Youth Are “Completely Redefining What It Means To Be Chinese” In The World


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China has for years made a mark in the fashion world as a factory supplier to important brands. And following years of brisk economic growth, the country has emerged as one of the world’s most important markets for  multinational luxury and fashion companies such as LVMH, Estee Lauder, Richemont and Kering.

Yet, nowadays, China is putting its footprint more deeply in the business through the country’s young designers.  Rarely does a major fashion gathering not include Chinese.  Among young designers finding success, Caroline Hu, Susan Fang, Leaf Xia and Yajun Lin are all members of the 2019 Forbes China 30 Under 30 list published on Oct. 17. (See related post here.)

Will China’s deepening influence last? Do cities in China have differing fashion styles? To learn more, I spoke earlier this year with Parsons School of Design assistant professor Marie Genevieve Cyr, one of 100 judges that participated in the 2019 Forbes China 30 Under 30 list. Young designers from the country, she said, are having an impact and “completely redefining what it means to be Chinese right now on the global landscape,” she said. Excerpts follow.

Q.  How’d you become interested in fashion and China?

A.  I got interested in fashion when I was around 15 years old. I’m from a super rural area in a small village in Canada. I didn’t know anything about fashion. My curiosity was great, and I wanted to try. I’ve always loved a challenge. So that’s how I got into fashion.

I started to go to China and spend my summers in China four years ago. In 2016, I received an artist residency at the Red Gate Gallery in Beijing, one of the first contemporary art galleries in China. I spent a month there, and fell in love with China. Then, I traveled to Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and started going back at least three or four times a year. Since then, I usually spend my summers in China, doing consultancy and teaching.

As a professor at Parsons, a lot of my students are Chinese. So for me, there was also a personal connection I had with this country through my students. It’s very interesting to see how creativity changes, and that’s what I love the most about my Chinese students. They’re completely redefining what it means to be Chinese right now on the global landscape.  It’s also really interesting to me that China has been moving so fast as well — not only in the fashion industry but in all industries. For me, it has become really important to be part of this journey.

Q.  China right now is one of the world’s biggest markets for luxury fashion. Yet when we think about globally influential brands and designers, there aren’t too many based in China.

Q.  How long do you think that will last?

A.  A lot of young designers has been going back to China from America and changing the market. It’s going to take a while, but emerging designers will (appear). They are starting new markets that haven’t necessarily existed in China today in the mid-level – something that’s happened all over the world before China’s growth. At the moment, China is now changing. Luxury is still going to be there, but I think even there in the luxury market, more and more people in China are interested in Chinese (-influenced) luxury design. It involves pride, and it’s actually an important moment for the young generation to define the vision for the fashion industry in China. All around the world, the market has been saturated; yet it’s exciting because it’s still open for the young in China. Being Chinese, they want to be bold and be themselves.

Q.  Do any cities strike you as fashion hubs?

A.  Young designers are all over China. Shanghai is a big, important city and a base for Shanghai Fashion Week, but there is talent everywhere. It all just has a different aesthetic. When you go to Beijing, Beijing fashion is different; if you go to Guangzhou or Shenzhen, it is quite different. The same with Chengdu. In the future, that’s going to be more and more interesting. China is so big, and we’ll see different sectors, aesthetics and brands redefining themselves.

Q.  What do you think are some of the differences between Beijing and Guangzhou?

A.  Guangzhou is much more about street style. There’s a lot of cool menswear that’s coming from there. It’s very different and of course when you go to Chengdu, it’s a very small market, I mean the circle of fashion is very small there but I think there’s a lot of opportunities happening in Chengdu.

Q.  How do you see multinational fashion leaders responding to the rise of local talent in China?

A.  I see a lot of big companies that are collaborating with young designers to tap into young audiences. In the food and beverage industry, it’s been very interesting to see a designer like Leaf Xia do a collaboration with Magnum ice cream. Lipton tea wanted to reach out more to younger Chinese audience and has partnered with a lot of Labelhood designers especially – same with Budweiser and Private Policy. Big luxury groups such as Kering and LVMH have also been present and are supporting the development of the industry. (See related story here.) I see a bright future for the young creatives.

–Follow me @rflannerychina

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