Just as China has been a major market for international luxury fashion brands, it has also been a source of designers who have made inroads in the world’s fashion capitals, as well as the home of Chinese brands that have established themselves in overseas markets.
Here in the Philippines, a recent addition to the retail landscape is Urban Revivo, a trendy brand touted as “fast luxury” as opposed to “fast fashion” and has over 360 stores worldwide, with design centers in London and Shanghai since it was established in Guangzhou in 2006. It was brought by Suyen Corporation, the Filipino company behind retail giant Bench that introduces some of the most exciting brands in fashion, beauty and lifestyle.
Another Chinese brand with a Manila presence is Yuhan Wang, available at Univers. Wang’s SS2023 collection shown at London Fashion Week was a meditation on apsaras, the celestial, flying beings of Buddhist and Hindu culture; and female aviators in history: Ya-Ching, the first woman to get a civil aviation license in China; Hazel Ying Lee, a Chinese-American Women Airforce Service Pilot in WWII; and Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Delicate yet powerful, like apsaras, these women embody “strength, elegance and fragility,” qualities channeled in the designer’s reimagined aviator uniforms married with her florid prints.
The freedom up in the air is also Louis Shengtao Chen’s jam after listening to Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon, designing pieces that are dreamy and ethereal but with a rock-and-roll spirit fused with romance. The Chongqing-based designer worked with georgette for frilly blouses, sleek skirts and patchwork dresses for his SS2023 collection shown at Shanghai Fashion Week.
Also seen in Shanghai was Ming Ma, who aspires for “elegant tension” by using couture volumes that add an edge to sweet florals. The pandemic inspired local pride in Chinese designers, and with travel restrictions precluding trips to Europe, emerging designers like Ma were thriving and brimming with ideas. Although he falls under experimental young labels, his style is bold yet elegant and unfussy.
A winner of the Best New Designer award in Shanghai, Li Gong of 8on8 presents a fresh vision and energy of the future by drawing reference points from past generations of city life, with novel pattern-cutting techniques and a mix of technical and traditional fabrics to create pieces that fuse contemporary sportswear with men’s tailoring.
Milan-based Pronounce by Yushan Li and Jun Zhou, “blends menswear and womenswear silhouettes in their play with androgyny,” says Ida Petersson, the buying director of London’s Browns. Their “Whirlpool” collection takes inspiration from vintage Chinese dolls and the circle motif.
Fashion is a form of art that can capture the deep constructs of the universe and provide an antidote to our instantaneous, hurried contemporary lives.
Marrknull, founded by Wang Wei and Tim Shi in Beijing, breaks gender limitations by using their regional culture as a background “to describe its contradictions and impressions with the modern developing social system,” using special tailoring and silhouette innovations to reinterpret traditional Chinese clothing.
JE Cai, a Shantou native, graduated from the Royal College of Art in London but quotes Laozi’s Tao Te Ching’s conceptual methodology as an alternative approach to fashion centered on an open dialogue between the designer and wearer. He came up with a modular system of 10 base layers and 100 components connected through fastening mechanisms, allowing pieces from a new collection to mix and match with previous ones—a sustainable solution of seasonless fashion.
Chet Lo, a Chinese-American, also combines the two worlds he grew up with by recalling his father’s Buddhist tales of finding tranquility, which he channels in his design process but his oeuvre is very much of today, attracting the likes of Dua Lipa and Lizzo as clients who gravitate towards his spiky knitwear that he showed on the runway with Asian conical hats.
For Shuting Qiu, it was from painting that she developed her own approach to fashion, which is characterized by a mix of prints. Born in Hangzhou, studied in Antwerp and showing in New York and Milan, she is now based in Shanghai where she created her recent collection inspired by the abstract painter Bernard Frize, using the application of fringes in hues to reproduce the effect of the mix of broad brushstrokes.
The mix of colorful prints can also be seen in the work of Taiwanese designer Claudia Wang, who has an art background herself, surrounded by a family of artists. She combines her passion for art aesthetics and virtual technology, which she learned from earning her master’s in Interactive Design.
Of a more avant-garde bent are the designers from Hong Kong like KWK by Kay Kwok, which circumvents style conventions through experimental, futuristic pieces. Forme de Fluidité, founded by the architect Sophia XiNli, merges the structural and the sensuous for an alternative approach to femininity. Her collections interpret concepts of space and time, which are linked to metaphysical theories of human existence. For Sophia, “fashion is a form of art that can capture the deep constructs of the universe and provide an antidote to our instantaneous, hurried contemporary lives.”
Another Hong Kong native, Robert Wun, is more earthbound with his glamorous, pleated and ruffled gowns that earned him an invitation from the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode to show his collection at the coming Haute Couture Fashion Week in Paris. The first Hong Kong designer to be invited to do so, Wun told Tatler Asia, “It’s the dream come true of a dream I never even thought could come true. I hope that for people who consider themselves outsiders—be it due to their class or culture—this can show them that times are changing, and that if you work hard enough and know who you are, there is a place for you.”
It’s the best Year of the Rabbit gift for the talented designer and a timely message for the New Year.