Overlooking one of Beijing’s busiest crosswalks, a woman donning a Chictopia striped dress slurps a messy bowl of noodles. Within a few minutes, a male model walks a runway for Sean Suen. The images are playing on loop on a big screen this week as part of a series of fashion films by Beijing’s leading independent Chinese designers in a gesture to engage Sanlitun’s trendy shoppers.
While Mercedes-Benz China Fashion Week continues to host runway shows in the capital, Fashion Now, a multimedia platform for China’s independent designers, took a decidedly creative, digital approach. To commemorate its fourth year, organizers opted to take a break from the catwalk and create a consumer-facing event that would help them gain more exposure in the China market. On March 27, the group debuted seven fashion films created by designers Dawei, Chictopia, M Essential, Ricostru, MiCartsy, Sean Suen, and Tommy Zhong at the Mercedes me experience center, where the films were broadcast in an area that attracts not only fashion-conscious locals, but tourists from all over the country.
“At this moment for the Chinese indie designer, we need people, we need customers,” said Muki Ma, the Tianjin-born designer behind M Essential. Ma’s brand, which is heading into its fourth season, was an Asia nominee for the 2016-17 Woolmark Prize and was picked up last year by Opening Ceremony for its Year of China program, giving him high-profile exposure in China’s fashion circles. But Ma has two labels, one being a more conceptual brand that he says is more appropriate for the U.S. and European markets, and a more commercial label that’s focused on China. In the past for Fashion Now, Ma did a runway show for buyers, fashion editors, bloggers, and VIPs, but this season, he decided to embark on a fashion film for the first time in his career. Partly, he said, it’s to “take a break.” But his endeavor is also a way for him to brand himself on social media, offering both the fashion editor and consumer audience a more creative presentation of his label.
Fashion Now organizers say the change in format from a mix of fashion shows and presentations to an exhibition and fashion films was mainly conceived as a way to celebrate eight seasons. In just four years, the platform has become Beijing’s go-to source for independent fashion designers, gaining the support of mega-stars in the industry, including Vogue China editor Angelica Cheung, China’s fashion media mogul Hung Huang, and many others.
But the consumer-facing exhibition is becoming more common in the industry in both China and on a global scale as brands and marketers work to engage a growing group of digital-savvy young consumers. At Shanghai Fashion Week this season for instance, China Fashion Bloggers is hosting an event that live streams the runway shows so that the general public can feel involved and see the designs from Chinese independent designers as soon as VIPs and fashion editors see them. Of course, some big-name luxury brands have taken this a step further by allowing consumers to buy pieces of their collections straight off the runway.
For brands in China who simply want to make themselves more known in a market that’s only beginning to appreciate local, independent high-end designers, a more socially-involved event like this one may be necessary for growth.
Christine Lau of Chictopia is among those with Fashion Now who are working on establishing their brand into more of a commercial effort. Her fashion film, which she did in collaboration with local photographer Lin Zhipeng, known as No. 223, is her second, and shows a more “cult, indie” side to her brand. In Lin’s signature cheeky style, models wearing Lau’s whimsically colorful dresses and coats ate noodles with their hands, covered themselves with gold confetti, and put out cigarettes with milk.
The five-year-old brand has shops in Beijing and Shanghai, but Lau said she wants to use this opportunity to revamp her established presence. “[Chinese consumers] are very interested in new, emerging designers, and they are very interested in new designs, but figuring out how to convert an indie brand into a more commercial brand is the next thing I’m going to work on,” she said. “Right now, Chictopia is still not very mainstream, so I want more people to know the brand.”
The fashion films will be promoted on social media channels ahead of Shanghai Fashion Week, which kicks off on April 7.