SHANGHAI — Local designers are looking to stay positive and look for new opportunities amid China‘s economic slowdown.
The spring 2024 edition of Shanghai Fashion Week wrapped Monday, with more than 100 brands showcasing their latest collections to local buyers.
The general consensus among buyers WWD spoke to is that they are scaling back budgets and tightening brand lists this season as Chinese fashion consumers have been spending less.
That said, a decade after the Chinese designer fashion boom — and having survived the COVID-19 pandemic — local brands are prepared to embrace a tougher market environment with bigger shows, stronger brand narratives, more diverse price and product ranges, and more collaborations to reach new audiences.
Comme Moi, a fashion label founded by model Lu Yan and backed by the Shanghai-based manufacturing giant Chenfeng Group, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a major production by the Huangpu River with more than 1,000 guests earlier in the week.
Lu offered an elevated day and night wardrobe with sparkly evening gowns made with fringed jacquard and crocheted mesh in black and white, luxurious leather and fur-clad ensembles, and sleek suiting for Shanghai’s multinational urban elites.
“The collection draws inspiration from the 1990s, a time when styles were still being developed in China. I then took the current fashion context as a starting point, and incorporated the sparkly elements for the brand’s 10th anniversary. You also see a bigger focus on eveningwear. These bespoke pieces are only available to our super VIPs,” Lu said backstage.
The looks were shown on a great lineup of veteran Chinese models who used to work alongside Lu from two decades ago. The show generated considerable buzz on social media, as some of the models like Qu Ying and Wang Shiqing were recently featured on popular reality TV shows. Major stars like Deng Chao, Elaine Zhong and Hu Bing attended the event as well.
“I have been thinking about this idea for a few years. For this special occasion, I finally called every one of my friends and asked them to come and walk in the show. I’m so thankful that my friends were so supportive,” added Lu.
Edison Chen also took to Shanghai to fete the 20th anniversary of his fashion label Clot. Chen enlisted more than 14 Chinese designer and global fashion brands, including Pronounce, Staffonly, Caroline Hu, Yue Qiqi, Sankuanz, Lu’u Dan, Alyx and Tommy Hilfiger to interpret the brand’s striking logo and its Alienegra motifs.
The unveiling of Chen’s highly anticipated Adidas Originals collaboration also occurred at the show. Chinese straw-shoe Sambas and quiet luxury-adjacent athleisure wear made for a clever first collection.
Chen unveiled that the collaboration with Adidas will go further than just designing clothes. Chen said his team will work with Adidas’ Innovation Lab based in Shanghai on future projects that help the German sportswear giant connect with the local talent pool.
“I think the next 20 years of our journey is going to be more or less like Edison, and hopefully, we find five or eight guys that can come and represent us,” explained Chen after the show. “Tomorrow, we’re actually starting a talent search with Adidas called Earn Your Stripes. If it’s an artist, we will hold an art exhibition for them. If it’s a photographer, we will have them shoot all our Adidas x Clot look books.”
Chinese fashion label Icicle this season made its Shanghai Fashion Week debut 26 years after the brand was founded. It offered a simplistic and pragmatic collection featuring a silk dress inspired by a kite, with strings and side panels that give the impression that it flies when one walks, a transparent trench that is light as a cloud, and an asymmetric buttoned light silk suit realized in the color of summer dusk.
Bénédicte Laloux, creative director at Icicle, said the collection is inspired by the sky of spring and summer times. “That over-arching expanse of life-giving air offers us the chance to riff on the notes which make Icicle clothes so well adapted to summer dressing,” she added.
Her favorite pieces in the collection included the tailored white wool twill jacket with the hemp wide pants and organza shell at the opening and the orange jacket and gilet with the linen jeans at the end of the show.
For its spring 2024 collection, the sweet school girl at Shushu/Tong has grown into a graceful and sexy young adult. Inspired by Helmut Newton’s photo series “Big Nude,” the creative duo Lei Liushu and Yutong Jiang, who are behind the hyped label, explored the use of lace to sculpt a budding female heroine.
Together with spiky collars, the brand’s classic bow elements and intricately embroidered flowers that graced skin-baring skirt sets created a fluid shift between materials and structures. Yet the sensuality of the label managed to stay sweet and modest. Being a doll is every Shushu/Tong girl’s dream.
The Pocket Bow handbag, updated with a sleek handle and oversized butterfly bow decoration, along with eyewear adorned with pearls and bling, completed the portrait of a Shushu/Tong fair lady.
Elegance rooted in the teachings of ying-yang and Daoism informed Xu Zhi’s latest collection. Known for his fringy gowns, he reinterpreted them with ostrich feathers poking out in the most joyous fashion. At the same time, the sequined shirtings for men and beaded miniskirts are next season’s must-haves.
“All the sequins, fringes, feathers, sequins and metallic beading were mixed together as a way for me to express how I feel the energies flow,” explained the designer Xuzhi Chen.
This season, Oude Waag, the fashion label founded by Royal College of Art alum Jingwei Yin, was inspired by the culture of Ama, the Japanese female divers who make a living by harvesting abalones and pearls. He translated the strength of the female spirit and the strong community formed by these divers, who would work topless back in the day, into a sultry yet elevated collection.
Yin’s favorites in the collection included the draped tailored jacket that resembled the natural shape of an abalone shell, as well as a series of intricately draped dresses constructed with fabrics connected with a string of fastening stoppers around the neck as if they were real pearls.
The label comes with a higher-than-usual price point among local designers. This season, in light of the market slowdown, he offered several pieces in a more affordable range, such as graphic swimsuits. At the same time, he increased the price of its showpiece to meet the demand of those who are looking for a one-of-kind showstopper with little concern for budget.
Louis Shengtao Chen, a semifinalist for this year’s LVMH Prize, presented his spring 2024 collection at the historic Joint Savings Bank Warehouse overlooking the Bund.
Titled “Orgasmic,” Chen said the collection aimed at exploring the feeling of an orgasm beyond sexual pleasure. It featured slipdresses in crinkled fabric, sequined dresses with excessive Swarovski crystal boning, a cupcake dress with a face printed all over, mesh tops with raindrop metallic studs, and shoulder bags made with premium leather.
“It’s something walking along the lines between self-awareness and self-progression, in realizing one’s growth and evolution. The movie ‘Silence of the Lambs’ gives great inspiration for this season, being questioned about your identity and carrying on with a positive and negative self-reflection all the time, and just be who you are,” he said backstage.
Parsons alum Mark Gong, for spring 2024, reinterpreted office attire with Samantha Jones from “Sex and the City” in mind.
The designer said he first watched the series at the age of 11, and the scene from the first movie where Jones lost the bidding to her boyfriend at the auction over a diamond gardenia ring was particularly fundamental in the formation of the spring 2024 collection.
“Her true desire was to achieve the notion that a woman should buy jewelry for herself through her own efforts,” noted Gong.
“My personal favorite is the look three,” said Gong. “The tray of coffee, the dry-cleaning pickup she’s holding in her hands, I want this girl to look like she is in a rush to get back to her boss, despite a hangover after a big party last night. It’s very casual and that’s why I like it.”
Standouts included sheer LBDs, cozy knits with ripped fringes, a red sequined minidress, a ripped denim ensemble with metal chain detail, tailored jackets, and pencil skirts with the monogram of the letter M, all paired with seductive stockings, and fashion jewelry made in collaboration with the accessory brand Empress 47.
The Shanghai-based designer Jacques Wei took over a warehouse conversion in front of a pond inside the Garden of the Sheng family behind the tree-lined Hengshan Road, where Hermès recently hosted an event, to present his spring 2024 collection. The location is the former residence of Sheng Xuanhuai, a Qing dynasty Chinese tycoon, politician and educator.
“I wanted to show something very bright and colorful, imagining a summer night full of passion and new possibilities. I was inspired by some art pieces from my own collection, and plants and animals depicted in orientalist paintings. I also collaborated with a contemporary Chinese artist, Jiang Cheng. I love his daring use of color on the prints he designed,” he noted.
Wei said he picked the location because he was mesmerized by “the water lilies blooming in the pond, the birds chirping, the sunlight at three o’clock in the afternoon through the rustling leaves” when he first visited the place in July.
“It is very much in line with my inspiration for this season. Since the garden is a historic site, I felt it would be good to add some styling details with a Chinese flair,” he added.
An example of that would be the addition of necklaces made with hand-carved nephrite jade from Xinjiang in the shapes of classic Chinese iconographies, such as flowers, birds, fish, insects, playful monkeys and sleeping lions.
Shie Lyu’s collection was also inspired by nature, her experimental photography of butterfly specimens to be more precise.
“I bought some [butterfly specimens] a few years ago. I didn’t do anything with them until one day I had a sudden idea to shoot them with a knife. I was really attracted to this kind of collisional beauty. The knife represents sharpness and danger, and the butterflies represent magnificence and temptation. Together they formed a rare state of aggressive beauty,” said Lyu.
Alongside her signature cropped jackets in leather and tweeds, and upcycling creations dangling around the body, she integrated butterfly prints on corsets, cutout tops and mermaid skirts, and created a skirt made with PVC pockets filled with actual butterfly wings.
For recent Central Saint Martin graduate Chén Sifān’s debut collection, the designer presented a collection for the modern man ready to embrace a softer elegance. Inspired by the tragic love story of M. Butterfly, Chen utilized traditional Chinese color schemes and incorporated printing, embroidery and crochet techniques to signal the Eastern heritage of the brand.
Generously draped collars that showed up on Chinese jackets, linen shirting as well as cardigans added a subtle touch of fluidity to Chen’s design, showcasing his unique take on Chinese masculinity.
“Even though the market is tough, we made the brave step to start a brand with an uncompromising vision,” said Chen of his namesake brand. “Even if we fail, at least we’ve made an attempt to deliver something positive to the audience.”
Ponder.er, the Yu Prize-winning gender-neutral label founded by Alex Po and Derek Cheng, considered the spring 2024 season the beginning of a new journey in search of “your own heaven on earth.” The show featured a diverse cast of models to reinforce the brand’s inclusive stance.
“It’s pretty open for interpretations and we believe heaven really means different things for different people, be it romance, lust, gluttony or freedom. But this collection is about adding some spice to our own journey in life, and the pieces are how we imagine someone in our Ponder.er universe would wear on a road trip towards their own destinations,” Po noted backstage.
The collection on offer put a big focus on denim, with special effects achieved by mixing smocking with fraying. The duo also played with the mix of hand-crochet structures with denim and off-cut textiles coated with digital prints.
Other designers continued to build around their own universes as well, some pushing a little further than others.
Following a runway show in London that explored the relationship between artificial intelligence and spirituality, Susan Fang restaged the spring 2024 collection in Shanghai in the form of an art exhibition with a dance performance, vocal music, lighting and an installation made of 3,000 handcrafted crystal bead trees made from pure silver wire and transparent crystal beads, made by mothers from ethnic minority backgrounds in the rural area of China.
Fashion Fringe winner Haizhen Wang this season offered an elegant take on the concept little black dress. He referenced cutting techniques pioneered by Madeleine Vionnet and Madame Grès to recreate iconic silhouettes from the ’90s for China’s Gen-Z audience.
Tommy Zhong, a graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, presented a minimalistic wardrobe with crocheted tops, cropped jackets, A-line skirts and slipdresses in watercolor prints. Zhong has carved out a market niche with pieces made for “a woman who is free and sure of herself,” said the designer behind the eponymous brand.
The designer initiated a light breeze on the model’s skin using natural fabrics such as silk and organza. His signature color palette, subdued in nature, emulates the light on a foggy spring afternoon. Zhong’s design enables his wearers to move freely from the office to a rendez-vous by the Bund.
Staffonly, a fashion label founded by Shimo Zhou and Une Yea, played around the idea of procrastination in the workplace at its spring 2024 show, with models carrying XXL backpacks walking backward.
In an attempt to reflect on the creative methodology of the pre-digital era, the duo utilized traditional items that are associated with creativity in the new season. The result was a quirky and playful lineup with tailored jackets and T-shirts constructed with blue and pink tape, a polo with beaded patterns that resembled early electronic circuit boards, and leather shoes with decorations in the form of a giant piece of pencil shavings.
For the New York-based Private Policy‘s restaged show in Shanghai, the label continued to raise awareness around timely issues such as social justice and environmental harmony.
Inspired by the mission to safeguard coral reefs, the designers Haoran Li and Siying Qu incorporated deep-sea diving equipment such as wetsuits, mesh headgear, and life vests into the utilitarian collection.
The collection also included three new looks powered by a collaboration with the Chinese animation series Link Click. “Fashion has always been a vehicle of creative storytelling, it’s an important tool for animation creators as well,” explained Li. “The collaboration is a collision of creative output.”
Also keen on exploring the softer side of masculinity, London-based menswear label Danshan dedicated its latest collection to the “modern-day sadboy and the wardrobe that these romantics shared with their lovers.”
This season, designer Danxia Liu and Shan Peng Wong hosted a series of immersive theater instead of a full-blown runway show. In a bedroom setting covered with blue bedding, models lulled around and gestured to each other subtly in a dream-like state.
The mood animated Danshan’s delicate use of fabrics such as satin, chiffon, tulle and mesh. This time, the designer extended the use of these elements into closet essentials, such as Ts, tanks and hoodies. The label’s signature “sun” motif continued to develop into a pencil drawing print version, revealing the beauty of imperfection.
Knitwear designer Zhi Chen presented a considered lineup under the brand Zi Ii Ci Ien for her fun-loving and carefree clients who are growing into adulthood. She offered more daywear options for official functions, as well as simpler feminine pieces made with rubber and fishnet blended threads.
“The collection represents the process of my growth. The colorful pieces at the beginning represented people’s initial perception of me. I was like a child. So carefree. The middle part gradually transitioned to green tones, and the design became more mature. The final part is extremely feminine and fairy-like, which is something not found in my previous works,” Chen said.
Besides Chen, Osmos and Chundie Zhu are two knitwear-focused brands to watch in Shanghai. Osmos, designed by Steven Oo, presented the new collection with an outdoor show at the former headquarters of Swire in Shanghai with knitted separates in pastel tones, ostrich feather-dotted ensembles, patchwork maxi dresses, and fringed fishnet numbers on offer.
Zhu’s collection was a black-and-white Gothic fantasy with dramatic shapes and layerings. Standouts included bustier tops with spiderweb-like pleats in silk, ruched dresses, and hand-crocheted knits that barely covered the body.
Also entering the realm of monotone, designer Yibin Chen offered a sculptural and feminine collection using a mix of leather, jacquard, lace, knits, and silk not unlike the vibe of Iris Van Herpen and Issey Miyake.
Linlin Chasse, a young brand founded by Central Saint Martins alum Zhu Lin, found inspiration in Luigi Pirandello’s famous play “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” The result was a dramatic lineup where daywear meets ’80s glamour.
By using laser-cutting techniques, Lin was able to achieve exaggeration with precision. “I wanted to marry pioneering theater with fashion and use clothing as a carrier to explore the complex relationship between truth and absurdity, reality and illusion, life and art,” she said.
Wilson Choi, the designer behind the fashion label Redemptive, said this season he aimed to explore the problems of modern life from a humorous perspective and convey an encouraging attitude. He was inspired by a series of office-themed photographs by Swedish photographer Lars Tunbjörk, in which “this formatted world becomes a ridiculous farce.”
A fitting representation of his concept would be the unisex denim tie rope ensembles. Choi said the denim was sourced from a fabric store in Hong Kong that is closing down. He employed a distressed snowflake wash technique to create a vintage effect and add a touch of rebellious attitude.
Stella Song, founder of the Shanghai-based communication and digital marketing agency Socialight with clients such as Mulberry, JW Anderson and Byredo, observed that local designers are collectively widening the price range to meet the demand from both ends.
“We can see that the dimensions of brand youthfulness, popularity and inclusivity that directly touch consumer awareness are the best ways to attract new customers and maintain brand freshness. We also observed that there are more brand collaborations. Luxury players are tapping into a wider, younger and new consumer market through these collaborations. This is also why many designer brands are [widening] their price range and play safe this year. This is a manifestation of the designer brand’s two-way choice of high cost-effectiveness and consumer emotional value in response to the consumer market trend,” she added.
Redemptive’s Choi said that this season he adjusted the ratio of men’s and women’s and introduced more unisex products as well as easier-to-wear styles priced between 1,000 to 2,500 renminbi (about $136 to $342) to attract a wider audience. Oude Waag’s Yin implemented a similar strategy. Not only did he offer one-of-a-kind gowns for those with little budget concern, but the designer is also selling graphic swimwear at around 1,500 renminbi (about $205).
Zi Ii Ci Ien’s Chen noted her collection came with clear merchandise planning.
“My collection actually started from the planning. The clothes, be it showpieces or commercial ones, are all part of the business. I think facing an economic downturn is a perfectly normal part of running a brand. Price adjustments might be able to help you survive the economic cycle, but long-term brand planning and positioning is more important than anything,” she added.
Overall, Song believes that brands developing a diffracted brand positioning and influence is key to breaking through the competition amid the bear market, especially for Chinese designer brands.
“How to develop their own brand asset accumulation and user accumulation is particularly important,” she said, adding that only when the brand influence is strong enough, stickiness of consumption is high enough, and there is a deep understanding and resonance with brand values and concepts, plus the brand constantly attracts new customers and turns them into loyal users, will a fashion business find sustainable long-term growth.