It's not just fashion, but design for city's precocious talent

Liu Xiaolin
Shanghai Fashion Week returns once more to the buzzing metropolis and offers a platform to China's robust creative designers to showcase their talent.
Liu Xiaolin
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Shanghai Fashion Week wrapped up last week after models strutted down the Xintiandi runway wearing Cabbeen’s spring/summer 2020 collection, inspired by space suit. The Chinese menswear label transformed the fashion week’s main venue into a fictional space base, showcasing a futuristic collection of sporty and worker-style designs that retained practicality.

The 11-day fashion week saw more than 100 runway shows, giving a kaleidoscopic presentation of the robust creative talent in the fashion industry, especially from homegrown independent designers. Statistics revealed that 1,200 fashion labels were on display in several showroom and trade show venues all over the city, with a record-high visit of 60,000 people in total.

“If today you only learn about designers and labels from magazines’ headlines, I highly suggest that you go to the showrooms of Ontimeshow or Showroom Shanghai, even Tmall or Taobao,” said Queennie Yang, editor director of Business of Fashion China. “Designers of all kinds are in bloom in China.”

A hotbed for China’s rising young designers, Labelhood this year set up its catwalk in a renovated barn at Minsheng Wharf on the East Bund, the Pudong New Area. Themed “Out of This World,” the four-day event saw promising Chinese talent present their latest designs, and an all-day market featuring workshops and a wide selection of lifestyle brands.

The highlights include a still presentation of Windowsen by Antwerp Fashion Department graduate Sensen Lii, which celebrates the sophisticated, sometimes even dramatic maximalism; the return of established menswear label Ximon Lee; and the emergence of fledging menswear labels such as Cornerstone, Garçon by Gçogcn and Roaringwild that showcase a well blend of style and utility.

“We’d like to break some rules and push the boundaries, to make fashion more democratic,” Tasha Liu, founder of Labelhood, told Shanghai Daily.

Three direct-to-consumer labels that kicked off on e-commerce platform Tmall are among the newcomers of this year’s Labelhood — one of them is S u p e rr. Launched on Tmall by Renee Wang in 2012, S u p e rr has built up a loyal customer base of 700,000. The brand’s open-to-public debut on Labelhood was fully packed, and the live streaming on Tmall clocked up 709,000 views.

“China is in need of fashion brands that can get closer to young people,” Liu said, adding that most brands are overly-priced for the general public, especially consumers from beyond first-and second-tier cities in China.

Some DTC pioneers, whereas, are carrying out attempts by “working on unforgotten products in very limited categories.”

Chinese designers learn better to go back to their roots for inspiration these years. Leaf Xia brought details of Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) costumes such as the loose sleeves and silhouette, and the floral motifs on silk products into her spring/summer collection.

Based on the underskirt of the Chinese qipao, Samuel Gui Yang develops its feminine designs with the tailoring techniques of vintage suits for men.

Saint Martin graduate, hat designer Zhang Tingting launched a workshop entitled “Rejuvenate” at Labelhood’s market, inviting the public to make hats of their own with dissembled shoemaking materials. Founder of the creative studio Neon Cloud Hat System, Zhang came to know of Putian City in late 2017.

The city in southeastern China’s Fujian Province is widely known as the factory of global sneaker-making. It started in the 1970s, and later became home to copycat shoes due to the low cost and efficiency in shoemaking.

Today, shoemakers in Putian have moved on to make hybrid sneakers, combining various parts of a dozen hot-sale models, like Yeezy, Air Jordan 1 and Li-Ning. By transforming dissembled Putian-made sneakers into hats, the social-concern creative project try to juxtapose “the symbols of public stereotypes (of Putian) and the real positive side of Putian shoemaking industry overshadowed by social bias, like its supreme techniques,” Zhang said.

It's not just fashion, but design for city's precocious talent
Courtesy of NCHS ck

A participant shows her work at the “Rejuvenate” workshop of Neon Cloud Hat System x Labelhood. 

It's not just fashion, but design for city's precocious talent
Courtesy of NCHS ck

Works on display at the “Rejuvenate” workshop of Neon Cloud Hat System x Labelhood

‘More than fashion week’

A long-time partner with Shanghai Fashion Week and an experienced industry influencer, Liu believes that “Chinese designers have received unprecedented support from the local market,” especially in fashion weeks. Yet the role fashion weeks play is “more than a fashion week,” and far beyond collective presentation in public and media exposure.

“It is crucial for designers to work with trade shows and showrooms to generate business, or even have direct collaboration on channels,” Liu said. “Without business, the designs have no way to be displayed in front of the public.”

Lu Xiaolei, vice secretary of Shanghai Fashion Week Committee, describes SFW as “a dark horse.” Since 2006, Shanghai Fashion Week has been striving to build a comprehensive eco-system to pave the way for the commercialization of homegrown designers’ labels and achieve a balance between trade and presentations. SFW has now grown into a magnet for young Chinese designers studying abroad, attracting flocks of foreign buyers, media and influencers as well.

“Three years ago, foreign fashion editors who came to shows of Labelhood almost stormed out, because we opened shows to the public and did not arrange (front-row) seats,” Liu said. “Today, they all grow very used to it.”

To support start-ups, Labelhood brought designers to showcase their latest collections and met with a group of international advisors, such as Michael Ward, managing director of UK retail giant Harrods, to get ideas.

A selection of designs were also on display at Harrods’ pop-up exclusive membership club in Shanghai.

“Young Chinese designers should take enough time to harness their skills and products, and lay a solid foundation at home,” Liu said. “They don’t need to prove themselves by making fashion shows abroad.”

Going green

Sustainability was one of the most talked-about keywords at this year’s SFW. Fashion is one of the world’s most polluting industries. A variety of eco-friendly initiatives were launched on the sidelines of catwalks and presentations.

Fashion industry’s eco-pioneer Stella McCartney appeared in the city during SFW to share her ideas on ecology.

“Fast fashion ... is producing 500 million dollars’ worth of waste and even though it is a problem, I see it as a business opportunity. We need to find a new business model on how to break down cotton and fibre in a circular way,” the British-American designer said.

McCartney recently launched the world’s first faux-fur-made alternatives for customers, using a new material made with recycled polyester plant-based fibers.

“I want people to know that wearing environmentally sustainable clothes does not mean compromising in style,” she said.

“There’s so many things that businesses can do already to achieve circular economy in the industry,” British Fashion Council CEO Caroline Rush told Shanghai Daily. “Switching to green energy should be the first, probably. It’s one of the easiest things to do. Think about logistics. We work with DHL and other partners to look at how through green energy can be done effectively. Think about the materials they are using, the dyes in those materials; think about waste, where it is going and its impact; think about packaging and delivery.”

Luxury group Kering held the first K Generation award ceremony in Shanghai to honor three Chinese start-ups for their innovative exploration to cut down chemical use and process waste water in textile production.

Other efforts are put in material innovation. Coffee Psycho, founded by Felix Hu, is looking at how to make fabric for clothes from coffee grounds.

“Sustainability is an added value, because at the forefront of fashion is ultimately the design that draws people in to buy your clothes and eventually promoting sustainability,” Browns buyer Costanza Lombardi said at a panel discussion.

“The customers do not need to see the whole production line of how sustainable clothes work but the reasons why they buy your environmentally sustainable clothes should be made clear.”

(Song Xinyi and Diantha Chong also contributed to the story.)

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