5 Little-Known Facts About China’s Fashion Scene
When people ask me the inevitable question–“So what do you do in Shanghai?”–it’s impossible for me to answer succinctly. After finishing two high-octane years as an fashion and lifestyle editor at a major English-language magazine in Shanghai in 2012, I’ve since been working as a freelance China fashion market consultant and lifestyle writer. I’m also a blogger and give private shopping tours to clients of luxury travel concierge companies. Last but not least, I launched my niche line of jackets, Hart, in 2013.
So, most of the time, I just say, “I work in fashion.” But then another hard-to-answer question usually follows: “What’s the fashion scene in Shanghai like?” It’s equally impossible to give a short, simple reply. Instead, I’d rather list my five favorite things.
Qipaos, mandarin collars and Mao suits will forever be sartorial icons of China. But what is the latest frontier for Chinese fashion? What is modern Chinese style? It certainly can’t be summed up with just a few adjectives like Parisian style can ("chic and classic"). But China’s talented fresh crop of designers can answer those questions better than anyone else.
I love local labels like Ms. Min, Chictopia by Christine Lau and anything that Nicole Zhang dreams up. Designing specifically for their peers, these creative women are shaping what Chinese fashion is today.
While this stereotype is slowly being chipped away, most people only think of China as the mass producer of all things cheap. Of course, less-than-ideal working conditions still exist in some places, but many manufacturing areas now have improved labor laws, higher wages and overall better standards of living. During my time as an editor, I interviewed designers and big brands that moved their production from China to other countries like India and Indonesia. One designer told me, “It’s now way too expensive to produce in China.”
Local luxury label Shang Xia (backed by Hermès) is proud of their Chinese craftsmanship and eager to show it to the world. So am I. The care labels inside my jackets say, “Proudly Made in Shanghai.” I work with a large workshop, where the tailors are happy and treated very well, and the attention to detail is fantastic.
China is a hugely diverse country, with dozens of minority groups claiming their own ancient histories, cultures, beliefs and, of course, crafts–including clothing. When I first learned about the textiles and culture of Miao minorities in southwest China several years ago, I was instantly hooked.
China is hurtling so fast into the future as a modern mega-power that the local traditions of these minority groups are disappearing very quickly. In fact, some of the middle-aged Miao women who help me source vintage embroideries from their villages were never taught how to embroider by their mothers. Already the art form has been lost by two generations of Miao women. The textiles are getting harder and harder to find, but hopefully the growing demand for the craft will inspire young women to pick it back up.
Textiles, textiles, textiles! Any textile lover should come to Shanghai, which has several textile markets. At Shiliupu Fabric Market (picture Mood Fabric Store, then multiply the stock by 100), you can see fashion designers and students browsing through the mountains of fabric rolls with their sketches in hand. The four-story market is brimming with options, which is both very overwhelming and inspiring.
Shanghai is also home to China’s traditional textiles. Whenever I get a textile aficionado as a client on my bespoke Shanghai shopping tours, I take them to the Nankeen Exhibition Hall, which is home to China’s centuries-old indigo dyed fabric. (When I took Levi’s global creative team there, they nearly died of pure joy!) My lovely Shanghai friends at LuRu Home use traditional Nankeen fabric for modern home furnishings. Check them out!
If you can dream it, you can have it made in Shanghai. From fabric markets to humble hole-in-the-wall leather shops, this city is home to brilliant craftsmen who can make just about anything–shoes, blouses, belts, bags and clothing. I tend to stick to classic pieces without any bells and whistles–cotton dress shirts ($20), leather brogues ($150), silk blouses ($60), leather mini skirts ($120), cotton sundresses ($20), and the list goes on.
My line of jackets actually started out this way. I had a few pieces of Miao embroidery and asked one of my favorite tailors to make a jacket for me. Neither of us knew exactly how to apply the intricate Miao embroidery at the time, so it was a labor of love that took many fittings over trial and error, but in the end, I finally produced my first jacket. I was hooked, and the rest is history.