power plant in the UK to Africa’s first transnational electric railway. Oh, and its navy is currently building islands in the middle of the South China Sea to claim ownership of the seaways that carry a third of the world’s shipping.
If China consumes, produces and exports such a vast amount of clothing, why are we still wearing clothes designed in America, Europe and Japan? Why aren’t we seeing Chinese fashion brands in shops all over the world?
In the concrete bowels of a former abattoir, Sun Yun looks on at the ordered chaos before him. Clothes hang on rails, aides chatter into phones, and models loiter around killing time before the lights go down. Sun Yun — or “Mr. Sun” as he’s known here — is a softly-spoken man of indeterminate age, with a fine, wispy goatee, and long black hair tied back behind his ears. He and his team are dressed in the high fashion uniform that’s standard-issue in this part of the world: Lots of drape, lots of layers, and no color whatsoever. A white facemask is the only thing Mr. Sun wears that isn’t black.
Chinese designers aren’t short on talent or skill — many of them have trained at the world’s most prestigious design schools — but the biggest problem they face is that, broadly speaking, China isn’t interested in its own brands.
Mr. Sun made his name as an architect. He’s designed the corporate headquarters for Yahoo’s Chinese arm, and gargantuan e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba. His firm, IAD, is ranked in the top 100 in the world by “Architectural Digest”. Today, he’s a different kind of designer; he’s showing the debut collection for Cornerstone by Sun Yun, his new foray into fashion.
Chinese designers aren’t short on talent or skill — many of them have trained at the world’s most prestigious design schools — but the biggest problem they face is that, broadly speaking, China isn’t interested in its own brands. The government and state-controlled media would have you believe that the country is destined to one day usurp the West, but culturally speaking, the general public fawns over imports from Europe and America. Trap is all the rage, Swiss watches are an essential status symbol, and the country’s elite has developed a taste for high-end French wines. That makes things tough for emerging Chinese designers, who face an uphill struggle trying to make themselves relevant in the country. If Chinese designers can’t build a business in their own country, how are they supposed to make it abroad?
It’s also a problem that Chinese designers are, to date, short on a compelling vision. Japanese labels have been enormously successful by reworking blueprints set by the West to create something new and exciting. More recently, Gosha Rubchinskiy has done the same with his quintessentially Russian take on streetwear, again to huge success. The Chinese designers you see showing in Paris, New York and London are certainly not bad, but they’ve not managed to really wow the world with an authentic story.
Mr. Sun wants to change all that.
Given that Shanghai Fashion Week is far off from breaking into the “big four” and that the country is yet to fully develop a taste for its own talent, it’s only natural that many Chinese designers have taken to showing in the West instead.
Cornerstone’s FW17 collection takes traditional Chinese influences, and reworks them for the modern wardrobe. The silhouette is big, strong and masculine, and it draws heavily from military and workwear influences. A lot of the techniques reference Chinese tradition, like a mink coat that’s been crafted with centuries-old patchwork techniques, but then cut like a massive hoodie. Hand-printing methods that go back thousands of years have been used on technical polyester instead of silk.
There’s a big market for Cornerstone’s luxe robes and fine coats in Asia already, but there’s enough contemporary street references—the army jackets, the pops of hi-vis color— to make a dent in the West. It certainly won’t hurt that Cornerstone’s aesthetic has faint hints of Kanye West’s YEEZY line to it, what with the dystopian vibes, massive silhouettes and overt military influence.
It’s a powerful statement, and Mr. Sun is certainly confident in his new baby: He’s opening four flagships in China to debut the collection.
Given that Shanghai Fashion Week is far off from breaking into the “big four”—London, Milan, Paris, New York—and that the country is yet to fully develop a taste for its own talent, it’s only natural that many Chinese designers have taken to showing in the West instead.
Feng Chen Wang used her SS18 show to satirize the popular stigma that’s attached to Chinese goods. Wang plastered “Made in China” across her collection, which was unveiled during New York Fashion Week: Men’s. China is home to some of the most advanced textile factories in the world, and has a long legacy of artisanal craftsmanship, but the “Made in China” tag has wrongly been associated with cheap, disposable novelties. That’s a hangover from the Cold War, when the U.S. media propagated the belief that Chinese manufacturing was inferior, in order to support American producers. Wang also unveiled a Jordan collab on the runway—not bad for a designer who’s only on her second solo show
Sankuanz, founded by Shanguan Zhe in 2008, shows its hyperactive, schizophrenic luxe-street creations on the Paris schedule. For FW17, Zhe was on a B-movie vibe, mixing weirdo sci-fi elements with wacky fabrics and ghoulish lettering that looked like it was lifted from The Cramps.
“Kids born in the ’90s are more influenced by the internet than the government,” says Zhe backstage after the Sankuanz fashion show. “They have more information, they can choose more than the style that’s in the country, and they have access to information from international brands.”
Let HighSnobiety’s Leach finish up the full tale right here!
This trending topic was originally written by Alec Leach for HighSnobiety, Issue 15, 2017. All rights reserved
Additional editing and introduction by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine
About HighSnobiety: Highsnobiety is an online publication covering forthcoming trends and news in fashion, art, music, and culture, all on one platform. Highsnobiety has steadily built a strong brand in the online fashion and lifestyle world. Today the blog and print magazine sit among the most visited global sources for inspiration in the areas of fashion, sneakers, music, art and lifestyle culture. Innovation, progression and always being several steps ahead of the curve are just some of the core values of Highsnobiety.
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Featured Image: Courtesy of Kitayama Studio
Temper Magazine does not own any of the above English content. All featured English content belongs to Alec Leach for HighSnobiety, Issue 15, 2017. All rights reserved.
After tackling Beijing for some six years where she worked for China International Publishing Group, she spent a moment in time moseying down steep alleyways and writing about their fashionable and underground features in Hong Kong.
Van Paridon most recently managed to claw her way through a Europe-based academic endeavor called "Journalism". 'Tis in such fashion that she has now turned her lust for China Fashion/ Lifestyle and Underground into a full time occupation.
Van Paridon hunts down the latest in Chinese menswear, women’s clothing, designer newbies, established names, changes in the nation’s street scenery, close-ups of particular trends presently at play or of historical socio-cultural value in Chinaplus a selection of budding photographers.
Paired with a deep devotion to China’s urban underground scene, van Paridon holds a particular interest in the topics of androgyny, the exploration of individuality and the power that is the Key Opinion Leader (the local term for “influencers”) in contemporary China.
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