Shanghai: Tech and Tribal Culture

In a swish of Balenciaga jumpers, Gucci tees, and doll-like Chinese KOLs live streaming to their fans on their phones, Shanghai Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 is coming to a close. It was a week of sunshine, rainstorms, and blustering winds, as buyers, media, and fashionistas traversed between Xintiandi (home to shows on the main official schedule) and the Labelhood runway platform – this time across the Huangpu River at Pudong’s Minsheng Wharf, and then over to the West Bund or Jing’an areas, where major showrooms are based.
It’s easy to  spot members of China’s sub-culture style tribes at fashion week. From futuristic goths to 70s revivalists, cyperpunks and streetwear barbie dolls – Chinese youth are mixing things up and finding new life in older Western trends and music cultures.


SS20 Highlights


On the runways, there was a real surge in creative, interesting menswear collections, and a few womenswear favourites returned. However, the whole unisex trend continued to be strong in China with millennial and Gen Z targeted labels. With Labelhood’s “Out of this World” theme, there were a few intergalactic inspirations around, some quite extravagantly alien, others thankfully more wearable. Brands like Hema (with plenty of traditional elements) and the Atelier showed off a more gentle craft and fabric-based sophistication – and more luxurious, edited offerings in terms of product.
For menswear, we saw the structured, avant-garde leanings of XimonLee and Danshan’s elegant designs early on. The latter introduced the idea of masculine vulnerability and elegant nostalgia via raw-edged, hand-finished garments matched with open shirts, as well as a light-weight powder pink shorts and shirt and a louche cornflower blue pyjama ensemble. Lee impressed with a crushed velvet suit, a narrow palette of black, white, and red in hard sheen fabrics and collage prints.
Feng Chen Wang, supported by Converse, has been one to watch in recent seasons. This collection of luminous yellows, greens, and khakis with utility hit many of the Shanghai fashion week men’s microtrends with greater impact than others, but it was that oversized rattan weave effect that wowed the crowd. 
Promising labels like Shushu/Tong, Swaying, and Short Sentence continue to grow their brands and fan base. Short Sentence’s wearable chic was appealing, combined with its theme of “Earth Art.” “It enhances the label’s minimalist style and wear-on-the-go commitment,” says Han Zong, a creative consultant who’s worked with the designer before, sitting next to me at the show. “I’m thrilled to see the label’s repeated incorporation of arts to provide ‘China now’ customers with quality, tasteful fashion for every day.”
Swaying again unfurled a pure and very linear collection of nudes and neutrals that was a breath of fresh air amongst some of Shanghai’s many, many over-designed labels. Designer Huang Sha Sha’s emotive, tactile, and gentle take on slow fashion and sensual knitwear has won her the backing of Lane Crawford, who supports this year’s show.
Having debuted the collection in Milan, Shushu/Tong’s SS2020 show in Shanghai gave Chinese audiences a taste of ballet-inspired girlish subversion – the twisted feminine look of the brand has gone through quite the elevation in recent years, which made it one of the most distinctive young brands to come from China. Wonderfully voluminous babydoll proportions, an impressive ivory satin shorts suit, and some great headgear were among the top looks. 
Anaïs Jourden had models on treadmills under blossoming archways at Labelhood: they donned black, white, polka dots, and zebra print dresses as well as puffa tops and skirts with a fruitful collaboration with Nike clearly on display. Always a highlight is XuZhi, the London-China based label that has carved out a pretty niche for itself – in my opinion, one of China’s best young brands, impressive precisely because he balances commercial appeal with directional, crafty points of view. SS20 delighted with gentle pastels, crochet beach coverups, tassels, and 3D florals on feminine skirts and dresses – the designer again mastering the interesting fabrics he has chosen.
Roaring Wild’s collection tapped outdoor wear, camping-gear inspired looks – made appealing with saturated hues punctuating khakis and neutrals. The theme was a nod to man’s relationship with nature, something that’s clearly been a dominant theme this season in Shanghai. It seems that everyone at fashion week was looking for an ethical or sustainable angle this season. As the Kering K Generation Award winners will tell you, sustainable innovations in your fashion business can also come with opportunities and financial rewards.
The move towards green, via tech?
Like many brands coming to the market, Hong Kong-based Jeanine Hsu, founder of Niin jewellery label, does sustainability. She’s been championing the cause for 10 years now, upcycling many materials and donating a portion of sales to WWF.
“I really enjoyed my first entry to the mainland China market, and joining a showroom during Shanghai fashion week,” she said of her time at the popular Ontime tradeshow. “We had a great response and believe that people are really ready to embrace sustainability. The most exciting thing is that if the critical mass here are interested, it could really make a difference.”
Even a small dent in the Chinese market could mean big things for sustainable brands and a greener fashion all around. Online retailers far and wide are also, of course, all looking towards China – where the proliferation of online shopping is fast and furious. In the country, which has a rather closed digital system due to its Great Firewall, the myriad of platforms and ways to sell and shop is ever shifting and very much interlinked to social media and its celebrities.
MyTheresa.com managed to host one of the most coveted events of the season, a vegetarian dinner and cocktail hour with Stella McCartney (a pioneer of ethical style) at the historical Cha House. New York–based immersive theatre company Sleep No More entertained VIPs, ‘It’ girls and online influencers like Anny Fan, Yuyu Zhang, and Zuo An Xiao.
A green movement here has yet to really take off, as the reality is that the industry is more focused on high-tech, screen filters, and all things digital. Testament to that is the number the media star had her phone propped up all night engaged in a continuous live stream of herself to over 400,000 of her fans through the Weibo app – for the duration of the entire event. 

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