How Shanghai Could Change Fashion

When you are in Shanghai, the only thing you need to worry about is always keeping your phone charged and connected – as everything passes through these devices, and without it you are lost. Cash no longer circulates; the QR code pays everything. This, of course, offers more control on transactions and, I guess, fewer tax evasion problems (at least for shopping). This is one aspect of the hyper-connected society here that lives its life through phone screens. The online world is a parallel dimension that becomes the real one, where most of our interactions happen: it’s a market, it’s a hub, it’s a car or bicycle; it’s a place where research is done, a place where we can build relationships or simply find a one-night stand. Actually, this description sounds not so very different when compared to our western world, but, in truth, it is. What is different is the mindset. Their reality is filtered through the screen, while we still have pockets in real life. This environment really impacts the fashion system. First of all, the impact can be felt on the market and shopping, both of which function with completely different dynamics. But also, on the perception of what fashion really is from the perspective of the people, customers, and Chinese creative companies. As with any other, Shanghai Fashion Week is the acme of the local fashion industry where next season’s proposals are presented (it takes place twice a year, October and March) with a series of shows, trades, and events around the city. 

This season, the posh luxury district of Xintiandi was the venue, with several silver tents set up where shows took place. Labelhood, the other main event (a kind of “off-calendar” event, even if it’s part of the official schedule), took place in Pudong’s 80.000-ton grain and sugar silo in the Minsheng Wharf space (Prada showed the men’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection here last June) in the middle of a mega construction site that is revamping the whole area. The amazing location was too far away from the other venue and lacking in facilities, which dampened the usual exciting vibe around fashion week. If the two locations had been closer, the different languages would have boosted the coolness and created interesting contrasts.  

These days have also been very attractive for the international fashion companies that traveled to Shanghai to take advantage of the spotlights of the moment. Both Kering and LVMH (with its new darling Stella McCartney) promoted their new sustainable missions. AMI, headed by Alexandre Mattiussi, presented the collection shown last June in Paris, plus some extra pieces; Marni introduced their collaboration with the Miao people from the Guizhou region of China, highlighting their unique wealth of craft which must be preserved. It’s not a secret that China is an attractive source of revenue for everybody, so this fashion week is the moment when everybody sets out to declare their love for the country by sharing projects and starting collaborations. 

The Shanghai scenario is intriguing due to the fact that the creativity moves inside a system that is founded on bureaucracy, rules, and habits far removed from the western fashion system. The feeling is that this fashion week is how Milan or Paris was 25 years ago: unsophisticated and sketchy. Shanghai (and China) is approaching a world which is not part of its culture: the iconic European fashion, as a whole, is something that was born and developed through centuries, while the fashion week system evolved through mere decades. So, everything is centered around the Italian and French DNA. On the other hand, the Asian country entered the running only a relatively short time ago (SHFW started on 2001), but it seems stuck in its early years. It’s surprising how a super connected and quick world, as described above, can be so slow in progression. If their aim is an international stage, they must evolve even more quickly than the current (but outdated) European model, testing new formulas that combine today’s speed with the old school dreams of modern fashion. Shanghai might possess the requirements necessary to tackle this international need to change the format of the presentations and the economic business models, maybe not in terms of fashion proposals (which are still not so innovative) or luxury products so far, but by mixing different cultures and habits. In the new global world, it’s not compulsory for the new inputs to continue to arrive from Italy or France (which are also stuck in an obsolete system); in a blossoming system such as China’s, unexpected ideas could rise easily – but it’s important those concepts must not be polluted or forced by western institutions, media, or companies. These references could instead be used as a jumping off point to amend existing mistakes in the system and develop them to the next level of events and a new mindset. However, what I witnessed this week is simply the old model perpetuated. Fashion shows are, and will always be, exciting for the audience, but the format (sometimes) and the environment (usually) where they took place this season must change. Neither Xintiandi nor Labelhood gave the audience those stimulating, sought-after moments of true fashion. The efforts were appreciable, but the results frustrating. 

China is a leading nation, and this leadership is something that can be mirrored in the fashion system as it is showcased, but it functions on more of a follower approach that imitates the western models in a too-slow, institutional, and repetitive way. Presentation format aside, the average quality of the garments was not up to the standard of luxury products, even if China’s past is marked by delicate, exquisite, and precious craftsmanship. So either one or the other: Shanghai Fashion Week could become the first to present and celebrate the fast-paced modern world with easy fashion and maybe immediate accessibility through all the famous online platforms they founded, which completely changed the distribution and supply model; or they should start to tighten the selection of brands and designers, accepting only the ones which could assure the highest level of quality in terms of design, material, and execution –  those that can really complete with the highest European standards. It’s time to move on.

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