Shanghai Fashion Week: the shape of things to come
After nine fast and furious days of style, Shanghai Fashion Week (autumn-winter 2015) came to an end on Wednesday. Nearly 50 domestic and overseas brands participated this season, including local labels Ban Xiaoxue and Fake Natoo, newcomers Deepmoss and Black Spoon, and international names such as Diesel, Blumarine and Astrid Andersen.
The week attracted the attention of the media and buyers, and pushed a global agenda with international fashion figures such as fashion writer Colin McDowell and Business of Fashion founder Imran Amed participating in forums.
The Shanghai show has developed a lot since starting in 2003. Inevitably, it has been compared to China Fashion Week in Beijing (which is on a similar scale), but Shanghai considered the mainland's least "official" fashion week. It's more open-minded and endures less government interference.
This also means it has provided more commercial opportunities for organisations and companies, which in turn is helping to build its reputation. For example, this was the third season of its strategic partnership with Apax Group, a leading event marketing agency in Asia-Pacific. And from the venue construction to marketing service, the result has meant a more international, professional event than before.
"This is my second time doing Shanghai Fashion Week, I feel my team and I have grown up a lot from doing fashion shows here. For a newcomer like me, I appreciated the opportunity very much," says Dido Liu, designer of Deepmoss, who graduated from London's Central Saint Martins in 2012.
Liu launched her debut collection at Shanghai Fashion Week last season and this second collection, inspired by Irish illustrator Harry Clarke, was a day one highlight and finished with elegant cuts and vintage fabrications.
The comparatively independent atmosphere and support has created a platform for China's younger designers. Black Spoon, a new brand launched by Moti Bai (another Central Saint Martin alumni) in 2013, made its Shanghai Fashion Week debut on April 9.
Taking inspiration from classical arts, Moti's expertise at pattern design and fabric development brought a surreal twist to classical elements.
Apart from new names, established leading local designer brands continue to create more mature collections. Ban Xiaoxue from Guangzhou, along with Fake Natoo and Decoster from Shanghai set a standard for the event.
One worrying question is whether the standout local designers will eventually move their shows to the four Western fashion capitals in search of a more global market. With this in mind, the Shanghai event is working hard to extend its international reach.
Since 2011, it has sought the participation of international names such as Vivienne Westwood, Vera Wang, and Dsquared2. Instead of just showing outfits from their debut shows, these brands have included exclusive pieces for China.
Last season, Giambattista Valli worked three new couture pieces especially for Shanghai. And this season, they upped the global ante with Diesel, Blumarine, Blugirl and Astrid Andersen all showing.
The significance of an avant-garde London brand such as Astrid Andersen closing fashion week points to a desire to push creativity rather than just commercialism in Shanghai.
And the rising number of showrooms at Shanghai Fashion Week has been key to standing out from other fashion weeks in China.
"It's really exciting to see so many young brands here in Shanghai," says Imran Amed. "I'm amazed that in the past year, there would be so many showrooms coming out here. "
Although shows garner the most media attention, showrooms, which are crucial to the chain distributors, only emerged three seasons ago in Shanghai.
Now 10 big names dominate, including Showroom Shanghai, ON TIME Show, DFO, Alter and VDS. Another big name, Mode Shanghai, alone carries more than 200 domestic and overseas labels.
More buyers from all over the country came to the city in the past two seasons. Some international names such as H. Lorenzo also made an appearance.
"I came here last season, and this time there's even more to see," says Lorenzo. "Although many of the showrooms are at their starting point and their service and everything are not professional enough, I am still excited to get the chance to see brands you could never see anywhere else."
"You can discover much more interesting stuff here. And the business side is helping designers and industry to grow faster," says Jiang Hao, owner of Si He, a multibrand boutique in Chengdu.
Of course, Shanghai Fashion Week still has some catching up to do if it is to compete with the four big fashion weeks. There needs to be more polish in the execution.
It is fast becoming the most relevant and exciting fashion week in China, and with the world's gaze fixed intently on the country, there is more than enough potential to build a fashion powerhouse in the city, not just in terms of commercial spending, but for creative clout.