The Ultimate Guide To Chinese Brands At London Fashion Week

The show did go on. Despite the impact of the official mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II, London Fashion Week drew in hundreds of brands this season from all over the world — China included. Caroline Rush, CEO of the British Fashion Council, notes the city’s special relationship with creatives from the mainland. “Chinese labels have consistently won British awards (Feng Chen Wang, Chet Lo, Yuhan Wang, and ASAI). Whilst Paris, Milan, and New York dominate through luxury powerhouses, London is a hotbed for young and international talent, especially for Chinese ones.”

In fact, this season, the number of locals presenting in the capital was at a record high despite ongoing headwinds such as supply chain disruptions, lockdowns, and quarantines. So why was it, as Rush says, that “sales were negatively affected”? She explains that though Chinese designers were able to present their collections, buyers from China still cannot access the city to purchase the goods. Shipping and manufacturing delays have also created a “production backlog.” A mixed picture, then.

With all this in mind, Jing Daily offers an indispensable guide to the schedule’s China contingent, and asks why, out of all the global fashion weeks, it’s this event that consistently attracts the largest number of the country’s names.

The Schedule Stalwarts

Huishan Zhang has been a mainstay here since his debut in 2012. A love of contemporary China — seen in minimalist cheongsam dresses — was a continuation of past themes, but this time in a more tempered language that amplified prints and palettes. Produced in the official black box venue, his show generated $74,300 (535,000 RMB) in earned media value (EMV) on Weibo, ranking him number nine in the top ten according to marketing platform Lefty. This was helped by the likes of Sina Fashion (10 million followers) and Minibazaar (with 785,000). Fashion blogger Fashion Amber also shared it to her 5.6 million fans. 

Huishan Zhang’s new collection incorporates minimalistic Cheongsams and his signature use of feathers. Photo: Courtesy

Close behind him in the ranking was Yuhan Wang, who showed at the Old Selfridges Hotel as part of the “New Gen” line-up. Her feminine take on the line between exposure and coverage has brought the Central Saint Martins’ alumnus a big following: she comes in at number ten in the line-up, with her outing driving $23,300 (168,000 RMB) in EMV on Weibo. Cosmo, Yijin, and @山山闪闪闪 all posted positive comments about her latest collection.

Physically presenting collections here even during the pandemic, Yushan Li and Jun Zhou’s Pronounce is now an LFW staple — presumably given the latter’s base in Milan. With over 32,000 Weibo fans and posts from bloggers and media outlets alike (including Style-stepEDX, Ellemen, Nowher, IWeekly, and Vogue), the brand’s WeChat post has over 4,500 reads so far. It’s no surprise: the duo certainly know how to capture imaginations. Ida Petersson, buying director at Browns, observes how “this season, Pronounce executed the perfect blend of womenswear and menswear silhouettes, playing beautifully with androgyny.” In particular, the inclusion of Chinese dolls offered a real sense of intrigue, with the figures and their retro faces peeking out from beneath reimagined denim and Mao suits. 

Pronounce’s “Whirlpool” collection takes inspiration from vintage Chinese vinyl dolls and the circle motif. Photo: Courtesy

The Bright Sparks 

Susan Fang certainly made a splash at her debut: an event set in a leisure center, which saw her jump into Weibo’s top ten ranking, scooping an EMV of $145,000 (1.2 million RMB) for her airy, rippling dresses that floated down the aisles. Petersson is enthusiastic: “It’s great to welcome back Susan Fang to the LFW lineup, as it has such a strong identity that always converts so well on the runway.” Read more on Wang’s debut here

Susan Fang London Fashion Week

Susan Fang’s LFW show featured giant inflatables on a pool. Photo: Courtesy

Another standout was Chet Lo, who, like Fang, is no stranger to popularity. Although not currently stocked in China, he has benefitted from the halo effect of being worn by global stars like Dua Lipa. “Being Chinese-American, I had the incredible opportunity of growing up with both eastern and western influences. I love to combine the two worlds within my collections,” Lo affirms. This design duality has seen him win “many orders from the Chinese public and private clients without an e-commerce.” Lo cites the vibrancy of the city as his main draw, adding, “it has such an exciting and youthful energy, it really nurtures the next generation of creatives. This is rarely seen elsewhere in the world.”

Finally, opting for the presentation format was J E Cai, a Shantou native already based in London and a graduate of the Royal College of Art. Quoting Laozi’s Tao Te Ching, Cai’s conceptual methodology proposes an alternative approach to fashion centered on an open dialogue between the designer and wearer. “I chose to have a presentation because my clothing is based on a modular system, and if it’s just on the runway, like I did at Shanghai Fashion Week previously, I think it’s hard for people to understand,” he shares. “After living in London for five years, I think the city is one of innovation. That’s why I’m here.”  

Draping and soft elements come to the fore of J E Cai’s latest collection. Photo: Courtesy

The Digital Disruptors

Rather than stage physical events, a range of Chinese brands opted for the film program offered by the BFC, including newcomer Xu Zhang with its dramatic, laser-cut menswear and Taiwan’s OqLiq, which played on the heritage of Chinghsing’s tea culture. From Hong Kong, Forme De Fluidité was featured by the BFC’s Discovery Lab while Marrknull’s fashion-forward looks were presented on a diverse selection of “statuesque” models in a conceptual exploration of the designer’s theme: man-made gods. Eyewear make Victor Wong — in its eighth outing at the event — gave an exploration of the natural beauty of southern China’s mountains and rivers. And, in what might be a first for the sector (and definitely the label), Wong accessorized his eyewear with a new clothing line based on Chinese culture, specifically that of the Miao and Yao people. 

The story of 8on8’s ultra-light technical yarns was told in “Stretching Club Vol.02,” a tongue-in-cheek flipbook which resembled a retro catalog, inspired by the vivid and colorful city pop culture of the 1980s (with golfing references). For co-founder Leo Gong, who has secured investment from Peacebird, the digital lineup is “kind of flexible.” But as someone who has attended the IRL schedule, he still “looks forward to the next physical outing in London.” As he says, “it’s still quite complicated for traveling as we still have to lock down somewhere for a while when we return to China.” 

Finally, Mithridate (with 114,000 Weibo fans) presented a film of its catwalk held prior to LFW (on September 6). “The reasoning behind showing physically pre-LFW is to engage with our audience more effectively,” founder Demon Zhang tells Jing Daily. For her, the digital outing is, then, not only a reminder that it is “officially recognized by the BFC,” but acts as a “visual enhancement” for wider audiences through a second exposure.

Mithridate’s Spring 2023 collection “explores traditional magic and the reality of mystery in our modern world.” Photo: Courtesy

The Newcomers

As always, LFW is all about newness and there were many absolute beginners on the program. Although strictly speaking not brand new, KWK is only in its second season at LFW. It included seemingly impossible silhouettes on the runway to open Sunday. Claudia Wang and Ray Chu from Taiwan and Ruirui Deng who lives in Nanjing were all absolute newbies. Still studying in Taiwan, Wang went lo-fi, showing a paired back selection of her hand-drawn virtual prints and garments. 

France-born, Taiwanese designer Claudia Wang created her brand in 2020. Photo: Claudia Wang

For Dengwho produces by hand in Kings Cross while running crochet and other workshops to power her line — it was now or never. She had delayed her plans for two years and was enthusiastic to finally make them happen. “I think it’s open to Chinese designers here,” she remarks. “Here, I have a bigger platform to let the industry see my work.” 

Chu admits his first presentation on Saturday was a learning curve. “Simply getting to know people and meeting them, receiving media exposure and better visibility, that’s already valuable enough for me as a return. But now, I want to learn about doing events that create a great explosion,” declares the founder of the gender-fluid line. Already, Chu has astutely grasped the concept of collaborations debuting two in this collection which are so often vital to transitioning from fledgling startup to viable business. 

The Off-Siters

Currently based in London but hailing from Hong Kong, Keiyan Wong, founder of Tæfita, was eager to be here this season. Following their BA at London College of Fashion, their leap to the alternative Fashion Scout roster is a tried and tested path of their predecessors (including Masha Ma and Susan Fang). Founder Martyn Roberts describes this platform as having been “scouting and showcasing Chinese designers since we first launched Masha Ma in 2010.” Now, he believes the new generation are proving their worth on the runway. “They showed once again that China is a hotbed for new talent and attracted attention from across the globe.” 

Keiyan Wong presented their gender-fluid, dramatic designs at London Fashion Week. Photo: Chris Yates

Yonghao Xie from Guangzhou in Canton Province was also a first timer here. Xie joined the growing number of locals choosing to study in Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts’ fashion department (Di Du, Shuting Qiu, Windowsen and more). Offering 20 looks (his 10 graduate ones plus 10 new ones) partly produced in China, the designer conveyed what he feels to be an “essentially European” aesthetic. “London is a bigger market with lots of creatives and the best first step for me to show to a bigger audience. I’ve lived in Europe for eight years now and would love to have my studio in the city as there’s more access to people. Fashion Scout will be my first stop next season too,” Xie mentions.

Lastly, American-born Chinese jeweler Samantha Siu held an intimate dinner at the Ned, where she debuted a 10-piece collection celebrating love, partially handcrafted in China.  

The Allure Of London Fashion Week Grows 

The stark reality is that as the lingering effects of the pandemic continue, Chinese talent is less visible to the international community. For buyers like Petersson, Shanghai Fashion Week was where they spotted new names (such as Shushu/Tong or Angel Chen). But now, they rely on events like BFC’s to connect with global industry players and potential partners. Even Brexit, high costs, and the ambiguity of the event’s financial ROI haven’t dented its allure for China’s homegrown labels. The capital might not always retain this revered status. But for now, it’s all the richer for this international draw.