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Shanghai: China’s Fashion Pivot II

The earliest 21st Century also proves a strong contender in Shanghai's Gold Cup fashion race.

Part I took us to that roaring Shanghai of the pre-PRC 20th Century, but the earliest 21st Century also proves a strong contender in the Pearl’s fashion race. Mmm hmmm, that first pinpoint on The China Fashion Map sure ain’t no small Dutch dot in mode terms.


As Marxist Leninist Mao Zedong one-size-and-style-fits-all playsuits (traditionally known as the male 中山装 – yep, after Sun Yat-Sen — for those interested in getting one) in 1949 unified the fashion stakes across the Middle Kingdom. The fact that its jacket was made out of one piece, contrary to the usual two layers of fabric or something, symbolized China’s unity and peace. Its three cuff-buttons stood for the Three Principles of The People: Nationalism, Democracy and People’s Livelihood. As it turned out, the PRC standard suit became a hit with western “intellectuals” (aka the communist-thought-liking hipsters-du-jour) throughout the 1960s and 70s. They apparently tended to pair it with a nice comfi turtleneck. Mao PC lovely. So, I do beg your pardon, but instead of going through 30 unavailing years of joyless démodé bootcamp, I’d rather pick up not where I left off, but where the thrill really came back for Shanghai’s fashionista: The 21st Century.


Vogueing the Nation

The opening of the 21s Century saw the arrival of many Western fashion media staples on China Mainland. People were already aware of the Marnis and Pradas being status symbols, but flipping through pages and pages of luxury brand advertisements as presented in the Vogues, Elles and Harper’s Bazaars of this universe, certainly spurred on the rush for the gold CC signs. Hey, what can I say, those fashion media moguls are some bright cookies for sure. Pushing Eurocentric notions in Asia? Yep. Anyone care? Nope. Either way, the 2000s saw the Mainland masses heading to Hong Kong’s (cheaper) top-level brand flagship stores like it was Black Friday every day. And bringing home the same bag. Every single one of them.

But then… drumroll, please. We entered the 2010s and arrived at a crossroads where many a China-born dressmaker was braising up their own designs, mixing their personal heritage and China’s history with Western-studied techniques. The new China fashion design(er) went from being more underground or small-atelier-audience-bound to upping the public streetstyle; breaking with all bombastic bag-du-must-have-brand conventions (of course these have not been eradicated, why should they be; each to their own). A new Chinese clientele since leans towards individualizing what’s on their wooden hangers and thus exuding their individuality towards their peers and wider surroundings. The “M’as-tu-vu?” thought in a new layered jacket.


From Vogue to Rogue

In a sense, that’s exactly what China Fashion did: Go rogue. The once all-dominating Brand Name, additionally acclamated by Vogue China – in my opinion they still should dip not just their tippy-toe-gel-nail into the China Fashion Designer Pool, but actually dive into its luster with some more cool gusto, has had to give way to the understated subculturally enigmatic label – if there is one attached.


Uma Wang, Masha Ma, Qiu Hao, Lu Kun, Joyce Wang, Alter Lifestyle, Yilin Lu, Bubble-Mood, COOLAB Studio, Dodo’s Yeli Gu, sustainable raw silk womenswear or organic children’s clothing, cocktailwear by Atelier Miss Lu, well-known ones, notorious ones, Xizang-influenced accessory shopping gems, Miao-inspired creations, Momorobo, A La Mode Boutique, SEVENDAYS, NuoMi, Frau Ana, cute, chic, Jenny Ji, locals, expats, and so the litany continues and so many shall be featured on here in the weeks to come. The Shanghai fashion design scene in the 21st Century has burst back into its former frisky innovative creativity and gained back the reputation that strides with it. And let’s not forget about the biannual Shanghai Fashion Week, understandably the city’s main official fashion event which first took place in 2003. Nowadays, this stage has become The Asian Go-To for any designer wanting to up their game. Mind you, the competition is as whalebone-corset stiff as the designs are quintessentially quirky.


The year 2014 saw Shanghai ranking No. 10 amongst Global Fashion Capitals, right under my adopted hometown of Antwerp – where everybody’s cool, officially making it the “most fashionable city in Asia”. The 2010s also come with a shift in desirable goods, moving from the omnipresent Louis Vuitton bag to a more individual expression through fashion. Great Style Leap Exhibition Director Xu Haiyun once said in a Jing Daily interview: “When social media and street style came around, they gave people a new type of fashion influence that was closer to them, that was graspable and more affordable. […] I think because of Beijing’s history as a center for art and culture, people therefore dress a little differently—more complex, maybe. Shanghai is a little more Western, whereas Guangzhou and Shenzhen feel more original and Asian.” The man has a point.


Beijing is the rougher diamond; Shanghai is by now, overflowing with more than 100 years in fashion do’s and don’ts, a polished one; but it would be unfair to cast aside the simply innate Chinese or Asian inspirations found with Shanghai’s fashion design. It may have a polished – Western, if you will – coating, but it sure is pure and unadulterated China-born-and-bred Fashion. I mean, even the Mao Zedong thought elixir was first served with a few Marxist and Leninist drops, right?


I give you Chairman Mao with a style-advisory twist:

“One cannot advance without mistakes… It is necessary to make mistakes. The wardrobe cannot be updated without learning from mistakes.”