Chinese Fashion Labels You Need to Be Watching Right Now

By Timothy Parent, November 29, 2016

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Timothy Parent Fashion Column

Timothy Parent is the founder of China Fashion Bloggers and has followed Shanghai Fashion Week for 15 seasons and Fashion Now in Beijing for six seasons. In his inaugural Fashion Column for That’s, he gives an exclusive recap of what local fashion designers we should be looking out for.

China is undergoing a fashion (re)evolution.

The Mainland and surrounding areas have their own unique sartorial traditions that go back hundreds if not thousands of years, but fashion in a contemporary sense started in China in 1996, when the elusive Ma Ke established China’s first designer brand Exception de MixMind

Fast-forward 20 years and there is literally an explosion of creativity happening around us. From one designer to hundreds, there’s now an entire industry that has been built around designer talents. 

There are more shows, presentations and performances, events, showrooms and tradeshows, and more indie and alternative runways than ever before. It’s not that more is necessarily better but it is at the least increasingly diverse.

But with approximately 70 fashion shows and presentations, 10 showrooms and tradeshows, and countless events in Shanghai alone you still need to sort through the noise. So here’s a roundup of my favorite parts of Fashion Week in Beijing and Shanghai so you know what to look out for next season.

Beijing's Up and Coming Fashion Stars

Ricostru and Evening at Beijing Fashion Now 2016
Ricostru and Evening at Beijing Fashion Now 2016.

So let’s start at the beginning. Fashion Now, something of an alternative fashion week, was held on October 10-11 in Beijing. It’s only two days so it is highly curated, and I know I’ll only see top-notch designers there.

The first show was an incredibly romantic and feminine collection from M essential by designer Muki Ma, who was previously the designer for Exception de MixMind (a First Lady favorite) and recently noted as the favorite designer of Opening Ceremony’s Fashion Director Carol Song. 

Known for using the best material available and creating the highest quality garments of any designer in China, Ricostru (who had just shown her Spring/Summer 2017 collection at the Armani Theater in Milan) also staged a runway show at Fashion Now, which I thought was her strongest to date.

Evening, who is based in Beijing’s 798 Art District where the event was held, also showed her strongest collection to date. Inspired by icebergs, she interpreted the theme beautifully using color, shapes and cuts, which were complemented by eclectic, artistic jewelry and beautifully-crafted geometric bags. 

Lastly there was Zhao Qianyan, a new designer based in Shenzhen that I had never heard of the before, presented a collection that’s both avant-garde and wearable. 

Shanghai Fashion Stars You Need to Look Out For

Angel Chen Shanghai Fashion Week 2016
Angel Chen at Shanghai Fashion Week 2016.

Labelhood, a special project in collaboration with Shanghai Fashion Week, is only in its second season but it has already grown leaps and bounds, and impressed not only the local but also the international fashion community.

The ‘festival’ featured many of China’s top designer brands, including Museum of Friendship, SHUSHU/TONG, Yirantian, Angel Chen, Xu Zhi, FFIXXED, Uma Wang, Hiuman, and Staffonly. There were actually too many talented designers to see and give credit to, which is a great problem to have.

Museum of Friendship Shanghai Fashion Week 2016
Museum of Friendship at Shanghai Fashion Week 2016.

Shanghai Fashion Week 2016
deepmoss (left) and Missy Skins (right) at Shanghai Fashion Week 2016.

Rockbund served as a perfect host and featured multiple venues that were breathtaking, as well as a pedestrian street next to the old British Consulate for people to pose.

At the main SFW tent itself on Xintiandi’s Taiping Hu, the organizers changed the entrance so there were less photo-ops, much to the dismay of a small group of local retirees that have invested in nice camera equipment. But the venue is essentially the same, with two runways, and a daunting list of shows from “brands” around the world. The ones of note this season were C.J. Yao, mikumkum by Lu Kun, and Ji Cheng.

But not everything worth seeing was part of the official SFW schedule. BY MISSY SKINS showed at Central Studios and will eventually offer paperweight leathers that are UNREAL! Helen Lee showed a refined, practical collection that is typically only seen by such a seasoned designer as herself. And Rolling Acid combined fashion and art to create a rebellious but cultured vision for Spring/Summer 2017.

Shanghai Showrooms: The Standouts

Coda Showroom at Shanghai Fashionweek
The Coda Showroom at Shanghai Fashion Week 2016.

Besides Fashion Now, Labelhood, Shanghai Fashion Week, and the indie shows, there were still the tradeshows and showrooms – and everyone seems to be getting into the game. Over the last two years, it has grown from two to about a dozen, all spread across the city from Hongqiao to Pudong, which was quite unnecessary.

Showrooms and tradeshows are generally closed to anyone who isn’t a buyer or media, but they are a crucial part of the fashion system and this is the area that has developed the most around Fashion Week so they are at least worth a mention.

The first trip I made was to the Coda showroom out at the Hongqiao Airport, and they are super well-curated – featuring some of my favorite brands like Percy Lau and FFIXXED. There was also an exhibition next door that asked the question, “What Is Good Design” and defined it in 10 different ways – it was the most holistic showroom at SFW, hands down.

Beijing’s Fashion Now held its first showroom in Shanghai and brought in some new talents to complement its base of seasoned designers. Tube offered a highly curated selection as well but introduced a number of new talents. There were plenty of standouts at Tube, but this was the only place to see the incredibly innovative Xiao Li, who everyone should know about.

Then there were the larger, noisier, and more tradeshow-esque platforms like the official SFW tradeshow MODE, Ontime and Showroom Shanghai. We are still in China after all, and there’s a lot of brands that lack a unique perspective and just clutter up the system. 

Perhaps the most crowded was MODE, which also seemed to have drawn the biggest crowd. Showroom Shanghai had some nice brands and 70 percent of them were showing for the first time, while Ontime had a couple of brands.

But the standout for me was Feifei Yang’s child soldiers-themed collection. Her clothes can magically change sizes so they can be both shrunken and oversized, and the use of unexpected materials like rubber cords from hospitals is not only innovative but also meaningful.

Feifei Yang at Shanghai Fashion Week 2016
Feifei Yang at Shanghai Fashion Week 2016.

Who Wins?

And that is what designers should do... They should interpret and (re)create culture, and have a positive impact on people and society. 

Fashion in general is now such a large part of the culture in China that it affects people daily, whether or not one is conscious of it. Some may see it as superficial, but it is a world full of creativity and passion, and the industry has blossomed as a result of this growing interest. So it is partially because of you that the (re)creation of creativity in China is happening now, but where will you take it in the future?

The real question though is who should and who will win in this increasingly competitive market. The aforementioned are just a few of China’s increasing number of talents and institutions that make it all happen, but at the end of the day it’s the end consumer that is really driving the fashion bus. 

So where will you take it? 

Timothy Parent can also be found at See more of his Fashion Columns.

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