Thursday, June 30, 2011


Press Release
Sewing the Seams

Chinese aesthetic on display
 in a Derek Lam design
at New York Fashion Week 2011
Last September, French luxury house Hermès did a curious thing. It launched a new brand called Shang Xia, inspired by and meant for the Chinese market. The collections comprise clothing, home and tableware created with traditional Chinese materials, marking the first time an international luxury name has tailored lines around a Chinese aesthetic. “The idea is to bring the Hermès philosophy to China, to create a Chinese Hermès,” company CEO Patrick Thomas told the AFP.

Radha Chadha, author of The Cult of the Luxury Brand, says the move highlights the importance of heritage to the Chinese consumer. In the case of luxury brands, this is usually European. The Hermès launch, she says, turned the habit on its head. “It is crafted to perfection. If you hold it, it’s exquisite,” she says of pieces in the brand’s lines. “Normally, a brand has its own heritage, but they’ve borrowed China's heritage. That’s unique in the market at this point.”

Shang Xia is widely expected to open its second store, not on the Chinese mainland but in Paris, bringing its distinct Chinese aesthetic to Europe. The brand will join a growing number of companies based in the East that are reinventing Chinese style for today’s consumers.

The Hong Kong label Shanghai Tang made its name creating traditional silk jackets and cheongsams in fuchsia, lime green and other gaudy colours. The brand has been stocked overseas in such upscale department stores as Selfridges. In 2006, Hong Kong businessman Sir David Tang sold it to Swiss luxury group Richemont.

Daydream Nation

Menswear line The Perfect Tangent
was launched by Hong Kong-based
Pak Man Lee
Blanc de Chine has produced expensive men’s and women’s designs with subtle Chinese touches for nearly two decades, while Taiwanese designer Shiatzy Chen, who incorporates subtle traditional details like the Mandarin collar, has a steady fan base in Asia. Ms Chen has also begun to show collections at Paris Fashion Week.

“Derek Lam, an American-born Chinese who worked for G2000 here in Hong Kong for four years, is another great example of Asian success,” says Valerie Wilson Trower, Trend Director for Asia-Pacific with Stylesight trend analysts and forecasters. “His Fall/Winter 2011 black utilitarian shirt-dress for e-Bay echoes Communist-period China, particularly when styled on an Asian model,” she says.

Such names have paved the way for new Hong Kong and mainland-based designers to sell in Europe and the United States. Daydream Nation is a Hong Kong fashion house created by a brother-sister duo, who graduated from London design school Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. They launched the label soon after graduating in 2006, taking part in Paris- and London-based trade shows, where they received their first orders. While their designs don’t incorporate a strong sense of Chinese aesthetics, buyers were intrigued by their Hong Kong story. “They loved the accessories, which were all made in Hong Kong. It was different from being made in China; they were more interested,” says designer Kay Wong. Now, the company’s clothing lines are stocked at retail chains Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie, among others.

Not everyone incorporates Chinese-inspired design. On the mainland, designers have a strong “point of view,” says Ms Wilson Trower. “Ellassay, who with its beautiful use of fabrics, might be described as the Max Mara of China,” she says: “Zuczag, a fun, bold-colour, smart/casual-wear brand with a minimal modernist ethos; Devil Nut, aiming at the children’s wear and youth markets with colourful, bold graphic printed sweatshirts and tops; and Li Ning, deservedly one of China’s leading active-wear brands, are all developing distinct looks in different parts of the fashion market. There are even more in the Asian diaspora,” she says.

Given the growth potential on the mainland alone, many newer brands will, for now, focus on brand-building at home, before advancing to the West, according to Ms Wilson Trower.

Perfect Tangent

Hong Kong shopping mall K11
showcased the work of Chinese
designers at Paris Fashion Week
The region’s status as a manufacturing hub helps new designers setting up shop. Pak Man Lee returned to Hong Kong from Los Angeles to launch his line, The Perfect Tangent, which is designed according to proportions of the golden ratio. He relies on local pattern-makers to execute the designs. Once the employees of Hong Kong’s vast apparel industry before the industry moved to the mainland, these experienced hands can be a real asset. “If you find the right one, a good pattern-maker is one real person that helps you make and save money,” says Mr Lee.

With manufacturing on their doorstep, and decades of industry expertise close at hand, locally based designers have an advantage to create, produce and dispatch from one base. Designers and brands are using Hong Kong as a distribution centre, buying office, and marketing centre for the Asian region, according to Mr Lee, whose designs are available at Fred Segal.

For Fiona Kotur, being close to where her lines are manufactured has been valuable. Ms Kotur produces luxury bags out of Hong Kong stocked by top department stores, including Harrods in London and Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman in the US. She calls her company an “American brand based in Hong Kong."

“From a product perspective, living in Hong Kong, with close proximity to manufacturing, has allowed me to react and respond quickly to customer feedback and market demands,” Ms Kotur says. “Building a brand through assortment and merchandising has been very effective.” She adds that while brand-building may have been easier if she resided in the US, where her main distribution network lies, spending more on a good public relations company in the US has helped her overcome this challenge.

Catalyst for Change

Chinese mainland designer Shi Jie
with models wearing his designs
at Paris Fashion Week
In the nine years since arriving in Hong Kong, Ms Kotur says she has noticed a leap in creativity. “I think the largest catalyst for change has come through the emergence of the Hong Kong art market. The Art Fair [held annually in May] is a significant international event, together with Christie’s auction and all the other gallery happenings that week. Design is part of the larger picture of a creative movement that is slowly occurring in Hong Kong. It's an exciting time to be here,” she says.

Pak Man Lee agrees that the art market is speeding change. “China wasn't known for art back in the 1970s, and now Chinese contemporary is one of the major categories in the art world. It is a social norm that fashion follows art and music, so guess what buyers or retailers are looking for now?” he says.

Surprising Paris

What many emerging designers crave are outlets to hone and present their talent. Support at home seems to be mounting. Earlier this year, one of Hong Kong’s upscale malls, K11, which brands itself as an art and retail space, took three Chinese mainland designers – Shi Jie, Masha Ma and Jin Chongyu – to Paris Fashion Week.

“The Chinese new collections, with no doubt, surprised Paris and the world,” says Iris Ng, Marketing Manager of K11. “Hundreds of guests in art, fashion and media joined.” The event was widely reported by local and international fashion press, and the mall, which partnered with organisers of the Fédération Française de la Couture Fashion Week for the event, is planning to run a similar outing in October.

Establishing a fashion school in Hong Kong would be one way to provide constant and substantial report, designers say. The prestigious US-based Savannah College of Art and Design opened in Hong Kong last year. If Pak Man Lee is correct, fashion will follow art.

Source: Hong Kong Trader

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