Recovery, or the green shoots of one in any case, was at the forefront of this edition of Shanghai Fashion Week, which began its 10-day run on March 23.
After a dreadful iteration in 2022 that saw one edition canceled right before the city was plunged into a draconian two-month lockdown in April, then a second edition hampered by zero-COVID-19 restrictions, the relief at this return to some kind of normalcy was palpable.
“You can see the recovery is happening,” said Berlin-based Chinese designer Ximon Lee. “We have received orders from a few new stores this season, and that was our goal.”
On the runways, the talent of a generation of young designers who have infused China’s fashion world with direction, excitement and energy in recent years only seems to have become sharper and more focused over the pandemic period.
From the colorful and textural mastery of Shuting Qiu to the buttoned-up femininity of Shushu/Tong, strong signatures have evolved into more all-encompassing designer brand universes — complete with strong product offerings and a more curated point-of-view than seen in the past.
At Fabric Porn, the past was decidedly centerstage, with a collection that leaned heavily on style cues that were familiar to designer Zhao Chenxi during his childhood.
Zhao leans on the unique Chinese aesthetic — fabrics, patterns and cultural references — seeded in the exciting first decades of China’s reopening to the world in the 1980s and 1990s and remakes them with modern vigor, presented with China’s current Gen Z swagger.
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Other designers have in recent years taken the opportunity to branch out in terms of their universe. Susan Fang took the prettiness of her silk and chiffon pastel womenswear world appropriately into childrenswear with a runway show featuring a gaggle of adorable kids.
Her Fall/Winter 2023 collection, first shown at London Fashion Week, was inspired by the 1986 children’s book, Ami, Child of the Stars by Chilean author Enrique Barrios. And while childlike optimism certainly infuses the collection, the materials and techniques are decidedly forward-looking. Blouses are made of custom lace — an updated broderie anglaise style — and “misting” dresses spray delicate floral aromas that echo the romanticism of the designer’s staple ethereal dresses and crocheted gowns adorned with pearls.
Oude Waag designer Jingwei Yin is someone else who has made great strides in recent years, refining and defining a point of view that has always balanced on a tightrope between structure and softness. His Fall/Winter 2023 collection, entitled “Marble Flesh,” was perhaps the brand’s strongest outing to date, with structured silk/foam molded pieces of bodice surrounded by generous drapes of fabric. The effect was undeniably womanly, but these women are also warriors. Clever too were the trouser/skirt hybrids that morphed from jersey tights into mermaid tails just above the knee.
After showrooms were devoid of visitors and buyers from outside of Shanghai, let alone outside of China, last season due to domestic travel restrictions, the busy showrooms at Ontimeshow, Not Showroom and Mode were a welcome sight.
The colorful, sculptural haute down jackets (and also down skirts, trousers and gowns) of Christopher Raxxy’s fairytale world attracted a lot of attention from Mode-goers. Designer William Shen is among a handful of Chinese designers, including Chenpeng’s Peng Chen and Dingyun Zhang, that seem intent on pushing the idea of puffer jackets to new artistic heights, and deservedly attracting plaudits for their efforts.
According to organizers at Ontimeshow, thousands of visitors made their way to its expansive location in Shanghai’s artsy West Bund district on the first day alone, with buyers from around China joined by those from famed multi-brand stores abroad, including Dover Street Market and Machine-A.
There was a point in 2021, as China’s market boomed and domestic buyers blocked from overseas fashion weeks increasingly invested in local brands — pleased not only with the sell-through and consumers’ growing acceptance of local names, but also the ease of doing business in China with Chinese brands — that it seemed the pandemic might prove a turning point with China’s fashion industry turning inward.
Instead, after three years of isolation, China’s fashion industry is looking outwards for connection, inspiration, and the embrace of a wider fashion community. Designers are back to showing in Paris and London, sometimes as well as Shanghai, and buyers are looking for quality and newness both here and elsewhere in the world. This season marked not only the beginnings of a business recovery, but also Shanghai and China’s reintegration into the wider world of fashion.
“It’s very exciting,” said designer Qiu Hao, a mainstay of Shanghai Fashion Week whose eponymous brand is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. “It’s obvious that people are here, and they are coming here with a budget. It’s nothing like the last two seasons.”