Unknown But Ubiquitous, China’s Fashion Elite Take Place At Paris Fashion Week

“Ten Years Ago We Didn’t Have Any Chinese Citizens In Our Industry”

Actress Jiang Yuqi at Paris Fashion Week

Actress Jiang Yuqi at Paris Fashion Week (Image: Abaophoto)

Names like Huo Siyan, Li Xiaolu, Wan Baobao and Lin Peng might not rank among the best-known in the global fashion industry, but the presence of these women and other members of the Chinese style elite at this year’s Paris Fashion Week indicates their country’s importance to major brands and designers. In recent years, Chinese celebrities, designers, bloggers and photographers have gradually become ubiquitous at Fashion Week not only in Paris but also in London, Milan and New York, with most staying off the radar while others — such as actress Fan Bingbing — opting to make a splash with stand-out designs.

But Paris Fashion Week is becoming more than a way for Chinese celebs to hobnob with the European fashion set, or appear to, on Weibo, it’s becoming a critical way for brands to actively market themselves to China. Last year, Chanel invited four of the top Weibo fashion personalities in the Greater China region — actress and micro-blogger Yao Chen, artist Yi Zhou, actress Hilary Tsui, and stylist/blogger Han Huo Huo — to attend (and live-tweet) its Fall/Winter 2011 fashion show. Other events, such as last week’s “China in Paris” showroom, which exposed a local audience to new trends in the domestic Chinese fashion world, look to go a step further and build bridges between the French and Chinese apparel industries. Though still new — having been founded in 2010 — “China in Paris” is an attempt by Chinese organizations like the China National Garment Association (CNGA) and Fashion in Life to establish a stronger presence in Western Europe and, eventually, to take home-grown Chinese brands into the market while signing additional European designers to sell in China.

At the event, Didier Grumbach, head of the French Haute Couture Association, told the AFP that events like “China in Paris” are key to understanding what’s going on in the China market, as China “is a country that is passionate about fashion, like all emerging nations where appearance is of the utmost importance.” Added Grumbach, “Ten years ago we didn’t have any Chinese citizens in our industry.”

As the AFP notes this week, while some members of the “China in Paris” group were looking to eventually sell their clothes in Europe, others — like William Zhao of the Chinese conglomerate COPAIS, which is trying to set up a chain of multi-brand retailers — were on the look-out for European designers. From the AFP:

“I think it is just the beginning for the luxury industry in China,” Zhao told AFP. “We are targeting the richest 10 percent of the population — and these people want novelty.”

China’s love affair with fashion runs both ways, with the country eager to boost its visibility in the design world.

“China doesn’t have the equivalent of Japan’s Yohji Yamamoto or Issey Miyake,” Grumbach explained. “They want to promote the work of designers who could be built up into national brands.”

For the past four seasons, Christine Zhao has flown in half a dozen young Chinese designers as part of the “China in Paris” initiative, to introduce them to the world’s fashion capital.

“Paris is a dream for designers the world over,” she told AFP.

“It’s about opening a door for them, otherwise they don’t know how to approach Paris,” explained Zhao, who set up the event in partnership with the China National Garment Association and the French fashion federation.

“Up to them to decide whether they want to stay — or if it doesn’t suit them, for reasons of language or culture. To stay, they need to have talent — but also a good head for business.”

Though it’s far from a “must-see” event for most Paris Fashion Week attendees, “China in Paris” is becoming something of a springboard for young Chinese designers, some of which have returned to Paris to show on their own. One of these designers who decided to come back to Paris on her own, Masha Ma (previously on Jing Daily), was invited to join the official Paris Fashion Week calendar this year, mounting her first show in the French capital last Wednesday. As Ma told the AFP, going it alone and showing off intricate and painstakingly made designs is her attempt to “[change] the notion of low-grade ‘Made in China,'” adding, “I think it’s an approachable goal.”

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