Chinese fashion means serious business these days. If you don’t trust us, then trust Shanghai Fashion Week (SFW) – the country’s most dynamic and directional style bonanza to date. The event, which kicked off on October 13, showed a definite mood of seriousness this season, with collections that were polished, grown-up and visually compelling. Most poignantly, they were all witness to the same fact: after a decade-long battle to defend its credentials as a player on the global stage, Chinese fashion has finally matured, and successfully evolved into something worth watching, attending and raving about. Among the many designers on the schedule, here are the ones we think represent the cream of the country’s fashion crop. Take note: these names are going to make waves.
Zhang Na: Fake Natoo
Beijing-born Zhang Na – a graduate of the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts and College of MOD’ART – has been crafting and nurturing her own brand, Fake Natoo, since 2008. It shows: the label’s debut at SFW last season featured a fall/winter collection that was a real visual treat, offering a sophisticated blend of oversized silhouettes, multiple layers and a series of looks made from Tibetan yak wool. Her spring/summer 2016 line last month didn’t disappoint either. The looks that walked down the runway made for an extremely polished affair, all clean lines, beautiful prints on silk and chiffon, and looks that screamed boho-chic. Boxy cotton shirts and drapey dresses held together by the thinnest of spaghetti straps presented a modern, feminine vision of womanhood, while asymmetric cuts and the odd oversized bow added depth and diversity to the overall cleanness of the garments. With this show, Zhang proved to be a definite pro at the fashion game.
One of the leading figures on Shanghai’s fashion scene, Wenzhou-born Nicole Zhang has made her name for collections that are functional and sporty while retaining plenty of sex appeal. The creative designs for women like her – “confident, independent, well-traveled” – lean towards fashion that’s unfussy and fun. Her show was a confirmation of that. Models in Studio 54-inspired makeup and hair (hello, perms!) rocked outfits that took inspiration from the disco-era of the '70s and '80s – think lurex, denim, sneakers and tropical prints. The high-energy collection also featured a mix of deliciously dated color combos and power jackets that would do Grace Jones proud.
Zhang Da: Boundless
Zhang Da is a real veteran as far as China’s fashion industry goes. The Shanghai-based designer started his conceptual label Boundless in 2005, and, besides a stint at Hermès-backed Chinese luxury brand Shang Xia as head designer, he has been quietly focusing on crafting starkly simple yet powerful clothes ever since.His collections are each based on a distinct experimental design. He could be described as a Chinese Martin Margiela: his aesthetic is minimal, and charged with meanings and cultural references deeply rooted in Chinese history. His garments often show conceptual approaches, investigating and uprooting standard notions of form and asking wearers to conceive of alternatives to traditional silhouettes. This season, he offered a prim collection of looks that spanned humble dressing reminiscent of old school Chinese uniforms, soft tailoring and modern prints. Crisp, asymmetric tops fell over wide-leg pants, while unhemmed white shirts were paired with demure skirts and trousers. Slits and maxi pockets added an element of diversion from the overall minimal looks, and so did the bright prints and slogans in Chinese and English that appeared on some sweatshirts, pants and tees towards the end of the show. Zhang’s appeal lies in the fact that he is very much like a scholar; he does a lot of research on culture, anthropology and nature. This collection showed that in a beautiful, subtle way.
Momo Wang: Museum of Friendship
Based in London but traveling frequently to China, Tianmo Momo Wang defines herself as an “arts-and-crafts artist and pragmatic dreamer.” The Liaoning Province-born, Central Saint Martins educated designer has been on the fashion circuit since 2011, when her graduation show, titled ‘I Love My Print Room,’ earned her three major awards from her university. The following year, she established her personal studio Mending Point in London. More recently, she launched her label Museum of Friendship in the UK capital. Wang has a whimsical, boisterous approach to fashion. Her clothes are often takes on reinvention and revalue – be it of scraps found in the night markets of her hometown in Jinzhou and the flea shops of London, or of eras of yore. And so it was no surprise that for her SFW debut, the creative looked back at the '90s. Titled ‘After School,’ her collection could be described as Harajuku-meets-Saved by the Bell. Models came skipping, bouncing and dancing down the runway in a series of eccentric outfits, from wide-leg trousers with flower appliques to silver-sequined pants, tennis skirts and crop tees featuring kitten and puppy motifs. The show was a refreshing, tongue-in-cheek approach to fashion. It did not take itself too seriously, and Wang seemed to suggest that neither should we. One of the most original, playful designers around.
> Museum of Friendship official website.
Moti Bai: Black Spoon
Mix goth and romanticism together, and you get the aesthetic of Moti Bai, a graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins who divides her time between China and the UK. Her label Black Spoon first showed at SFW last season, where it revealed plenty of verve and panache. Bai might be young, but she certainly has a clear direction in mind: her pieces, which are characterized by voluminous silhouettes and a pirate-like vibe, are remarkably feminine yet not excessively cute, retaining plenty of commercial appeal. Bai’s strength is in her design and fabric development, and she proved it this season. Her looks featured beautiful Renaissance inspired prints on silk – with references to Caravaggio and Velazquez – but also a series of classic cocooning shapes à la Balenciaga, voluminously wide sleeves, ample skirts and billowy gowns, layers upon layers of organza, drop waist dresses and ruffle blouses. Her aesthetic is grand, excessive and dramatic – and that makes her shows all the more noteworthy.
Zhou Xiaowen: HIUMAN
Menswear designers are still a relatively rare breed in China. Zhou Xiaowen is one of them, and from what we’ve seen so far, we’re completely on board with her frills free aesthetic. The ESMOD Paris graduate, whose debut show was supported by China’s ELLEMEN, told a beautifully crafted story for spring/summer 2016, keeping silhouettes simple and snug, with trousers reminiscent of Aikido uniforms, ample shirts and comfy sweatpants and jackets. The entire lineup was kept minimal, nature being the main inspiration behind the collection, showing some soft tailoring juxtaposed with more casual styles, all in a calming palette of earthy, natural hues. If not exactly avant-garde, Wen’s vision was one of clothing that shifts easily between urban cool and pragmatic, always displaying relaxed shapes and lines that make dressing very easy.
> Zhou Xiaowen bio page
Feng Cheng Wang
Another Beijing-born designer, Feng Cheng Wang graduated from London’s Royal College of Art last year, and was already invited to participate in New York Fashion Week in September. She’s perhaps one of China’s most compelling new designers, with a sartorial vision that wouldn’t be out of place in a postapocalyptic future. Her menswear collection, which she brought to Shanghai after New York, was avant-garde to say the least, a mix between performance art and fashion. The inspiration behind her “Love & Life” spring/summer 2016 line was a rather somber occurrence: her father’s liver cancer diagnosis last year. Feng made the most of the bad situation, however, channelling her pain and healing process into her clothes. The result was a show that was conceptually charged, with a Blade Runner-meets-The Matrix kind of lineup. Using the idea of illness as starting point, garments showed plenty of medical references, some more overt, like the IV bags dripping black liquid atop the models’ shoulders, some a little quieter, like zippers added to look like operative scars and incisions, or clothes bursting with oversized shapes supposed to resemble organs. As weird as it sounds, the show was truly inspiring and Feng’s silhouettes saw a delicate proportional play – flowing trousers, samurai-like shorts and foam injected shapes – that spoke of a remarkable technical and creative perspective.
Fiona Lau and Kain Picken founded ffiXXed Studios in 2008 as a collaborative art and design project. After moving between studio spaces in Berlin, Hong Kong, New York and Melbourne, ffiXXed established their own in-house production studio and residence in Wutong Mountain, Shenzhen, where they have developed a multifunctional space integrating design, manufacturing and living. They started crafting unisex clothes in 2010, turning into a lifestyle brand that counts a loyal following in Japan and, last year, was awarded the prestigious Woolmark Prize in the Asian leg of the competition. Inspired by the surroundings of Wutong Mountain, Lau and Picken stick to a neutral palette (taupe, navy, gray) and innovate in comfortable shapes: a chambray apron top that flaps as you walk, a white T-shirt dress wrapped in a Pendleton-style blanket. They reinterpret the mundane, integrating it into their apparel with interesting twists, and often work in layers, using all natural fabrics produced locally in Shenzhen. Their spring/summer collection at SFW was inspired by the idea of “exploring spaces of relaxation within contemporary lifestyle.” Reference elements spanned spa culture, gardening and leisure sports, the main theme being the notion of “pottering” (which, if you aren’t familiar, is a term that refers to light activities usually undertaken around the home in an almost meditative manner). Hard not to get behind an idea like that, if you ask us. Formulating a narrative around these concepts, the wardrobe they showed comprised relaxed silhouettes and easy-to-wear forms, highlighted by unexpected fabrications and contemporary cutting. Custom produced fabrics revealed various pot plants and images of pool water woven into the surface of skirts, dresses and pants, while striped trims reworked as buttonup waist ties and belts paid homage to women’s tennis and gold sportswear from the 60s. Low-key minimal but highly conceptual, ffiXXed perfectly encapsulates the essence of contemporary Chinese design.
> ffiXXed official website.