Designer Chen Peng Taps Olympic Opportunity

Chen Peng, founder of the eponymous label CHENPENG, is the next to be welcomed into the Jing Daily community of individuals shaping China’s booming luxury fashion industry. These profiles highlight industry leaders who contribute to the national and global fashion communities, from creatives and influencers to business executives and entrepreneurs.

Since the launch of his label six years ago, the young designer from Jiangxi province has positioned himself at the very forefront of China’s new wave of emerging talents. Peng graduated from London College of Fashion with a masters in Fashion Design Technology Menswear, which supplemented a grounding in Fine Art from China’s Soochow University. His final collection for LCF, Normal-In-Normal, used pattern cutting methodologies to play with scale and size, creating a one-size-fits-all roll call of quilted silhouettes. 

Scouted by Vogue Talent’s Sara Sozzani Maino at Shanghai Fashion Week’s trade show MODE, CHENPENG was a finalist in 2017’s H&M Design Award and secured a spot on 2018’s Woolmark Prize shortlist. In 2021, it nabbed the inaugural Yu Prize alongside a cash reward of over $150,000.00. Peng’s label now boasts a highly engaged following of 506K fans on Weibo, and a cult following of 5,640 on Xiaohongshu. As well as cultivating a strong online presence, CHENPENG is building a reputation as one of the go-to names for collaborations.

So far, local partnerships include sportswear star Li-Ning, Children’s giant Balabala, and a quirky outing with McDonalds and the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. Globally, it teamed up with Moncler in 2021 to create an  environmentally conscious upcycled capsule from over 400 archive jackets. Now, Peng has upped the ante even more, as tens of millions across China and abroad have seen his costumes at the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Chen Peng designed costumes for five acts at the Opening Ceremony. Ice lanterns inspired the ice hockey costumes. Photo: CHENPENG

Since the event started, the country has been gripped with Ski fever: the number of posts on Xiaohongshu containing the word “skiing” has increased 232 percent year-on-year. The playful designer perfectly taps the snowballing hype around the sport. Here Jing Daily spoke to him about Shanghai’s design community, Moncler, and the symbolism behind his Olympic opportunity.  

Before we get to that, your rise to fame has been incredible. How are you feeling about it, especially after the rush of the opening ceremony? 

To be honest, I couldn’t ever imagine we would get this far, especially in the beginning. And this latest step? We have grown so much:  currently we have a team of 15 people in the studio, five designers in the design department, three people in marketing and sales, two in branding and PR, and even more doing manufacturing and production. My studio is located in the Cheng Feng Group just outside Shanghai — we are the creative side, they are the manufacturing and production. Other labels are here too like Feng Chen Wang and Haizhen Wang, and Angel Chen was here, so it’s like a little group. 

Speaking of community, what’s it like living and working as a fashion designer in Shanghai?

I live on the Anfu Lu road and it’s magical in Shanghai. Every corner gives me an idea so I don’t really need to travel. Plus, there are lots of ways to get inspired in the city too, either through the library and exhibitions or fabric markets. It’s like a little design community in fact. All the ideas, styles, and projects that we are doing are totally different but in some way we are overlapping in fashion management, manufacturing, and marketing. That means to some degree, we are all in it together. 

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Since your brand started, fashion has transformed in China. How is it now following COVID-19, has there been any slow down? 

No! Since COVID-19, everything is going even faster. In the last two years, the industry has changed so quickly. So many new designers are graduating, and almost all of them launch a brand. But life has been much more positive in China for young designers. Last fashion week in October, over 150 designer brands took part and had shows in Shanghai and over 1,500 brands had showrooms at SHFW.  And we all have much in common, only we might have different customers and imagery, but the retailing and marketing is essentially the same. It’s the same market but a different customer image.  

On that point of customer image, who is the CHENPENG client? 

I think people who wear my clothes work in fashion perhaps, like editors, stylists, or photographers. I’m not just street style, it’s like an emerging designer style or chic… Most of my customers are really into standing out. If you wear our jackets, you would be the most eye-catching person in the room! It’s very joyful. Color is vital for our brand to convey a sense of happiness. 

To go back to the growth of domestic brands, how competitive is the market? 

In China everything changes so quickly. If you don’t launch a store other brands will be doing it, so competition is serious. Most of our sales are from department stores and boutiques. I have about 70 physical stockists in China, we have Ssense, Farfetch, I.T. and SKP but these sell online too. This covers around 70 percent of our sales.

Every year, Tmall buys a lot — we are selling on the Luxury Pavilion. I don’t think we have the capability to sell in our own Tmall store just yet but we sell from our website and have a Taobao store. Lots of emerging brands are running a Taobao store these days over an official Tmall one. Our category only has Autumn/Winter collections, so I’m always thinking about how we would operate it for the whole year as we don’t have a Spring/Summer inventory.  Now that I’m more well known it helps too and Moncler was a bit of a global reputation builder for us.  

CHENPENG created a capsule collection with Moncler using classic old stock jackets. Photo: CHENPENG

That one resulted in making hundreds of new jackets from 420 pieces! So how did the collab with Moncler happen? 

Well it was a long time in the making. The APAC marketing director and I connected around three years ago and had a number of meetings before she introduced me to the global side. The collab started properly last october 2020 under the Moncler Genius umbrella.  The CEO Mr. Ruffini has sustainability very top of mind and they had the idea to do upcycling. As we are both known for down jackets we had a lot of creative brainstorming in this area. All of the material was vintage or archive, which we reused and remade. It was great because all of the creative ideas as well as sampling and production came from China. 

And from Moncler to the Olympics! Can you finish by telling us about this partnership? 

This was under wraps for a long time but I can now finally talk about it! I first presented my plans on July, 2021, on the eve of my 30th birthday! Ten months later, with countless rounds of development, sampling, and testing it was finalized, and I was commissioned to design costumes for five acts during the Opening Ceremony. The renowned director Zhang Yimou said he wanted to show the fashion style of modern Chinese people through a simple but contemporary design concept. And this is what I tried to do.

Chen Peng designed costumes for five acts of the Opening Ceremony. Photo: CHENPENG

I used a lot of symbolism in the designs, for example, the visual elements used as part of the ‘Snowflake’ theme song comes from Yuxian paper cutting, created by Ren Zhiguo and Sun Qingming, the famous inheritors of the intangible cultural heritage of paper cutting. The idea for the ice hockey costumes was inspired by ice lanterns and the culture around ice sculptures but was integrated with many technical electronic tech elements. It was simply an amazing experience.