Two KOLs helping Chinese fashion lovers find their own style and look beyond the labels
Chengdu is the new Berlin, says fashion influencer behind Little Red Book review platform, who finds clients there much more daring than in Shanghai. For a fellow stylist, the division is not between cities but between selfie taking and self-confidence
From e-commerce websites making product recommendations to magazine editorials curating in-vogue outfits, fashion advice in China’s booming luxury economy is everywhere.
Add this to the colossal number of Chinese social media platforms and their key opinion leaders (KOLs) constantly promoting changing brands and trends, and you’ll see why choosing a personalised style can be a challenge. Yet there’s a growing crowd of willing, eager and adventurous consumers hoping to receive just that from Xiaoqing Zhang.
Working out of a space that is part showroom, part studio in Shanghai, Zhang is a designer, a former model, and a personal stylist. Her starting point for any client makeover is her own label, X.Q.Zhang, which features a variety of colourful made-to-measure cashmere tops, printed dresses and wraps, as well as women’s footwear.
Shoppers can pair her own East-meets-West pieces with accessories, jewellery, and shoes from other brands that she has curated on her travels – Shanghai is her most recent stop in a career which has also taken in Hanoi, Singapore, and London. Customers will ask her how to incorporate her pieces into their own wardrobe.
Zhang also guides them on how to approach style to suit their own lifestyles – for example, showing Shanghai customers who still largely wear black dresses on a night out that a silk blouse can be just as elegant.
Zhang believes that so far, Shanghai has provided her the best resources and consumer base to fully express her brand.
Her personal clients are artists and film producers, primarily from Shanghai but also from Beijing, and their personas are similar.
“I don’t see so much difference between the cities, but I see the difference in my clients’ preference between what is beauty and what cultures they’re interested in. They’re very confident in who they are,” she says.
“They’re very happy to mix and match high-end and independent designer pieces and vintage and flea market items, similar to my French, British, and American clients. I think that means the market is becoming increasingly sophisticated, as they’re becoming more willing [to wear] and open-minded about simply beautiful things instead of brands.”
Personal styling services have been in high demand in recent years as more sophisticated consumers put greater emphasis on individuality and taste as opposed to simply how much they spend on clothing. Stylists’ insights are no longer just a resource for the wealthiest consumers in urban areas either – the number of online influencers, many of whom have styled celebrities or worked at fashion magazines themselves, has ballooned.
Zhang is keen to encourage clients to assemble their wardrobes in a way that promotes sustainability – something that is not straightforward in China. Its exploding e-commerce industry and endless flash sales encourage high rates of impulse buying among Chinese consumers, with “star products”, or baokuan, shifting the focus from design and wearability to hype, Zhang explains.
“There’s an ego and vanity in that as, quite often, baokuan may generate quite a big sales return, but people are so obsessed with how many pieces they sold, they don’t really care how much was returned later.”
To combat this, Zhang is hoping to create through her brand and styling work, wardrobes that her Shanghai clients actually have an attachment to.
“It means focusing less on trends and really considering what people need or what makes people pretty, and then from there have a little fun with the design,” she says.
It’s this penchant for the untrendy that is helping 27-year-old KOL, stylist and fashion blogger Sam Triplett thrive in Chengdu, southwest China.
Triplett, who posts under the name Sam崔, creates online photo and video content for popular fashion and beauty review platform Little Red Book. His more than 150,000 followers look to him for his avant-garde take on streetwear, which features both local Chinese and Asian menswear and womenswear designers, as well as more established global indie brands.
He has created concept stores in cities from Chengdu to Los Angeles, always keeping the same philosophy in mind – to demonstrate how to follow trends without following the hype.
While he has fans all over China, Triplett says it’s clear most of the people commenting on his content are from Chengdu or Chongqing, a megalopolis in western China.
“Their confidence in the way they dress and their ability to pull off crazier or ‘out there’ looks, and willingness to take risks with their outfits is a lot stronger,” he says. “The analogy I always like to use is Beijing and Shanghai are like China’s London and Paris and Chengdu is more Berlin. It’s much more art-driven and looser out here, and Chengdu culturally is supposed to be a very laid-back place. It doesn’t have the light speed that you get in Beijing or Shanghai.”
Artistic aspirations doesn’t mean people have all the tools to create outfits that work for them, however. Given the influence of online fashion communities, it can be easy for people to think that they know enough to be stylish, when in reality they haven’t quite mastered how to elevate their look, Triplett says. Taking the initiative to ask for help can be a “huge step”.
Triplett says he frequently gets online requests from his followers to help them out with particular items they’ve bought, and they even send messages asking his advice on improving their look while they’re out shopping.
Triplett and Zhang are working in a market that is still in the process of evolving from one driven by status and labels to one that prioritises individualism.
“I can see only subtle differences between Shanghai, Beijing, and Chengdu,” Zhang says. “We’re even starting to see fewer and fewer differences between London, New York and Shanghai because globalisation is seriously stripping away cities’ identities. Fashion in Milan is very quickly being followed in Shanghai.
“I would say after this wave, we should expect to see a resurgence of real self-expression in China, and I’m not talking about selfies,” Zhang adds. “It’s all about self-confidence.”