Seven surprising Chinese crossover fashion collections
It’s not uncommon for Chinese fashion labels to work with Western brands, but some partnerships have stretched boundaries in the pursuit of China’s millennial shoppers
In China’s fast-growing consumer economy, brands eager to reach shoppers have taken a route Western consumers might consider unusual, for all that the luxury industry’s collaborations on crossover collections sometimes break barriers.
Whether they are selling technology, holidays, fast food or consumer goods, companies have tapped China’s independent fashion designers to reach young Chinese consumers looking for unique ways to express themselves.
In some cases the partnerships are obvious – Disney collaborating with clothing and accessories brands ahead of the opening of Star Wars films and Disneyland in Shanghai; make-up brand M.A.C working with designers at one of China’s biggest fashion events on catwalk shows and to leverage their KOL (key opinion leader) networks for product launches.
Brand sponsorships for seasonal collections can also be a win for emerging designers, who not only receive funding but, in some cases, help with logistics and supply chain management.
Other collaborations are less obvious. For tea brand Lipton, for example, which faces completely different consumer behaviour in China than elsewhere, a colourful, streetwear-inspired fashion show that might raise eyebrows in the West doesn’t look odd in Shanghai.
The most important thing for Chinese fashion designers, such as Min Liu of the Ms Min label, is that “the synergy is right” and that the brands “have a lot of the same values and that the collaboration is a natural one”.
These seven seemingly unconventional brand partnerships have proved fruitful, according to the designers involved.
Ms Min x Birkenstock
Birkenstock’s clunky suede clogs aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when one is looking for a match for a high-end designer’s delicate embroidery and layered silk silhouettes. But sometimes collaborations happen organically.
In the case of Ms Min, it occurred because Liu’s husband attended a Birkenstock event and quickly saw a natural link between the two brands. The German footwear manufacturer opened its first official China outlet in Shanghai in 2017.
Last season it honoured Chinese craftsmanship with a capsule collection that included Liu’s take on the classic Ramses sandal and two clogs decorated with embroidery that drew from the rich pink and orange hues in her autumn/winter 2018 collection.
Ricostru x Huawei
Apple isn’t the only tech brand dabbling in high-end fashion – China’s leading smartphone maker, Huawei, signed a partnership with a Paris design school in 2015 to take its elegance up a notch. Last year at Milan Fashion Week, the company teamed up with independent fashion designer Rico Manchit Au of Ricostru to release limited-edition phone pouches, cases, and a multifunctional charging bracelet alongside the debut of its P10 smartphone.
It’s expected that the company will continue to work with Chinese talent as it fights for sales in the highly competitive smartphone market.
Leaf Xia x Magnum
New York-based designer Leaf Xia built upon her signature, fearless approach to colour in her first commercial collection, launched in collaboration with ice-cream brand Magnum. The Unilever-owned label’s chocolate ice cream bars served as inspiration for Xia’s silky brown jumpsuits, ruffle dresses, and handbags.
Xia said the spring/summer 2017 collection was a resounding success and that she sold nearly 90 examples of one dress alone.
Magnum is hardly a stranger to fashion collaborations and continues to find creative marketing outlets. For its recent debut at Cannes it teamed up with Moschino to create handbags.
C.J. Yao x KFC
Remember the time Moschino’s Jeremy Scott drew on fast food culture with its cheeky logo inspired by McDonald’s golden arches? Chinese fashion designer C.J. Yao also adopted fast-food theme for a catwalk show in Shanghai in 2016, turning buckets of chicken into handbags and an iconic abbreviation into knitwear, causing fashion editors to raise their eyebrows.
The designer said the intention behind her collaboration with KFC was to connect with a young audience, and explained that eating at KFC evoked fond memories of childhood for her and her millennial peers.
KFC was clearly working hard to woo twenty-somethings with fried-food-inspired fashion. Around the time Yao’s collection hit the catwalk, the brand released limited-edition, fried-chicken-flavoured edible nail polish to Hong Kong consumers – to mixed reviews.
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Rfactory x TripAdvisor
Beijing-based handbag brand Rfactory has done several collaborations, with brands ranging from Maybelline to Star Wars, to Disney, but its crossover collection for TripAdvisor was among its most unusual. Rfactory designer and founder Wu Yingnan says the travel review website reached out to it and that customers loved its crossover products featuring TripAdvisor’s logo.
“They said we incorporated the essence of both brands without losing their unique styles,” she said. “These collaborations don’t just help our brand, they also help both sides see things from new perspectives, allow fans of both brands to interact, and draw greater media attention, so it’s a win-win situation.”
Angel Chen x Lipton
Lipton tea took a seemingly unusual turn when it sought out a partnership with Shenzhen-born designer Angel Chen for Shanghai Fashion Week spring/summer 2018.
Known as a mass market beverage in the West, Lipton appeared determined to reinvent itself in China as a fashionably cool label, and enlisted the expertise of Chen to create a capsule fashion collection to mark the opening of its Partea pop-up cafe in Shanghai.
Chen not only elevated the brand with her own style, which meshes elements of East and West into streetwear looks, but joined up with millennial Chinese film star Zhou Dongyu to promote the collection on Weibo, attracting thousands of comments from star-struck followers.
Banxiaoxue x Mickey Mouse
Disney marked the 90th birthday of Mickey Mouse during Shanghai Fashion Week in March with a collaboration with 15 Chinese designers, including established names like Banxiaoxue, Helen Lee, C.J. Yao, Haizhen Wang, and Babyghost. Fashion-forward partnerships in China have been part of Disney’s strategy since the lead-up to the opening of its Shanghai Disney Resort; while it is hard to tell whether this brought a direct pay-off, Disney’s visitor numbers have exceeded expectations.
This time around, some took the assignment more literally than others, but Banxiaoxue was among those to opt for subtlety, for which it garnered positive feedback on social media.