As a clear admirer and student of renowned Western counterparts Bill Cunningham (The New York Times), Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist), and Tommy Ton (Jak & Jil), Shanghai-based Roy Zhang is one of China’s most famous street style photographers.
In addition to his contributions to top fashion magazines and work with major international labels, Zhang is perhaps best known for his three-year-old street style site ShanghaiExpress. Standing out amidst a proliferation of selfie-centered fashion blogs, the site captures Chinese society as it is in the midst of discovering and defining its own style. Due to China’s economy being closed off to the world until the 1980s, a large segment of the country’s population is still discovering brands for the first time. It is in this nascent and effervescent environment that Zhang identifies and captures subtle and not-so-subtle—but always fresh—sartorial permutations, whether his subject is an elderly neighbor or fashion world insider. As a Shanghai native, these are his streets; his people.
Looking effortlessly sophisticated in a white polo shirt, white Vans, and dark slacks at a recent fashion event at Unico on the Bund—one of Shanghai’s chicest restaurants—Zhang sat down with me to discuss his experience documenting the latest trends in such a dynamic and rapidly changing fashion scene.
Where is your favorite place to shoot?
[The] French Concession and the area around West Nanjing Road are my favorite places to shoot in Shanghai. By the way, I hope I can go to Milan to capture some beautiful moments in the future.
How has Shanghai street style evolved since you started ShanghaiExpress three years ago?
As everyone knows, Shanghai is a diverse and inclusive city. People who live here are willing to change themselves day-by-day, and also more and more people come to Shanghai from the other cities or countries. We see all kinds of styles. This is very interesting, but for me, the people who are elegant and display effortless chic always catch my eye; this has never changed.
What is trendy at the moment?
Simple and healthy is the trend. For instance, perfectly tanned skin and a backless dress are never out of style in summer.
Both the expensive things and something hard-to-get are luxury.
Where do you find inspiration?
On the street where I can find the next person I want to take a photo of.
(All photos by Roy Zhang/ShanghaiExpress)