At Milan Fashion Week, Brands Double Down On China

    Milan put on quality fashion shows during the pandemic, even though international attendee figures were down again, and most chose to watch online.
    Milan admirably put on quality fashion shows during the pandemic, even though international attendee figures were down again, and most chose to watch online. Illustration: Haitong Zheng/Jing Daily.
    Jing DailyAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    This season’s

    Jing Daily Fashion Week Score#

    , which evaluates how a brand’s collection resonates with the Chinese audience through a range of parameters, moves on to Milan to analyze how well brands and designers coped with the current climate.

    Unlike New York and London, Milan fared far better at putting on fashion shows during a pandemic. Milan Fashion Week Spring 2021 managed to host over twenty runways and produce a fairly cohesive fusion of digital and real-life events. Catwalks looked more comfortable, as designs drew inspiration from work-at-home realities, that paid homage to life under lockdown.

    International attendee figures were visibly down again, with most of the industry taking the opportunity to watch online. But, MFW’s brands, which include some of the world’s most desirable luxury houses in the world (Prada, Valentino, etc.), made special concessions to their Chinese ambassadors, audiences, and fans that were still notably missing from front rows. Some brands chose to host watch parties in Shanghai for would-be guests, while others, such as Prada, went a step further by forging ahead with a fully-staged physical show in Italy’s fashion to complement a flat digital format at home.

    Since the press has reportedly been lower for fall shows than for Spring 2020, brands were wise to galvanize more buzz in China, but not all were successful. Interestingly, the number of Chinese brands participating in the event was down considerably, numbering only two (newcomer Shuting Qiu joined the schedule alongside Milan regular RICOSTRU.) Now, all eyes are on Paris, and, more than ever, Shanghai.


    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.


    The first collection from Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons was not only a hit in China but around the global fashion world as well. Aside from a 35-minute video presentation of the Spring 2021 collection, the brand broadcasted a remote conversation between audiences and the dual designers via the brand’s official website and its various social feeds.

    The digital presentation was staged in Milan, but the physical show, which consisted of a reception and screenings, was held at the historical residence Prada Rong Zhai, which is now Prada’s cultural headquarters and is located in the heart of Shanghai. Guests included brand ambassador Cai Xunkun and the actresses Zheng Shuang and Li Gengxi. The brand’s livestreams on Weibo and Douyin were engaging, tailor-made digital journeys for Chinese audiences, and both of them recorded an exceptionally high number of views — over 48 million users in total.


    This season, Valentino decided to push the trend of “phygital” by hosting an offline watch-party in Shanghai for brand ambassadors, celebrities, and KOLs. Local media partners, including Marie Claire and Tencent Fashion, promoted the new collection to over 160 million Weibo users.

    The brand put in many special efforts for Spring 2021 and officially announced actress Tang Yan as its ambassador a day before the watch party, creating a ton of social buzz. But all the chatter about the party and new ambassador seem to have eclipsed discussions about the new collection. Nevertheless, it should do well with Chinese consumers, due to its men’s and womenswear silhouettes sharing a common look that boasts bold floral prints in varying textiles.


    Creative director Francesco Risso recast the runway to the street, embracing happenings through a digital presentation. His sentiment about the lockdowns — the fragility of freedom — was the theme of this collection, and the brand’s “Marnifesto,” embodied by a collage of 16-channel videos, explored the dynamic relationship between individualism and collectivism in everyday life.

    The looks and the video (as well as the designer’s reference material) were all delivered separately to Chinese audiences through the brand’s Weibo and WeChat official accounts. Additionally, local fashion media outlets like NOWNESS, Harper’s Bazaar China, and Marie Claire China all posted relevant reviews and brand looks on Weibo, which won over netizens.

    Giorgio Armani#

    Giorgio Armani knows the importance of meaningful gestures. This season, its “Timeless Thoughts” collection was broadcast on an Italian TV network in an unprecedented move to leverage mass appeal at home. Armani was also one of the first designers to send supportive messages to China during the COVID-19 outbreak.

    Fashion media and KOLs in China did not miss the opportunity to comment on the new season. But overall, the feedback was mixed. Blogger @YangFanJame, who has collected one million Weibo followers, said, “Armani can’t shake off the silhouettes of old-fashioned suits.” Yet others like @顾晨曦Echo (700k followers) thought the styles were perfectly suited to the “timeless” theme.


    Tod’s adopted the language of film to present its new season, which took a more spontaneous, emotional approach than previous collections. Leveraging the opportunity to work with craftspeople after the lockdown, creative director Walter Chiapponi showcased techniques in the collection that draw attention to craftsmanship and inheritance. To optimize communications, the brand released a short video that simulated a video call, starring celebrities brand ambassadors Liu Shishi, Turbo Liu, and fashion KOL Han Huo Huo. The brand also collaborated with the two ambassadors – who reposted the brand’s livestream with the show’s detailed information, sharing it with over 64 million followers in total.


    To boost pre-show engagement in China, Fendi invited super KOLs Guan Hong (@官鸿Kuan), Mr. Kira (@吉良先生), and pop singer Curley Gao (@硬糖少女303-希林娜依高) — who have a combined audience of 14 million — to enjoy the runway show alongside invited viewers in a virtual watch party. It seems to have worked: The brand’s official hashtag for the season, #FendiSS21, has been viewed 43.8 million times on Weibo in six days, with many bloggers flagging it for being Kim Jones’ first season.

    Much like Giorgio Armani’s collection, Fendi’s was inspired by comfort-wear during the quarantine. Chinese consumers may find this to be a less relevant topic, although they will always covet new Baguette and Peekaboo bags — two perennially popular models — for their collections.

    Max Mara#

    Inspired by British artist Corin Sworn’s multimedia installation “Silent Sticks,” Max Mara’s Spring 2021 runway show fittingly took place at the ancient Milanese art gallery Pinacoteca di Brera. The collection was a blend of different shades that included pastels, ochre, and of course, the brand’s signature camel color. The show wowed many fashion watchers on Weibo and also had a better representation of Chinese models (He Cong, Mao Xiaoxing, and Chen Yu in 44 looks) on the runway as compared to other brands. Since China’s female professionals have long returned to their offices, Max Mara’s theme of women rebuilding the world post-COVID-19 felt perfectly on point.

    Shuting Qiu#

    Shuting Qiu’s Spring 2021 collection invites the audience to a fanciful world where girlfriends relax on the beach with gelatos in hand. Her signature floral-printed tights and gloves offer colorful patterns and irregular silhouettes for a quirky yet practical collection. Her video presentation featured Chinese models exclusively.

    The Shanghai-based designer returned to China in 2019 and has since been busy making her runway collection more accessible to Chinese fashion lovers. A collaboration with Labelhood, released mid-July, proved successful with fashion KOLs, who liberally shared Qiu’s designs on social media.


    MM6 Maison Margiela’s avant-garde brand DNA plays well with younger Chinese consumers’ thirst for niche fashion. As such, the brand opened its first physical store in Chengdu this month. Spring 2021 continued MM6 Maison Margiela’s use of its unique aesthetic, which also advanced the brand’s ability to showcase its expertise in deconstruction and hybridization. Denim, along with a color palette of white, beige, grey, and black, dominated, aligning with local shoppers’ current preferences for neutrality.

    Meanwhile, Maison Margiela, the brand’s parent line, released a teaser for its show on Weibo to just 11,000 views over three days. Without celebrity endorsements, all brands, especially underground propositions like MM6, will have to deal with limited online traffic and results.


    Donatella Versace envisioned her brand’s role post-outbreak as a practitioner of inclusion, support, and acceptance, and this viewpoint was integrated into this season’s tropical, sea-centric presentation.

    Recently, the brand has looked to revive its China market, especially online. Before the show, Versace officially launched its Tmall flagship store and leaked teasers for the Spring 2020 presentation. But, unfortunately, a 10,000-view teaser video slipped mostly under the radar. While the show ranked highly among fashion KOLs such as @CherryGun陈星如, netizens wondered if Chinese consumers could carry-off these looks, given the highly saturated colorways.


    Founded by designer Rico Manchit Au in 2011, RICOSTRU is now considered a regular on the Milan Fashion Week schedule. In the past, it even received patronage from Giorgio Armani. Its presentation posed the question: I’m in the living room. Where are you? Its inspiration came from everyday routines during the pandemic.

    The three-minute video, which featured cyberpunk-inspired visuals, earned 23,600 views on Weibo in four days. However, the Chinese brand’s social following and the buzz about it on Weibo has been surprisingly limited. The designer collaborated with several TV shows such as “The Big Band” to improve its product exposure. But brand awareness in the China market still comes secondary to more established Chinese designers with a consolidated customer base.

    Dolce & Gabbana#

    Spring 2021 is evidence that Dolce & Gabbana still can’t get over its past in China (it’s 2018 campaign was deemed racist by netizens), and this collection has become yet another season filled with spats. Certain elements in the collection, which is a celebration of traditional Sicilian patchwork, included embroidered denim, checkered buttons, and bold colors and were appreciated by Chinese consumers.

    Yet, the scandal continues to darken every move the house makes. Some netizens compared the clothes to “funeral shrouds” while adding other insults below the brand’s official Weibo post. Those who dared to compliment the collection were ruthlessly attacked.

    In terms of models, the brand included five Asian models in its 98 looks, which was above average for MFW and necessary for this brand. Although none of the Chinese fashion media or top KOLs dared to reconnect themselves with the brand online yet, a few lower-tier KOLs like @Momix1 (over 14,000 fans) did comment. That could be a sign of a slowly growing audience, who can look past the controversy and focus on the designs.

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

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