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Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

New Chinese Style was a dominating trend on the runway, while the standouts stayed true to their creative voices.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Looks from Samuel Gui Yang and Xander Zhou.

SHANGHAI — The fall 2024 edition of Shanghai Fashion Week concluded Monday evening as the Guangzhou-based label Mithworld presented its new collection at the official venue at Xintiandi.

Despite a slew of global brands such as Loewe, Hermès, Supreme, Peter Do, and Courrèges doing things around the same time as Shanghai Fashion Week, many in the local creative industry would agree this season was the most challenging one in recent memory.

Weaker-than-expected demand for fashion and luxury items provided a reality check for designers in Shanghai. Many decided to skip showing this season. Instead, they decided to allocate more budget to produce more affordable items that can appeal to a more conservative audience.

On average, a designer brand’s price range in China now goes from 1,000 renminbi, or $140, to 5,000 renminbi, or $562. Those prices are much lower than its global counterparts and competes directly with players in the contemporary market.

Showroom and trade show operators switched gears to make up for a less busy season as well. Brands with solid products or strong resonance among buyers were given bigger space to sell while those who couldn’t keep up scaled back or skipped Shanghai this season altogether.

Doing sales in-house is also an emerging trend in a saturated market.

Shuting Qiu, who has been showing in Milan and Shanghai in the past, for example, is now doing sales on her own. She said commissions that usually go to the showroom can be an extra source of revenue to pay staff and fund collection development. This season, instead of a show, she curated a high tea set for Café Gray Deluxe at The Middle House. The lounge area of the cafe was decorated with cushions made of Qiu’s prints and colors from the designer’s fall 2024 collection.

Mihara Yasuhiro, who hosted a pop-up event and a party in Shanghai for his label during fashion week, managed to find a silver lining in the subdued market.

“The fashion industry moves too fast but everything else is slowing down, so our approach to marketing has changed a great deal, in China as well,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a situation where only brands with strong capital can survive either, so this is perhaps a good thing.”

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Sophie Brocart meets with Chinese designers at Labelhood.

For those with a unique voice who are pressing ahead, the challenging landscape provides the opportunity to grow their community in an increasingly homogenized market.

Sophie Brocart, chief executive officer of Patou and a mentor for the winner of the LVMH Prize for Young Designers, agreed that “the creative scene [in Shanghai] is still very dynamic, although you could feel the effects of the economic slowdown in China.”

“There is a wide diversity of styles and trends represented by these brands: the street dominant oversized silhouettes, the oriental trend — treated with more and more subtlety, the quiet luxury, the feminine schoolgirl, the pop and fun, the sci-fi. The branding is getting more and more precise and some have already started to develop well in Europe or the U.S.,” added Brocart, who included Shanghai in a wider Asia trip that spanned South Korea, a major market for Patou, and Hong Kong for the art fair.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Looks from Mark Gong, fall 2024.

Mark Gong, a Parsons alum, provided one of the most viral moments of Shanghai Fashion Week with his show at Labelhood. Models dressed in statement fur coats and lace intimates stepped out of a townhouse door, making their way through a Central Park-themed runway with a bottle of wine in one hand and a suitcase with knickers sticking out in another.

Gong explained that his recent experience of going through a breakup reminded him of that iconic moment in the movie version of “Sex and the City” where Miranda called Carrie Bradshaw after she confronted Steve about his cheating.

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In that scene, which became a blueprint for Gong to develop the fall 2024 collection, Sarah Jessica Parker wore a giant fur coat and a sparkly hat over her silky pajamas before crossing Central Park at night on New Year’s Eve to rescue her friend.

In addition to lacy slipdresses and satin pajama sets, Gong offered structured leather jackets, shoulder-padded suits, monogrammed denim pieces, embroidered knits, pocketed cargos and voluminous minidresses, as well as furry boots, feather sandals and leather berets.

According to Gong, the collection was a celebration of friendship between those who navigate professional ambition while cherishing the unwavering support and softness found in private moments with close friends.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Looks from Dion Lee, fall 2024.

American-Australian designer Dion Lee, meanwhile, picked the highest-level — literally — venue to stage his first coed show in China: The 100th-floor observation deck at the Shanghai World Financial Center, the second-tallest building in the city.

“I’ve been trying to plan a trip to Shanghai for years. I’ve been working with so many incredible retailers in China [around 40] for a long time. We have plans to open retail in China directly or via a joint venture,” said Lee after the show, adding that he originally planned to do a party but thought a show would be more special and impactful.

While it was a hassle to get in and out of the venue, the futuristic interior of the space provided a fitting stage for his fall 2024 collection, which included body-con knits, slashed jeans, leggings with knee pads, embossed leather jackets, lace cutout dresses, hobo dresses with a flame motif, and several bold eyewear pieces designed by New York-based artist Radimir Koch and made by Shanghai-based artist Nik Kosmas. The eyewear resembled the metal virtual reality headset seen in the latest Netflix hit “Three-body Problem.”

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Samuel Gui Yang’s fall 2024 collection.

London- and Shanghai-based Samuel Gui Yang, a leading voice in the New Chinese Style movement, presented his fall 2024 collection off schedule in a colonial-era mansion on Friday afternoon.

Guests enjoyed small bites such as Chinese knot pastries, magnolia-shaped shortbread, and hawthorn cakes catered by Juan Chinoiserie before sitting down under a restored wooden roof to view a collection that tastefully reinterpreted traditional Chinese dress codes through a modern lens.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Samuel Gui Yang’s fall 2024 collection.

During a preview, Yang said the poem introducing the Chinese literary masterpiece “Dream of the Red Chamber,” also known as “The Story of the Stone” — which reads “I have no material to make up for the sky, and I have entered the red dust in vain. This is a matter of the past and the future, who will send it to the gods?” — served as a starting point for the collection.

He was also influenced by the beauty of faded tones found on vintage garments, a Thousand-Hand Guanyin statue made of wood, the movement of a silk ribbon, table cover papers with dragon and phoenix motifs, and the exquisite pattern seen on the chrysanthemum stone.

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These were translated into a bias-cut qipao with rolled-up sleeves, a denim set with the spirit of a Mandarin jacket, a tailored qipao made of silk linen mixed jacquard with abstract drawings depicting the joy of a “mountain retreat,” a white gown with a neckline adorned with jade, and a Goji red multilayered loose-fitting ensemble which Yang described as his artistic interpretation of an “affectionate monk.”

The rise of New Chinese Style could also be observed on the runways of brands like Aoyes, Xander Zhou, Jacques Wei, Le Fame and Tianxi, an occasion wear brand that made headlines on Douyin for having actress Lan Xi, who gained mainstream recognition for her portrayal of Shen Meizhuang in the hit period drama “The Legend of Zhen Huan,” sport an embroidered evening ensemble on the runway.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Looks from Xander Zhou’s fall 2024 collection.

Xander Zhou, blending mystery, romance and science fiction, also played with the idea of “Chinese Gothic” this time, which he said was inspired by Qing dynasty tall tales such as “Strange Stories in Oriental Society.”

“I like to deconstruct timeline and space, which I call ultra-modern romanticism,” said Zhou of his namesake brand. “It’s fun to diffuse and meld together cultural symbols, then reconstruct them in a new space to create an illusory reality.”

“Traditional Chinese strange tales or ghost stories have a lot in common with AI,” explained Zhou of his Gothic inspiration, which manifested itself in ultra-high popped collars and split-face masks. “It’s meant to construct an imaginary story and it can evolve with the times to signify something different.”

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Instead of accessories, models walked out solemnly carrying kitten figurines that Zhou said he encountered during midnight scrolls on Instagram.

“I find it comforting, but putting them in the show as dolls makes it feel cute yet creepy,” explained Zhou.

For Zhou, who launched the “High-tech Couture” concept this season, the plan is to work with more celebrities “in unique settings” to further engage with his community, both in the the real world and online.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Looks from Jacques Wei, fall 2024.

Jacques Wei, blending Chinese craftsmanship and cultural references, took a personal and emotional turn with its latest collection inspired by epiphyllum, the fleeting orchid of the night. It was expressed through “harmonious contradictions,” such as bold brushwork prints on soft fabrics and oversized metal accessories on minimal garments.

Hosting the show at an entertainment parlor built in the Roaring ’20s called The Great World helped amplify the collection’s beauty.

“The Great World was the most memorable architectural moment for me when I first moved to Shanghai,” said Wei. “Showing here helps bring these emotions into the dynamics of the garment.”

Actress Yang Yin — who’s professionally known as Angelababy and who sparked controversy in China for allegedly attending Lisa’s Crazy Horse performance in Paris — also caused an online frenzy by making a public appearance in a sequined halterneck qipao-inspired gown at the Le Fame show alongside buzzy starlet Yang Chaoyue.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Looks from Shushu/Tong fall 2024 collection.

Shushu/Tong, meanwhile, was an example of how sticking to a singular vision can lead to a successful global business, even without showing abroad. Considered one of the must-see brands during Shanghai Fashion Week, the brand, founded by Lei Liushui and Yutong Jiang in 2015, now has about 20 employees in China and sells to more than 90 doors worldwide, with the dress being the bestselling category.

For fall 2024, the brand drew inspiration from Leslie Caron’s portrayal of Gigi in the 1958 adaptation of Colette’s bestselling novel. Liu said the transformation of Gigi from an ingenue to a society lady dovetails with the growth of the brand’s audience, who are entering marriage and looking for something in between grandeur and mischief.

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Therefore the brand proposed a cohort of floral numbers — abstract floral prints, layered flowers at the hem and neckline, embroidered floral sequin motifs on dresses and coats, and laser-cut embossed roses on a ‘50s-style short wedding dress — as well as ribbon bags, ballet flats, pointy kitten heels, and layered looks combining elaborate shapes with plain details, oscillating between awakening whimsy and curiosity.

“Gigi has been on my mood board for a few seasons. I love romantic comedies from the period. I wanted to take the more elegant and traditional details or silhouettes of that era and interpret them in today’s design language,” said Liu backstage.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Comme Moi fall 2024 finale.

Comme Moi, the fashion label founder by model Lv Yan, brought the beauty in nature into the wardrobe of urban elites this season. Key looks included a purple velvet dress, fringed shirts, a white evening gown made from intertwined floral lace, a ruffled jacket with a matching skirt, and a pleated maxidress with calla lily motifs. Models walked in front of a giant moving installation with images composed by famed Hong Kong fashion photographer Wing Shya.

For some designers, showing during Shanghai Fashion Week was less about boosting sales and more about nurturing a local community while staying within budget, as was the case with Yueqi Qi, the Guangzhou-based designer label with a quirky bent. This time Yueqi Qi’s Y2K heroines were back, this time dressed in outfits made of deadstock headphones and laser-cut florals. Making their way through a digital wasteland, iPhone flash in hand, the Yueqi Qi girls were on a journey back to nature.

Using upcycling materials that were then laser-cut into bouquets that were then knitted together, designer Qi Yueqi explored her obsession with the flower motif, which, upon detailed inspection, came with Chinese character petals that meant “love,” another recurring theme of Qi’s.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Looks from Yueqi Qi’s fall 2024 collection.

Standouts from the collection include a twilled and braided headphone bustier, which was made of defective products sourced from an electronic hub in Shenzhen; a laser-cut petal stole using recycled PET, and “digitally active necklaces” made up of several Apple Watches.

Models, many of whom were street-cast fans of the brand, traversed the concrete jungle of Shanghai’s System nightclub, striking cryptic poses as if in a Japanese anime.

“I sit and watch the children play, doing things I used to do, they think are new,” Qi’s cover of the Marianne Faithfull song “As Tears Go By” flowed onto the dance floor as models filed out for the finale.

“I started my brand five years ago and will be launching a new brand called YQQ this fall. An introspective and nostalgic song felt appropriate,” added Qi.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Louis Shengtao Chen’s fall 2024 collection.

Louis Shengtao Chen’s Xintiandi debut was set within a bed of red-hot lava made from a sea of fabrics. The sensuality of his design was in full force with ruffled and embroidered gowns, pom pom dresses, and animal print outerwear.

Chen continued his exploration of traditional menswear codes and reworked them for womenswear in an almost crafty manner, mainly by turning suiting pocket squares and brooches into flowers with a texture of cigarette paper. A fringy number made from a plant-based sustainable suede and slipdresses embellished with PET florals pinpointed a more glamorous side of sustainability.

“Emotionally, it’s about sabotaging, destroying, getting made and crazy, because the collection is about a woman who has an attitude, a real attitude, and perhaps a little bit crazier,” said Chen of his fixation, or perhaps his personal alter ego.

Shanghai Designers Show Creativity, and Defiance, Despite Subpar Demand

Looks from Oude Waag fall 2024 collection.

Oude Waag designer Jingwei Yin this season scaled back on showmanship — previously his shows featured gigantic installations hanging from the ceiling — and let the garments speak for themselves. He offered more relaxed fits and a bigger outerwear range in response to buyers’ question: What does an Oude Waag girl wear on top of those ultra tactile, body-hugging dresses?

Yin said the duality of fireworks, one of China’s four major innovations from the past, served as a key theme this season as it is a source of joy and conflict. Look seven, a brown-green printed dress, for example, was inspired by the poetic moment of explosion. The denim pieces treated with a gold foil stamp technique, meanwhile, symbolized tension and restraint.