The French retail market is notoriously frigid toward Chinese designers who hope for a small break in a Paris boutique. But China’s Christine Zhao, a director of fashion showroom InLife International, is proving to be the maverick they need as she opens the gateway for designers like Laurence Xu, whose dresses sell in Paris for the price of a small car.
On the eve of Paris Fashion Week, when Zhao’s company is presenting nine Chinese designers in association with the China National Garment Association, she described in an interview why China in Paris is increasing its showings in the fashion capital to four times a year as retailers like Barneys New York, Net-à-Porter, and Lane Crawford confirm its designers’ growing global gravitas by stocking names such as Masha Ma, Shiatzy Chen, and Uma Wang, who now sells in 70 stores worldwide.
How many Chinese designers have benefited from China in Paris since you introduced the showroom in 2009?
China in Paris began as a showcase for China’s creative forces in several disciplines. Not only fashion, but art, jewelry, photography, and painting. We introduced the artists Peng Wei and Chen Qingqing. In fashion, we showed haute couture from Wang Chen Tsai-Hsia (founder of the brand Shiatzy Chen) and were first to introduce designers Uma Wang, Shi Jie, and Masha Ma, who went on to show as part of the official Paris calendar in 2012.
What is the timeline for a Chinese designer in terms of making it in Paris or internationally?
For the demanding international buyers, there is no such thing as an “overnight success.” When they come to see our Chinese designers, there is always a “wow” factor. However, they are more concerned about issues such as: how long the designer has been working on the brand, what the market response was last season and, critically, will the designer continue with the brand next season?
Buyers are rational. They pay more attention to the “cause and effect” of the long-term development of a brand. We do not want to preach “overnight success.” We continue to show designers such as Siv Zhang, Kilin Chen, and Allan Qi, who demonstrate consistent development. That’s the reason why we will always insist on doing the China in Paris showroom with long-term benefits and we will show designers year-on-year to buyers who want to re-connect. It’s an unexpected bonus when a designer shows for the first time and receives orders, as Siv Zhang did.
What are the future plans for China in Paris?
From this season (March 2015) we will present China in Paris four times a year in January, March, June, and September. We will select women’s wear designers, men’s wear designers and couture designers according to the season’s calendar.
In China, we will commence a year-round presence with showrooms in Shanghai and Beijing. This will support designers with media promotions and commercial orders.
Laurence Xu sells in Paris at Les Suites. Outside Paris, what boutiques in China show strong the strongest support for Chinese designers?
Hung Huang is a great fashion pioneer. As the founder of iLook magazine and her Chinese multi-brand boutique BNC (Brand New China), she consistently represents China’s rising new designers. Apart from these, Dong Liang Studios (栋梁) in Beijing and Shanghai and Seven Days were the first to represent China’s emerging designers.
China in Paris Showroom
36 rue du Mont Thabor, Paris 75001
Susan Owens is the founder and editor of Paris Chérie, a Paris-based fashion website dedicated to bringing French style news to Chinese readers.