The Chinese design scene may have just beat a level in the game of global fashion. At least this is what founders Humberto Leon and Carol Lim of Opening Ceremony seem to suggest as they dedicate an entire year to emerging Chinese designers.
While many in the business would agree China’s fashion scene is still developing—Cai Pengji, a Chinese designer trained abroad who now works for Oscar de la Renta recently told News China Magazine that even designers of the millennial generation still have a long way to go, while media mogul and Brand New China owner Hung Huang said in an interview with Jing Daily last year that Chinese designers are still searching for their own voice—it’s influential brands like Opening Ceremony that mark a milestone in this progress. OC has taken Chinese fashion designers under its wing and is giving them the exposure they need to grow in a new market.
The lifestyle brand declared 2016 as the Year of China, kicking off with a collaboration with New York City’s iconic Pearl River Mart, a shopping destination that played a large part in influencing America’s fascination with Chinese style and kitsch. Pearl River Mart opened on 477 Broadway in 1971 before the opening up of China, and served as a representation in the West for what clothing in China may have looked like, meaning imported Chinese slippers, Mandarin collars, and qipaos with decorative embroidery. Celebrities shopped there, and before long, fashion magazines were including garments from Pearl River Mart in their editorials.
Fast-forward more than 40 years and Opening Ceremony’s featured brands seem like a far cry from Pearl River Mart’s curation of the Chinese closet. The brand is stocking women’s workwear, menswear loved by women, minimalist design, and more, all created by Chinese designers based as far away as second-tier Chinese cities like Xiamen and as close as New York City.
Included on the list of brands are more established designers like Vivienne Tam and Anna Sui, but it also includes creations by more up-and-coming high-end brands, such as Ms Min, Decoster, Shushu/Tong and more. Some have already earned accolades in the industry, like Renli Su, whose name was listed in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia, and Ms Min, who was shortlisted among 23 other young fashion designers for the LVMH Prize.
In Opening Ceremony’s reference to Pearl River Mart’s iconic clothing—which also served as costumes for Vogue‘s pajama-themed Met Gala pre-party last year—the brand does an East-meets-West take on Pearl River Mart’s garments, reimagining silky mandarin collar jackets in denim and enhancing international luxury staples with dragons and phoenixes.
Opening Ceremony’s efforts aren’t the first of its kind in the United States. American Rag featured nine Chinese brands in a pop-up at its Los Angeles store, coinciding with the brand’s opening of its first flagship in Shanghai. Barney’s featured Huishan Zhang’s collection in stores last spring, around the time the Met Gala caused a spike in interest in Chinese designers. And Lorenzo Hadar of international retailer H. Lorenzo told Business of Fashion he thought Chinese brands were becoming more mature when he visited Shanghai Fashion Week late last year to check out labels to stock in his LA store. (Opening Ceremony buyers Carol Song and Jesse Hudnutt were there as well, which is likely where they chose many of their featured brands.)
While Chinese designers have been making headlines for years, their progress for earning respect on the global commercial scale seems to be gaining steam. And while finding their voice as a group may still be in progress, Opening Ceremony highlights the striking diversity of Chinese design across regions and cultural influences.