The time for Chinese fashion brands and independent designers to illustrate to the world how well they can — or can’t — connect with their audience has come. This week, the Jing Daily Fashion Week Score, which evaluates how a brand’s collection resonates with a Chinese audience through a range of parameters, stops at Shanghai Fashion Week — a fitting new addition to the index.
Much has been written about the remarkable fact that Shanghai was the only fully physical fashion week this season and with 90 runway shows and presentations, the event was very much back to business as usual – albeit with far fewer international activations. Given the restrictions of imposed by COVID-19, Spring 2021 was an overwhelmingly domestic affair: dynamic homegrown brands showed to a local, sophisticated audience. The need to quarantine for upwards of 14 days reduced the opportunity for even some Chinese brands to take part, but a handful chose to take the risk nonethless.
While the schedule lacked its usual international glamour, it was made up for by local KOLs, ambassadors, and celebrities. The Green Carpet Fashion Award, broadcasted by Sky Link TV, had its world premiere at the event and further drew out the city’s fashion elite. Idols Chris Lee, Fan Bingbing, Huang Ling, and Tong Yao; model Xiao Wen Ju; industry leader Angelica Cheung from Vogue China; and fashion entrepreneur Wendy Yu — who launched the Yu Prize for Chinese designers at the show — were all in attendance on various days. Tom Brown’s favorite model, Xiao Wen Ju, even fronted the campaign for emerging Chinese showcasing platform and fashion incubator Labelhood.
All eyes were on the event, heaping pressure on its designers to show Western brands precisely how to connect with China’s valued industry regulars and fashion consumers — across both B2B and C2B initiatives. Obviously, simply being Chinese is no guarantee of success in this competitive home market. Yet all the brands fared surprisingly well in terms of models representation naturally, and more interestingly, media volume. Shushu/Tong, in particular, received 70 million KOL impressions, which was more than Hermès (and at a much lower cost, no doubt). Here, Jing Daily evaluates how these brands performed.
The 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.
As the closing show of Shanghai Fashion Week, Angel Chen, who recently found international fame on the Netflix reality fashion contest, made quite a splash. Her mega show with over 1,000 guests attracted the attention of hundreds of local KOLs and celebrities, including recent reality show contestants drummer Hu Yutong (胡宇桐) and dancer Dandan (淡淡) with a combined Weibo following of 4.2 million.
The latest collection, called “Artefact,” is a collaboration with Beijing artist Wang Jiajia, as both talents are revitalizing Chinese culture with contemporary interpretations. On the runway, Chen’s signature use of bold color harmoniously blended with dazzling tie-dye and printed textiles. Her attention to detail did not go unnoticed, and color motifs were echoed within the venue’s interior. “Every look is brilliant; every detail — from hair and makeup, music to visual presentation — is well-rounded,” said interior designer Hector Liang on Weibo. Chen is also one of China’s go-to designers for collaborations: This year alone, international brands Adidas Originals and Canada Goose tapped her appeal to connect with local fashionistas through partnerships that included the Dragon Teeth sneakers and parkas.
Inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s infamous song, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” the new collection from Shanghai-based duo Shushu/Tong alluded to the evolution of a young girl into womanhood. That was felt in high-slit dresses and skirts, floral bralettes, and blazers decorated with a large bow, which online fashionistas are already choosing as key outfits for next year. Fashion blogger @Kakakaoo, who has over 13 million Weibo followers, already has her eyes on several pieces. But the unabashedly feminine details are not as materialistic as the song suggests. Weibo user @DiadiadiaInstitute pointed out that China’s females have become increasingly empowered — enough write their own fashion rules — and Shushu/Tong is just the brand to symbolize this change.
Founded by Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang in 2015, the celebrated local brand has grown into a credible international brand, stocked by several global retailers and desired by niche fans. The hundreds of guests who waited in-line despite delays similarly reflected its devoted local following.
The designer duo behind Staff Only, Une Yea and Shimo Zhou, imagined a third space this season — one somewhere between work and vacation. Under the theme of WORKATION, the unisex presentation marked the brand’s tenth season, and portrayed an in-between state that many working professionals could no doubt relate to (a similar theme was prevalent at the European fashion weeks.) This unisex collection was a mesh of office culture and typical leisure or casual looks: folders, ties, and post-it notes (common workplace staples) were imaginatively reworked into different looks, while sandals and UGGs disrupted the formal office dress code.
Staff Only has a strong, vocal following at home, and its exploration of future working scenarios received features from local fashion media outlets ELLEMEN and I-D China. As fashion KOL @Marc_Xu commented, “Staff Only is always one of the most creative and avant-garde brands, continuously bringing newness to the ordinary.”
Following outings at Paris, London, and New York, Mukzin returned to Shanghai Fashion Week for Spring 2021 with a new collection called Jia Long (嘉珑), which means women’s hair accessories in Tibetan culture. In it, Tibetan embroidery and traditional silver accessories were blended into both the design and the presentation. Upping its sustainability credentials, the brand has partnered with the viscose fiber producer Ecocosy to develop an eco-friendly material as part of the collection.
Since 2014, the couple and brand founders Kate Han and George Feng have used Muzkin to bring Chinese ethnic culture to global platforms. The new collection was no different, wowing physical (and online) audiences with an authentic presentation of a marginalized Chinese culture. “[The collection] has made the ethnic culture relevant and fashionable,” wrote blogger and stylist Zac Zhao on Weibo. On the runway, the presence of singer Huang Ling, who shot to fame earlier this year as a contestant of the popular reality show, “Sisters Who Make Waves,” further boosted the brand’s social volume – particularly on Weibo and Little Red Book.
This was the first outing at Shanghai Fashion Week for London-based designer Yuhan Wang who reshowed her Spring 2021 collection. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio is a collection of Classical Chinese stories and the message Wang sends is relevant and powerful: In an age where female empowerment is growing, the women who fill traditional gender roles also deserve attention and respect.
The collection found an audience online. Following the show, one guest wrote on Weibo: “The show makes me feel like I’m among the clouds in a light blue sky. I just loved it.” If Wang can match her global wins, which include a slot at LFW and a shortlisting for the LVMH Prize for her exquisite ruching, the rising brand stands to gain considerable notoriety.
The menswear brand took the unusual phrase Gala in the Pond! as the theme of its Spring 2021 catwalk. The collection was a continuation of the brand’s explorations in material and fabric sustainability and, as a combination of tailored suits, made for a vibrant runway. In addition to recycled fiber fabrics, 8ON8 also incorporated fabrics made from marine netting debris to create shirts this season.
The outing also featured the brand’s new tie-up with the athletic label ASICS in a humorous, retro-future take on design. The brand is connecting especially well with young consumers, and the local media outlet @Stream溯流 posted on Weibo that “the presentation is absolutely a visual feast for youngsters to source inspiration.”
Zhang followed the brand’s virtual presentation at Paris Fashion Week by transporting his surrealistic future-world collection to Shanghai’s emerging showcasing platform, Labelhood. Inspired by the documentary “Six Degrees,” which addressed environmental issues, the collection referenced a variety of weather motifs, from sunshine to thunder. The offline release of Spring 2021 in Shanghia echoed the virtual world created in Pars and was unveiled in a similarly theatrical and atmospheric fashion. By incorporating the weather-themed computer-generated animation and sound effects, the brand further immersed audiences into the initial dreamland concept.
The physical presentation and theme resonated greatly with local viewers. Fashion KOL and buyer Judy Zhu shared her take on Weibo after attending the show: “The show drew inspiration from transitions between scenes and immersive performances that can be seen in theaters, breaking through the typical fashion show archetype.”
Sun Yun had a decades-long architectural career before turning to menswear, and to Sun, the two trades are cut from the same cloth. Cornerstone is still relatively embryonic by global standards but it’s not usual for a brand’s sixth season (since its Fall 2017 debut) to be making waves. Spring 2021, Parastifier, continued Sun’s use of exquisite folding techniques, and interpretations of simplicity, quality, and craft were brought to life in earthy colors and statuesque silhouettes. The brand’s style might seem out of step with the other typically bold emerging brands that were shown on the Labelhood platform, but the brand’s timeless and unisex feel has found an audience — on both Little Red Book and Weibo.
Wan Hung’s presentation Nusicland felt like a utopia free of rules, where boys could do whatever they wanted, and girls could live as they wished. As Hung noted, the brand is about customers who want to be able to dress up according to their personality and freely pursue their self-expression. Yet, netizens didn’t engage in the discussion, as this season’s statement appeared to be off-topic and vague in the context of the current social environment.
Although the show received social exposure from singer Kai Yuan’s attendance and the fashion KOL @仙女_KaKa’s vlog featuring her viewing experience, amplification of the collection was extremely lean. For such a talented designer, she might just need to reset the needle.
Reported by Wenzhuo Wu, Yaling Jiang, and Gemma A. Williams.