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An insider look at Beijing Fashion Week and the growing clout of local brands

The 2013 Spring Summer Mercedes Benz-China fashion week (CFW) took place this past weekend in D-park 798 Art District Beijing, the third edition under the Mercedes branding since 2011.

Over 23 local brands held their fashion shows in this past week, and one premium Italian leather goods brand –Gherardini, which held its first show in China as the opening show for 2013 ss. Special guest for this 2013 Spring Summer CFW was Ms. Sara Sozzani Maino from Vogue Italia.

Another opening show, is Chinese local designer Peiyi Wang , who has recently shown, for the first time, during Milan 2013 Spring Summer fashion week. He is the second Chinese local designer Since 2011, Mercedes has invited to launch their show in the international market. Before Peiyi Wang, another brand“Beautyberry” by Seven Wang (Yutao Wang) showed abroad, in Berlin, during the fashion week 2012 ss.

Compared to the first 10 years history of CFW (since 1997) , ready to wear “ apparel with some very dramatic designs were displayed (Chinese consider that is art work and its fashionable), without necessarily following any international trends. However, their official website don’t even have any footages before 2011. Now, at least 20-30% shows are held by young talent designers , and at least 1 or 2 shows are international brands.

But even though, for a Fashion Week in a capital the calibre and importance of Beijing there were many problems in their organization system. These organizational and logistics problems coupled with the slow-down in sales of luxury brands in China, have kept away international brands, despite the media exposure and attendance.

Background

China fashion week was found by China Fashion Designers Association, which is semi-state controlled association, which may have the financial benefits but is widely considered as “conservative and outdated”.

The registration criteria

Since this is semi-official association, as per the request of official regulations, some registration criteria are impossible to meet. Such as :

Tickets are designed and printed by the organizing committee, every involving organizations please collect tickets in committee office 7-10 days before opening ceremony. The invitation issued by brands/designer can not consider ‘official’ tickets “ In the reality, the “tickets “ issued by organizing committee are poor and cheap, its not qualified as luxury brand stander .

The Stage Design: to make sure the quality and efficiency of the stage design, each involving organization is not allowed to take its own production group in to avoid accident. The organizing committee will assign qualified and experienced organizations to be responsible for the stage design.” The same problem as before, design are poor and not even creative .but also there is no other choice.

Media

The involvement of the State in the organization, most media which the organizing committee invited (which include in their CFW package deal), are local newspaper and non-professional international media, such as Vogue ,GQ are very rare to see in this fashion week. The designers or brands have to do the invites by themselves , and register with committee, thus going through the process – which has proven a hassle this year too.

Behind the scene

As all the “mafia”, there is always at least one under the table story to be told. Since 1997, CFW, without a doubt, made the stage for local designers ,models or stylists to show their talents to the world. There is always an award show in every year CFW to reward the “best model “,” best designer”,” best make up “..Those awards did help them to make more exposures in the world. But as the every “special power” fact in china , there will be “under table trade” . Which agency’s model will take most of jobs, which styling company “has to” do all the styling for every show , the set-up company ,the security…CFW is not simple spirit of creativity, lead of fashion trend , is more about business ,its  merchandise fair .

But is there an opportunity for a privately organized fashion show? Most certainly! And such an initiative would save the huge marketing costs many top luxury brands have been incurring in China, with their lavish shows (until last year - this is, the only couture show is Dior, Chanel opting for Singapore). Previous lavish shows  ‘Fendi’ – The great wall show, ‘Armani’- One night in Beijing 798 art district show, and ‘Bvlgari’-National museum exhibition.

For other local Chinese designers who are quite connected with international fashion world, such as Masha Ma, or Xander Zhou . Beside doing their own show in China , they are eagerly looking at launching at international stage, as they consider that ‘returning’ with an international reputation would consolidate their luxury positioning in China. Could these brands be successfull financiall abroad? Most certainly not!

Masha Ma 2012/13aw show held in 7th March in Paris this year, the chief editor of Vogue China -Angelica Cheung was among the key guests . This was her second time came to Paris to support Masha, and last year the VIP guests also  include china pop singer star-Wenjie Shang(who did performance in Lanvin show). Masha Ma has already over 7 stores(including Online shopping) stock her line . SPIGA 2 in Milan , LUISA VIA ROMA www.luisaviaroma.com , showrooms in shanghai, Nanjing and other three south cities of China.

As the close relationship between Masha and Vogue , GQ China supported young chinese designer- Xander Zhou to hold his first show in London last year during “London Collections “ week organized by British Fashion Council . GQ.cn made special cover for Xander’s London trip ,recorded this special journal for him. So far ,Xander Zhou has one showroom/studio in Beijing and press representative in London .

These two chinese designers Masha , Xander ,with another two we mentioned before Simon Gao,Peiyi Wang, they were all born around 80s’ , young with passion of creativity, most of them have international designing school background. When the world still knowledge China as the “making” country but creating . These designers using their chinese background as the benefit , with their originality idea , they are making fine quality and exquisite design goods, and with industry organization’s supports to help them branding their name out in the world.

But, with the imbalance of economic develop between provinces, and the difference of education level cross the country. The majority of Chinese consumers still quite immature and even superficial in fashion. Big foreign name or background and hard advertisement with high price merchandise are still the symbols for “luxury”. Therefore , in the past 10 years ,western world famous first , then come back with international story colored is seems to be The way for those independent designers to archive their success in china .

But there are also ‘exception ‘. Like the brand “EXCEPTION” ,which is recently in the center of international spotlights as the China first lady wore their design for her first state visit to Russia . The brand was founded 15 years ago in Guangzhou, instead of the eager for international fame, they are more focus on local chinese markets. The brand started from comfortable mid-class market, 100 stores all over China mainland ,the starting price range between 50$-100$.

But since 2008 , the same year they did their first and only show in Paris . Owner Mao, he made big business decision : shrink the stores number to 60 , and adjust the price to 150$-300$ for single piece . And this decision made the brand jump into Chinese luxury market, they are able to have fans such as first lady Peng Liyuan, and tennis player Li Na, the annual revenue can reach to 10 millions USD.

Compared to ‘Exception’’s middle to high class business develop plan ; Studio Regal this chinese designer brand by Ye Mingzi, after almost 10 years focus on high couture wedding dresses and evening gowns; this year the designer starts to develop her second line for “ready to wear”. Ye Mingzi who is the granddaughter of Marshall Ye Jian Ying, one of founder of China in 1949. She graduated from the most famous fashion design school in the world. Central St. Martins in London and in 2003 and returned to Beijing to start her own label and workshop, Studio Regal. With her exceptional background ,and special networking , her fans are more towards to younger and more fashionable -the new generation successful female consumers .With her store located in Park life mall Yintai , one of the landmark luxury shopping center in Beijing brands include Gucci, Hermes ,Dior.. Her dress price range from 3,000$ up to 100,000$ . “Studio Regal “ has established the new image of “made in china” luxury .

Allen Xie is another local designer brand has quite valuable future for this new image of “made in china “ luxury . “Allen Xie” mainly focuses on men’s couture . Allen Xie ‘s price range from 100$ tie up to over 10,000$ suit, and his fans are we called “second rich generation”. Most of them come from wealthy family and had western education background, who has passion and good taste on fashion, as the designer Allen Xie himself. Within the first 3 years of branding, now there are two showrooms in Beijing and Shanghai , they are planning to open another 3 stores by end of 2013.

Consumers

For consumers, they are more educated, have better taste of life compared to their parents’ generation. For designers, they are more international , have bigger visibility and more options to develop their business. Also in this current popular political trend –no more gifting  – international brands have to carefully re-consider their marketing in China. China’s new First Lady could truly serve as an inspiration for both the masses and the very wealthy message. Her choice of the Chinese brand to wear was also very smart – indicating that the Made in China will change with financially successful local brands, which have a lucrative business, good distribution - not just a brand that might have a showroom in China and an agent in Paris or Milan.

Amanda Whang in Beijing

Beijing Fashion Week 2013

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