This article was originally published in Mandarin and edited for brevity.
When Lorenzo Hadar, the famous Italian luxury retailer, attended Shanghai Fashion Week after a multi-year hiatus, he noticed a striking transformation.
"The last time I came to Shanghai Fashion Week was before the pandemic," recalls Hadar. "Since then, China has remained somewhat absent from the international fashion scene due to the pandemic's impact. Today, as I stand amid the vibrant energy of Shanghai, I am happy to be back here and witness the rapid development of the fashion industry in this region.”
Indeed, the recent Shanghai Fashion Week, which ran from October 8 to 16, was no ordinary fashion event. It wanted to make a statement: that China is poised to redefine its fashion industry with a keen focus on sustainability and innovation.
The fashion world had eyes on Shanghai, eager to gauge the trends that would emerge and the bold messages designers would send from one of the world’s biggest markets, home to a highly influential consumer base.
Renowned British designer Stella McCartney is known for her strong advocacy for sustainable fashion. As the headlining international designer to showcase there, she shared her insights at a forum with a straightforward message.
"It's crucial to collaborate, guide, inspire, fund, and sponsor the new generation of fashion designers," McCartney told Jing Daily. "If they don't grasp the importance of sustainability or aren't driven to become the champions of sustainable fashion, our industry will face bleak prospects."
Under the Labelhood umbrella, the youth designer incubation platform Youtopia, in collaboration with Converse, introduced the third season of its "Created by You'' student designer support program, where 12 groups of young designers put their own stamp on Converse products under the theme of "skateboarding spirit."
There was a consensus that the new generation holds the key to the future. Today, more than ever, the world needs designers who prioritize the planet and sustainability. But in such a vast and diverse country as China, with its rich tapestry of culture and history, what should the guiding light for designers be?
Xander Zhou, a notable design talent, believes the crux lies in authentic self-expression.
"Chinese designers don't necessarily have to create traditional Eastern designs, nor do they have to carry the burden of culture. Returning to the identity of the designer, the most important thing for us is to remain honest in our own expression."
This sentiment was palpable in many collections presented during the week. From modern reinterpretations of ancient Chinese silhouettes to avant-garde designs that looked to the future, designers showcased an eclectic range. It was evident that while they were rooted in their cultural background, they were not confined by it.
The MODE Shanghai Fashion and Clothing Exhibition at IM Shanghai Changning International has partnered with numerous specialized showrooms, integrating various resources such as materials, manufacturers, and brand promotion services. Together, they provide a rich selection for the retail market, attracting buyers from both domestic and international markets.
In the post-pandemic era, consumers have become increasingly cautious about their shopping habits. Besides paying attention to the practical functionality of products, they also seek brands that can resonate with them on a spiritual, emotional, and value-based level. Consequently, brands are placing greater emphasis on connecting with emotional and spiritual needs. Many brands and product lines have emerged that focus on emotions and life attitudes.
This season, Fabric Qorn combines Western hippie culture and the Eastern philosophy of "reason" to present a unique "anti-echo chamber" fashion collection that celebrates a non-materialistic lifestyle. The brand's designers led models and the audience through a large-scale "collective meditation," accompanied by the piano performance of Sichuan Renaissance musician Shi Wenxin Yue.
Knitwear designer brand Hanqing Ding also focuses on inner expression and sustainability with its latest collection, with the theme "Spotlight Monologue," drawing inspiration from moments when the spotlight shines on individuals on stage.
Avant-garde yet retro style was the key aesthetic on The World Is Your Oyster's runway show. The men's clothing brand, founded by Calvin Chan and Joyce Kun in early 2014, draws inspiration from the rebellious spirit of the 1960s icon Patti Smith's memoir "Just Kids," with the theme "Poetic Punk."
Oude Waag's Spring/Summer 2024 collection draws inspiration from the Ama freedivers who capture abalones and pearls in the waters near Japan. Using gentle fabrics and unique tailoring, the collection expresses the soft yet strong femininity of these women.
Shushu/Tong, known for creating a girlish fashion style, takes "The Nude" as its theme this season, inspired by Helmut Newton's photography series "Big Nude." In these works, the female body is portrayed with diverse emotions, such as sensuality, wildness, and tension, conveying a strong female power.
Hadar observed another interesting trend, which he believes holds immense promise for the future of Chinese fashion: "I see many talented young Chinese people going abroad to study at prestigious institutions like Central Saint Martins and Parsons, and then returning to their homeland to influence the fashion industry here. They blend elements from the West and the East, Europe and Asia, bringing a constant stream of vitality to China's fashion industry."
But what does this mean for the future of fashion in China? The implication is twofold. On one side, Chinese designers are becoming global citizens, embracing a broader perspective and enriching their designs with diverse influences. On the other hand, they are leveraging their unique cultural identity, bringing fresh narratives to the global fashion discourse.
Shanghai, as a city, has always been at the crossroads of the East and the West. Historically, it's been a melting pot of cultures, a port city that welcomed traders, travelers, and ideas from across the world.
Today, it stands as a metaphor for what's happening in the Chinese fashion scene — a seamless melding of the old and the new, the East and the West.