At London Fashion Week, Chinese Engagement Was Hit-And-Miss

This season, the Jing Daily Fashion Week Score, which evaluates how a brand’s collection resonates with the Chinese audience through a range of parameters, focuses on London, as the city wraps up its second digital fashion week since the beginning of COVID-19. This schedule even included several physical events despite the announcement before its launch date that there would be further government restrictions.

Although London is still operating within the pandemic, many designers made efforts to show their collections in multiple ways. Similarly to New York, a small handful of brands, including Bora Asku and PRONOUNCE, managed to produce socially-distanced runway shows for a small but live audience. Others opted for in-person appointments while most chose to communicate their visions digitally through a film or lookbook. And, once again, conversations and dialogues come to the fore, as designers initiated discussions on topics such as sustainability and black history.

This season, there was a better representation of Chinese designers among the cultural aspects of the week, including the addition of PRONOUNCE in the event’s Designer Diaries section and a British GQ interview with Dan Shan regaling the official guide. The lifestyle platform Fashion Zoo is now an official event sponsor and will work with the British Fashion Council to launch LFW China Day in China next year— an indication that London’s designers are still seeking greater Chinese amplification.

The Jing Daily Fashion Week Score is based on the following parameters:

  • Model representation: evaluates representation of Chinese models on the runway.

  • Digital impact: evaluates Chinese netizen reception and engagement on leading social media platforms, including Weibo, WeChat, and Little Red Book.

  • KOL & celebrity visibility: considers the star power associated with the brand through strategic KOL and celebrity partnerships.

  • Special brand efforts: considers special programs or efforts on a brand’s part to speak to the Chinese audience. Company or brand contributions toward the on-going virus crisis are also considered.

  • Design context: a qualitative assessment of how the brand’s collection will speak to the Chinese audience based on current trends and preferences.

  • Brand history: considers existing brand history in China, including overall presence, social reach, number of stores, earning trends, and brand missteps.

Burberry

Burberry

They say great minds think alike, and very often, they do. London Fashion Week’s opening show featured a greenery-clad environment, which evoked Jason Wu’s New York show earlier in the season. The collection, “In Bloom,” was a collaboration between Italian designer Riccardo Tisci and the contemporary artist Anne Imhof.

Burberry’s efforts for Spring 2021 focused on engaging Chinese consumers through livestreaming. In addition to a Mini-Program livestream via WeChat, the label’s show was also livestreamed on its official website, Weibo, Tmall, Tencent video, and Huawei video. Without the attendance of Chinese celebrities and KOLs — or any audience for that matter — the buzz dropped off considerably during the official pre-show promotion on WeChat — from 57,000 views last year to just over 20,000 this September. But, thanks to brand ambassadors Zhou Dongyu and Song Weilong, Burberry’s social impressions were strong. These two combined have a total of 44 million fans, and additional amplification came from other well-known KOLs like Gogoboi and Mia Kong. The brand’s pioneering social retail store in Shenzhen will likely win over more fans, as well.

Simone Rocha 

Simone Rocha 

Our seasonal fashion week score has recorded this Irish designer’s growing recognition among Chinese audiences ever since Spring ‘19. Giving up her beloved runway, Rocha opted to show her collection to small groups in a straightforward studio setting, where silhouette, texture, and fabrications could be better understood.

Whether it’s the brand’s DNA, which is consistently feminine and romantic, or the Victorian-laden references from this season, Simone Rocha resonated greatly with Chinese netizens. Her presentation also drove outstanding distribution and traffic on Weibo, including posts from media outlets such as Harper’s Bazaar China and MadameFigaro China, as well as fashion and lifestyle bloggers like @Fashion_BangZ and @PiPiJuiCe.

PRONOUNCE

PRONOUNCE

Another menswear duo, Yushan Li & Jun Zhou, explored the complex relationship between water and oil — two essentials of “butter tea,” which is a drink that originated from Tibetan culture. Aside from incorporating food culture to the collection, the designers also fused traditional Western tailoring with Tibetan styles to illustrate modern masculinity. The resistant combination of water and oil inspired a pattern of jacquard fabric that ran through all of the garments worn on the runway during the brand’s socially-distanced show at a former printing plant.

In parallel with London Fashion Week, the brand held another activation on September 22, a runway show in China to introduce a collaboration with local label Saint Angelo. It received positive responses from netizens, which noted that PRONOUNCE is “subverting the stereotypical boundaries between formal attire and a funky wardrobe.”

Xander Zhou

Xander Zhou

Homegrown menswear designer Xander Zhou continued his theme of “Real Virtuality,” which emphasizes virtual existence in the real world. By examining his imagination and his “real” collection, Zhou, a regular at LFW, suggested that “subjective consciousness determines objective existence.”

The digital presentation was livestreamed via the brand’s WeChat account, and the trailer that the brand posted of the show beforehand received positive comments from Weibo users that were fascinated by the cyberpunk element. Xander Zhou is one of the bigger independent designers back in China, and in addition to being name-checked by male idols like Wang Yuan and Kris Wu, his brand has been featured in local magazines with a high “cool factor,” including NYLON CHINA and VISION青年视觉.

Christopher Kane

Christopher Kane

Christopher Kane swapped his canvas for clothing this season with a collection that drew inspiration from paintings the designer had been working on since the beginning of COVID-19. Abstract color blocks and dots intertwined with lines and stripes adorned coats, dresses, and shirts. Despite the absence of a physical runway show, this visual feast was beautifully delivered through an eleven-minute video that also included a conversation with the designer.

The brand’s bold colors and art-infused looks were well received by netizens, who tend to appreciate an overlap of the art and fashion worlds. Kane’s oeuvre was shared with Chinese viewers, thanks primarily to the fashion blogger @SainT吕’s repost. According to another fashion KOL named @NorthBuilding (北楼3楼), unlike photoshoots and merchandising from a typical campaign, Kane’s visual presentation, which consisted of models posing alongside canvases, resembled a curated exhibition — another concept that resonates well with China’s consumers.

Feng Chen Wang

Feng Chen Wang

Like in other recent shows, the Fuzhou-born designer Wang Fengchen’s eagerness to connect with her roots was fully on display. Spring 2021 was called “Ode to the Community” — a concept that has repeatedly been a source of inspiration for this accomplished designer. Her short movie features seven individuals talking to the camera about what “community” means to them. They wore the new season’s clothes, which included hoodies and trousers made with different asymmetrically constructed fabrics, as well as, a black blazer decorated with metal tags bearing her name.

The brand’s many recent moves and Wang’s edgy personal style have led to strong social volume, but regardless of the driver, it’s a testament to her growing popularity back home. Proof of that popularity can be seen in her newly-launched collaboration with the domestic menswear brand Cabeen (her first Chinese collaboration) and a pop-up at the Shanghai art mall Huaihai TX. Meanwhile, Wang is cleverly building up her social media with personal images alongside her brand: As of now, the brand has accumulated roughly 80,000 followers, but personally, Wang has more than double that amount.

Victoria Beckham 

Victoria Beckham 

With only days to go, Victoria Beckham upended her plans by choosing to present her collection to groups of three guests at a time rather than show it to all 600 guests at once. The collection, described by Beckham as “petrol pump chic,” featured her signature flared trousers but included some bold and quirky pieces, such as a neon green trench coat and a lilac-silk dress bound by a touch of lace. Although the brand is only available in multi-brand stores in China, those who appreciate its effortless chic have been known to seek it out.

Making more noise in China recently is Beckham’s beauty line, Victoria Beckham Beauty. The one-year-old beauty brand’s milestones include a launch on Tmall Global and a joint livestream session with Viya and Beckham’s daughter. The brand still doesn’t have its own WeChat or Weibo accounts, but the designer’s personal Weibo account, which republishes from her Twitter feed, posted a sneak peek of the show to its two million fans (although, disappointingly, just over 100 of them liked the post.)

DANSHAN*

DANSHAN*

The London-based duo behind menswear brand DANSHAN, Danxia Liu & Shan Peng Wong, collaborated with filmmaker Luke Farley to create a short movie titled “Dissonance.”It featured four models showing the disparity between reality and desire, a theme that felt strikingly real amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It also explored the definition of masculinity, which is an integral part of the brand’s DNA.

The brand is available in China at high-end, multi-brand stores such as Shanghai’s Labelhood and Galeries Lafayette, and the film was aired on Weibo through the youth media platform Nowness, where it has received close to 8,000 views in four days — a strong showing for an independent brand.

Vivienne Westwood

Vivienne Westwood

In a seemingly anti-consumerist note, Vivienne Westwood shared her thoughts with the world this season: “Buy less, dress up, swap clothes.” As the godmother of punk, her designs for this new collection — alongside those of her life partner, Andreas Kronthaler — are once again at the cutting edge of fashion. The brand’s unisex collection for Spring 2021, which featured models of mixed ethnicity and gender, promoted a theme of universality.

Westwood also used the LFW platform to highlight fellow artists Chrissie Hynde and Anthony Newton (who she worked with on the collection) as well as the two environmental nonprofits she supports. The brand has earned appreciation for only showing one collection a year while advocating for clothing swaps. However, that message hasn’t translated to Chinese social media, where many bloggers have only posted pictures with minimal content.

Bora Aksu   

Bora Aksu   

Turkish designer Bora Aksu’s eponymous brand is one of the few that did both physical and digital shows during the week, but that’s not the only reason the brand stood out. It clearly values its Chinese consumers greatly, as it has eight boutique stores in first and second-tier cities in China, including one in Hong Kong and one in Macau (outside of China, the brand is only stocked in department stores).

However, Bora Aksu’s Chinese expansion has not been straightforward, as the brand has already pulled back from another 20 stores since 2016. This is presumably due to a lack of celebrity and KOL support. The brand has actively promoted this season’s runway show on WeChat and Weibo, but a lack of fans has been a hindrance: The Weibo account has less than 1,000 followers, and the official WeChat post has only garnered close to 1,000 views. Chinese female audiences may also find the liberal use of lace in this season’s collection slightly out of touch.

Reported by Wenzhuo Wu, Yaling Jiang, and Gemma A. Williams.

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