Chengdu: the most fashionable city in China, say local style leaders who make their own rules
Unlike in Shanghai and Beijing, fashion is less about social status or reputation in the Sichuan capital, allowing for cool, nonchalant styles different to those found in China’s other major cities
Fil Xiaobai is a cool girl. The kind of girl whose style – a mix of designer labels and high-street fashion, sparkles and combat boots, funky hair colours and a smattering of tattoos – turns heads.
Even in Shanghai, China’s most international city, Fil Xiaobai (real name: Yan Su-shi) stands out. But in her hometown of Chengdu, the cool nonchalance with which she carries herself is almost the norm.
“Chengdu women are very stylish,” she says. “In Chengdu, fashion is just part of life, what you are wearing is just part of your life, it’s not a serious topic. But in Beijing or Shanghai it’s about your social status or reputation. Sometimes in those places, your fashion sense means everything. It’s totally nuts.”
Fil Xiaobai has parlayed her style and fan base – a following of almost three million on Weibo – into a multi-faceted career which includes styling for celebrities such as Kris Wu and working as fashion director at Yoho!Girl magazine. She believes Chengdu people have the space to make their own style rules, and enjoy shopping so much because they have reached a standard of living that allows for such pursuits.
“A lot of fashion people are from Chengdu, a lot of stylists. Before people get into fashion, they already need to have a good life. You need to have an atmosphere of enjoying life, and Chengdu is such a place that you can really do that – better than Beijing and Shanghai where things are too rushed and people work so hard,” she explains.
“A lot of my friends who are from Chengdu, they might be really rich and well-educated and they might like to go to the best restaurants, but at the same time they also like to go to very small and dirty restaurants. In Shanghai, everybody goes to very good restaurants and wear their luxury clothes. It’s the lifestyle. That’s why Chengdu is getting more and more popular, it’s because the lifestyle is the one everyone wants to have.”
There is a lot to like about the local Chengdu lifestyle. Living is more affordable than Shanghai, artists have more freedom to operate than in the political hotbed of Beijing, and people care more about good food and good living than status.
Lan Lizi is a local Chengdu foodie and proprietor of the popular Lan’s Patisserie pastry shop. She says that the lifestyle of the southwestern metropolis, which is a magnet for people from around southwest China seeking the excitement of city life, is drawing an increasing number of high-end restaurants, hotels and designer retail outlets to the city.
“Chengdu is really famous right now, everybody is coming to Chengdu these days,” she says.
“Most people living here, we will pay for the good restaurants, we will pay for the good stuff here. It’s a foodie city and it’s very liveable here. I think some high-standard, good stuff is now getting better, more popular here.”
High-end openings such as the Neri & Hu-designed Sichuan restaurant The Bridge, and luxury hotels including Niccolo Chengdu and the Waldorf Astoria Chengdu, signal fashionable change in the city that was once visited mainly for hotpot and pandas.
Though the reprisal of Chanel’s Cruise 2018 show in Chengdu last November was an internationally visible advertisement for the city’s fashion credentials, Chengdu natives have been privy to great local fashion and retail experiences for years – often ahead of cities on the east coast.
Multi-brand stores selling designer labels big and small have boomed across China in recent years, but nowhere has the trend been more apparent than in Chengdu. The city not only boasts a local population of 16 million people, many of them millennials obsessed with fashion and shopping, but also attracts shopping tourism from surrounding provinces by virtue of its status as the major metropolis of western China.
It was this dynamic that prompted Hong Kong-based department store Lane Crawford to open its third China location in Chengdu in 2014, with an 82,000-square-foot store in the International Financial Square district.
Along with Lane Crawford, an influx of smaller multi-brand boutiques keep Chengdu’s fashionable classes ahead of the style pack. Among these is Hug China, a new player on the scene in the Taikoo Li area which focuses on Chinese designers such as Uma Wang, Yirantian and Angel Chen.
“Consumers in Chengdu especially have their own ideas and are willing to try fresh brands,” says Hug China founder Jony Qiu. “They are very inclusive.”
Kelly Wang, who runs two branches of her An Ni multi-brand store (one in Chengdu, one in Shenzhen), is planning to open another Chengdu branch before the end of this year.
“Chengdu girls shop more often and they always want something new,” Wang says, explaining that some loyal shoppers have spent hundreds of thousands of yuan at her Chengdu store since it opened a year and a half ago.
“They are definitely adventurous with their style and many of them are young and experimenting with different things.”
Ask Fil Xiaobai about the most fashionable city in China and the answer is unequivocal.
“Of course it’s Chengdu! Because I am from there and I know a lot of people and considering the people or the lifestyle or the personality, considering all the elements, I think Chengdu is the most fashionable city.”