Hong Kong boutiques look to Shanghai for future

Shanghai Fashion Week shows that the city has a more dynamic style scene than ours

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 12:01pm

The way Alexis Holm sees it, Shanghai is on the cusp of a boutique revolution.

“I sense that people will start demanding more than just a polished and air-conditioned department store,” says the Hong Kong-based Swedish designer and co-founder of Square Street, a boutique nestled in the trendy Po Hing Fong neighbourhood in Sheung Wan.

“It’s almost as if the customers are ahead of the retail,” adds Holm.

 The commercial centre of Shanghai boasts luxury malls and flagship stores that often dwarf even those in Hong Kong. Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Ports 1961 and Saint Laurent are just a few brands with enormous designer stores in areas such as Jingan, vying for the attentions of the wealthy in China.

One of the most interesting parts about my time in Shanghai this year has been watching the city’s native industry grow, becoming a uniquely Chinese fashion ecosystem with its own set of rules.

On the first day of Shanghai Fashion Week, the trees lining Nanjing Lu were lit with Ports 1961 logo lights for their show that evening at the Shanghai Exhibition Centre. Celebrity models Kendall Jenner and Joan Smalls walked the runway (in minimal chic) for the Milan-based brand, who even flew in Paris Hilton to DJ while surrounded by crowds snapping pictures on their smartphones.  

The week started off with runway shows by designers such as Zhu Chongyun, Fake Natoo, Black Spoon, Nicole Zhang and menswear designer Hui by Eran Hui, who has become a local favourite with his edgy streetwear looks.

Fake Natoo is a cool contemporary label that’s been in operation for years in Shanghai. The brand displayed a sophistication and edginess that stood out on the week’s catwalks, again showing that it has considerable potential for the international market.  

Zhu Chongyun showed fluid dresses in oriental oversized knots securing the waist, along with contemporary pieces such as denim jumpsuits and wide-leg pants. Black Spoon’s signature silhouette made for a girlish aesthetic popular mostly in China and Japan. Silk oversized frills, little tied capes and gauzy, organza layers and fabrics that referenced Victorian patterns – she played with volume as well as printed details from Caravaggio and  Velasquez paintings.

And although there is some street style hoopla around the fashionable Xintiandi basecamp this week, most of the business is done in the various showrooms set up around town. With Chinese buyers becoming more sophisticated, brands can be in prime position to cash in.

In addition to Mode Shanghai, the organisation’s official showroom of mostly Chinese brands, there are satellite showrooms ranging from gigantic Chic showrooms to the fledgling Hong Kong-run The Hub at Central Studios.

Founded by Brits Peter Caplowe and Richard Hobbs, The Hub moved from Hong Kong to Shanghai this season to shift business to a city with more potential for growth. Hobbs tells us that several South Korean brands have  followed suit after seeing the potential to connect with Chinese industry figures.

Of the large contingent of British brands, the most interesting was Jack Moran – the new demi-bespoke brand under  designer Oliver Sweeney – which unveiled radically designed but classically made men’s formal footwear in deep rich hues, using crocodile and kangaroo skin.

At the event, Hobbs said “all signs pointed to [the Shanghai] move”, adding that they see potential for growth above the 40-plus brands attending this year. In addition to Square Street, Flying Zacchinis was another Hong Kong accessories brand at the fair, and buyers such as K11 (of Hong Kong origin, though they have a huge base in Shanghai) were scouting for interesting labels. Shanghai’s sheer size also lends itself to a more dynamic fashion scene than Hong Kong’s, which boasts a more savvy clientele.

“It’s a smart move,” says Holm of moving the showroom across the border. “Where Hong Kong is solely dependent on imported buyers to keep the fair afloat, Shanghai in coming seasons will have no problem at all sustaining The Hub – we’ve already seen buyers and agents from Harbin and  Shandong.”