Throughout the year you’ll find Tianwei at fashion shows around the world as he prepares his next insightful article for WWD, with The Luxury Conversation an avid fan of his tell-it-like-it-is style.
We caught up with Tianwei on a recent visit to China to talk Chinese tastes in 2020.
Among all the fashion shows, launches and pop-ups you’ve been to this year, what’s the international brand that sticks in your mind as really having got it right for their Chinese audience?
I must have been to a few hundred or more of them this year. There are a few things that stood out, such as Tiffany’s exhibition and Kering’s K Generations Awards in Shanghai in October, and Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2020 men’s wear show in Paris. It was one I didn’t go to, but heard and read about, that truly struck me as a great example: Valentino’s Beijing couture show. They achieved a great balance between pleasing the local audience and staying true to the brand identity, winning praise from both the East and West, and setting a high bar high for brands to follow.
Say you’re head of a big luxury fashion brand, sitting in London or Paris, looking for a Chinese designer to bring in and create a collection for you. What Chinese designers would you pick right away?
For women’s wear, I would pick Uma Wang. No one is at her level yet. Her supposed successors still have a long way to go. Some other names worth consideration include Qiu Hao, Muki Ma of M Essentials and Samuel Gui Yang. They have their own languages and know how to make clothes for women that stand out from many others. For men’s wear, Xander Zhou is more inspiring, with concepts and creative directions, and is also able to manage the bigger picture of the brand. 8on8 and Pronounce are young and refreshing and they can deliver clothes with the innovative tailoring and details that modern consumers are seeking.
The emerging designer scene in China is booming. But in recent years, the lack of industry experience, such as working at big luxury houses or designer brands and also not having the right connections in fashion capitals, has really hindered Chinese designers’ ability to raise brand awareness in a global setting. So from the side of the designers, starting one’s own business right after graduation is attractive but having the experience inside the business or fashion house is also important.
Let’s talk about the rising national pride of Chinese, particularly relevant to international brands making simple mistakes that caused offense in 2019. How far do you think this issue will go?
As a Chinese person, I look at it from a different side. The way I see it is that China won’t earn real respect by demanding an apology whenever they think they get their feelings hurt. It’s over-sensitive and doesn’t gain true respect or a true apology. You earn respect by showcasing real soft power. Showing buying power is just the first step. The next would be showing off smart cultural power. It might seem as though that would take a long time, but on the other hand things are changing very quickly already. Only until respect is earned culturally, then we won’t be offended so easily, and the rest of the world will respect us from the bottom of their hearts.
Things may not go completely smoothly, and conflicts with lessons to learn are inevitable. Yet I am optimistic about the future.
What are the big fashion points that young Chinese fashion-lovers are going to be loving in 2020? And how do you see the influencer world changing?
Formal dressing is making a comeback; the new formal dressing is combined with traits from street-style influences. Also, collaborations between luxury brands and sports brands are reaching a new height. Prada x Adidas, Dior x Air Nike are some recent examples of where this will be going and there’s no limit for this over the next year or two.
As for influencers, right now brands are still happy to go with seeding, view numbers and fashion show invites. The hierarchy is already formed – while we talk about change a lot, the already-understood aspects of influencer marketing do work if simply done well.
The biggest challenges for influencers will be how to scale up and diversify their revenue streams. It’s almost a catch-22 whereby the influencer wants to grow, and charge higher fees, yet when they do so, the brand can then turn to media such as Vogue, or Bazaar China, that have built up a very strong social media presence and can help brands achieve higher level amplification. Meanwhile, the brand then turns to smaller influencers who charge lower fees for their supposed ‘more engaged audiences’. This means that those who only grow numbers and not skills are incredibly common-place. Some of them, especially those who are only selling looks, are highly replaceable in a competitive market like China. If an influencer cannot offer proven creativity or ideas for the product or campaign, they may find it impossible to earn a living.