London Men’s Fashion Week: China’s Menswear Market Shifts Into High Gear

A look from Xander Zhou's collection at London Fashion Week. (WeChat/Xander Zhou)

A look from Xander Zhou’s collection at London Men’s Fashion Week. (WeChat/Xander Zhou)

Although overshadowed in recent years by a surge in spending by female shoppers, China’s menswear market has become more important than ever for a growing number of brands. Currently, menswear accounts for around 43 percent of China’s overall apparel industry, the largest piece of the pie, and brands from Savile Row to Seoul are making stronger overtures to a market that is more complex—and global—than in years past.

Over the last week, nowhere has China’s rising influence in the global menswear market been more apparent than at London Men’s Fashion Week. This installment featured 77 designers and brands, among them Burberry, Alexander McQueen, and Jimmy Choo (three companies with significant China retail footprints) as well as Savile Row stalwarts like Hong Kong-owned Hardy Amies and Gieves & Hawkes—all of which have one eye firmly on a tougher China market. (As well as its London-bound traveling shoppers.)

One of the most obvious indications of this year’s greater focus on China was the naming of Chinese male model and actor Hu Bing as the first international ambassador of the British Fashion Council. As Dylan Jones, chairman of London men’s fashion week and editor of British GQ, said last week of Hu’s appointment, “We’ve been looking at the Asian market for quite some time because there’s been huge interest in London Collections from Asia.”

In addition to Hu Bing’s new gig as promoter of British fashion in China, Men’s Fashion Week made sure to include a couple of Chinese designers—Beijing-based Xander Zhou and newcomer Sean Suen. Said Zhou of the growing menswear trade between China and the UK, “China is ‘happening’ in many ways…and when it comes to menswear, London is where the new and edgy attract the world’s attention and get people talking.”

But it’s not just male models and designers hitting the red carpet in London. Attendance by Chinese press and buyers at Men’s Fashion Week in London has grown an estimated 185 percent since the event’s debut in 2012, with representatives from multi-brand retailers like Galeries Lafayette Beijing posting plenty of selfies and snapshots at this week’s festivities.

A promotion for Hu Bing at London Men's Fashion Week. (Weibo)

A promotion for Hu Bing at London Men’s Fashion Week. (Weibo)

But beyond the parties, after-parties, and after-after-parties in London, menswear in China is in the midst of a renaissance, led not just by European, Japanese, or American labels, but a new generation of homegrown Chinese brands. This month, Chinese mass retailer Fapai became the latest to take on foreign luxury players with the launch of its new high-end “Atelier by Fapai” label, which rolled out its first appointment-only concept store in Wenzhou. According to Fapai, if the store works, the brand will roll out upwards of 300 Atelier stores nationwide, presumably hoping to leverage growing interest in more personalized menswear that “gets” Chinese trends—and lessening interest in flashy labels.

This trend is likely to continue, as spending on menswear continues despite China’s much-publicized anti-corruption crackdown. According to Euromonitor, mainland China’s menswear market grew by 7 percent to reach 521 billion yuan (US$83.5 billion) in 2014, powered by men in China paying “greater attention to their personal appearance with the increasing education and acceptance of fashion sense and the pursuit of a better lifestyle.”

In the second half of 2015, the question will be whether China’s menswear market continues its gradual diversification away from Europe, with younger consumers becoming more interested in Japanese, Korean, and homegrown labels. Although older consumers will likely stay loyal to the Italian and French brands they first encountered in the 1990s, what the 20- and 30-somethings want is something different.

As Stuart Vevers of Coach recently said of the menswear market in Asia, “It’s not easy to generalize, but I actually quite rarely see guys wearing tailoring…Even more rarely [do I] see a guy wearing a tie. To me, some of the new codes of status are being created right in front of us. A new sweatshirt, a crazy cult sneaker, or a modern and often quite playful leather bag.”

Clearly, China’s affluent male consumer will continue to spend on fashion, but will it be the Zegnas of the world benefiting, or the [Xander] Zhous?

Avery Booker is a partner at China Luxury Advisors.