Tianwei Zhang is the London/China Market Editor for WWD, having covered fashion in China for the last decade, as well as consulting with emerging designers and high-end retailers on China market strategy. The Luxury Conversation caught up with Tianwei at the British Fashion Council’s event during Shanghai Fashion Week to get his take on this season.
First off, which several Chinese designers have stood out for you in SHFW, and why?
I really enjoyed Ming Ma, 8on8 and Ximon Lee this season. Ma represents what has been missing in the Shanghai fashion scene: true elegance. This is especially true at a time when many brands are influenced by a more casual, street or urban look, for example Balenciaga/Off White. 8on8 offered some really nice tailoring pieces. Gong Li is a designer who really knows how to make proper clothing. Ximon Lee is the only one in Shanghai, for me, who keeps pushing the boundary. His presentation, a study of Nihilism and Idealism and an analogy to the Cold War, from my point of view, was a mind-blowing experience. I don’t think anyone is at his level, conceptually speaking, in Shanghai.
Regarding SHFW, what has been the success story of this iteration?
I think what’s interesting this season is the shift of attention from the showroom to trade shows. Size does matter in China. With the upgrade in service and curation, Shanghai Showroom and Ontimeshow, the scale of this edition was bigger than ever before. Individual showrooms themselves are limited by their scale and manpower, making it difficult to activate bigger initiatives or host global partners. For SHFW to move to the next stage, showrooms in Shanghai need to be more selective and specialised in one field in order to survive.
Which Chinese KOLs this time round have ‘brought something different to the party’?
I believe that the KOL world in China is still largely an unchartered territory. Yes, there are a lot of them, some of them globally famous, but if you look closer, some of the famous, celebrity KOLs don’t actually have anything to say, they don’t have a voice. The successful ones have pursued their own niche and that’s what many of them need to focus on rather than only being ‘a KOL’. People like Mr. Bags or Susie Bubble are good examples to the rest of the community because they are very knowledgable about their niche. Without knowledge, just selling a beautiful look won’t last long.
Are you seeing any international brands that are getting it right in terms of the pieces they create and the way they speak to their target Chinese consumer?
I think Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada are doing it right. LV taps the right spokespersons such as Kris Wu or Haoran Liu. Chanel knows the power of brand education. They are holding a fascinating exhibition in Shanghai soon and they also have good brand ambassadors. For Prada, with Rong Zhai, the brand is writing its own Chinese story.
Generally (on fashion in China), is sustainability just a buzzword?
When brands are talking about sustainability, I still have my doubts. For factories and manufacturers, sustainability is very important because it keeps them financially healthy. For designers, an up-cycling approach is more realistic. But for luxury brands, talking about going sustainable for the sake of it is unnecessary. I still feel that 80 percent of the brands are talking about sustainability because it’s a trendy thing to talk about, and they can charge their customers a premium with a green tag on it. If a brand wants to talk about sustainability then they really need to achieve something real, something that has evidence and something that is very clear for everyone to see. Otherwise no one’s fooled.