All eyes on China, but capital's Fashion Week slips under the radar

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 November, 2011, 12:00am


Amid the buzz surrounding designers' visits and big brand store openings in the region, last week also marked the start of China Fashion Week. The 10-day event flew under the radar for most international style setters, but with all this global focus on China's luxury obsession, you do wonder why.

There are some who have realised the growing importance of a domestic designers' fashion week in Beijing. Mercedes-Benz is now the headlining sponsor, mirroring what it does for New York Fashion Week. Chinese designers' creativity is finally being unleashed, and with incredible talent, such as Guo Pei - a fashion designer and dramatist who would compete easily with Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Lady Gaga - why is the world not paying more attention?

Home-grown brands such as NE Tiger - a 19-year-old label that is the oldest existing luxury couture label in China - showed off workmanship on the runway. And with each dress averaging 30,000 yuan (HK$36,600), the label has reported both domestic and overseas clientele growth. However, the designs still rely heavily on imperial influences; this it is Tang dynasty aesthetics. Same goes for the Qi Gang spring-summer 2012 collection, which played on Chinese mythology in camp scenes and garish, outdated outfits.

The historical references and the costume-like nature of much home-grown luxury don't resonate with most young fashion-forward Chinese. They are more interested in contemporary clothes than dressing like a period drama character. International customers are also looking for ready-to-wear in hip styles that channel a modern vision of Chinese creativity.

But all is not lost. There were standouts like VLOV, designed by the Beijing-based Qingqing Wu, who had also just debuted at New York Fashion Week. His sharp, contemporary style can be praised for its simple, chic, wearable aesthetic. Chu Yan's stunning full-sleeved floor-length gowns were feminine, elegant but extremely modern, and Ji Wenbo's dark tailored collection for Lilanz had some great trench coats, pleated details and gothic overtones.

Even if you look around Shanghai and Beijing, there is plenty of contemporary home-grown talent, either running their own-brand stores or as part of design-heavy collective shops. But few of them, perhaps because they don't qualify as 'luxury', are represented in this Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. It is this kind of talent that Beijing's fashion week should be attracting if they want to keep them based in China. Already many are flooding to set up abroad if finances allow, often citing an unsupportive industry back home. Just last week, New York fashion mogul Andrew Rosen told me that the Theory label's design floor was filled with Asian talent, as were the fashion schools in New York.

Most tellingly, I was chatting with editors and creatives who worked at China's top fashion magazines - and could find no one who was much enthused about China Fashion Week. Mostly dismissing it with a shrug, some commented that the front row of those shows would be stuffed with government officials and the super wealthy rather than industry insiders. And back home in Hong Kong, there was even less interest.

There is an obvious fissure between what the most avid fashion followers want in China, and what the majority of designers at fashion week are currently offering. Urban fashionista styles in Beijing and Shanghai now easily contend with those abroad.

But with all these costume-drama-inspired, floaty, fluffy, silk or chiffon gowns on the catwalk, it's no wonder that women are heading to Diesel instead. It would be good to see these fashion weeks engage with designers who really reflect what trendsetters in the country would be excited to wear. And for the local customer, hip Chinese contemporary labels are perhaps more relevant than big luxury ones right now.