China has long been considered the manufacturing epicenter of the world, with the ‘Made in China’ label evoking thoughts of cheap, poorly made products. Recently, however, China’s talented designers have worked hard to change these negative connotations.
This year, Business of Fashion (BoF) launched its China Prize competition to champion Chinese fashion around the globe. The inaugural contest saw winner Caroline Hu awarded with $100,000, as well as a coveted spot at this season’s London Fashion Week.
Hosted by BoF Editor-in-Chief, Imran Amed, and Yu Holding’s Founder and Chief Executive, Wendy Yu, the prize aims to introduce the larger fashion industry to talented Chinese designers and celebrate true Chinese craftsmanship. “2,000 years ago China was proud of its talented design and production,” Yu told Jing Daily at Caroline Hu’s London Fashion Week presentation. “We have beautiful silks, beautiful creations, and a beautiful history, but that has somewhat been lost. This is what we want to bring back.”
In March, Shanghai Fashion Week played host to the six China Prize finalists, all with hopes of showcasing in London this week. However, according to Amed, it hasn’t always been easy to find Chinese design of international standards. “In China, I think everyone focuses on the consumer opportunity — obviously, it is now the largest fashion market in the world — and has a very ravenous consumer appetite. But I think sometimes what gets lost in all the talk about consumption is the creativity,” Amed says. “10 years ago, admittedly, if I was looking to find young design talent in Shanghai it was few and far between. There was just no real platform, and so I think everyone mischaracterized Chinese design as always being red fabrics with embroidered dragons, and it was kind of cliché. But over the past decade what I’ve noticed with each trip to the market is that there is so much creativity in China that can stand right alongside some of the best global talent that you find in other places.”
Born in Shenzhen, winner Caroline Hu’s designs reflect her love for romantic, delicate textures. The garments combine subtle silk nods to her traditional Chinese heritage, while demonstrating an acute level of intricate artistry. “We went through quite a rigorous process to find Caroline, but she has really outdone herself,” Amed says. “If you looked at these designs and didn’t know who had created them they could be created by any top young designer. We had over 100 applications for the prize, which in and of itself shows you the volume of Chinese talent out there. I think that’s really demonstrating the fact that Chinese design — just like design everywhere — comes in all forms, shapes, and expressions.”
According to Caroline Hu, the support from BoF and Yu Holdings has been more than she could have ever imagined. However, it’s Shanghai’s own emerging fashion industry that is otherwise supporting young Chinese design. “I think now, China’s growing fashion industry is very supportive of young Chinese talent,” Hu says. “People are graduating from fashion schools around the world and then going back to China to develop and showcase their collections in Shanghai. That’s really exciting.”
In February, Hu was listed as one of New York Times Top 5 Designers to Watch, further suggesting that the fashion industry is ready for an injection of young Chinese talent. But amidst another exciting season, how is the perception of Chinese design changing at the world’s biggest fashion weeks?
“I don’t think it is changing fast enough,” claims Amed. “I think right now if you go and look at the opportunities to seek out Chinese designers in New York or London or Paris, it still feels like a little bit isolated. For example, they’ll have like one or two ‘Chinese Days’ in New York, but if you look at the audience it’s still mostly Chinese media and attendees. I think the real opportunity is to integrate Chinese design more into the major fashion weeks. Let’s see what happens, but I still think there’s a big opportunity to showcase the talent that is out there. We all have to make an effort to step outside our comfort zone and try and seek out something new.”