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A new wave of Chinese designers sweeps the European fashion industry

By Florence Julienne


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Courtesy of Faxion. From left to right: Weisheng Paris, Ruirui Deng, Ruohan

At a time when China is turning towards its domestic market, the emergence of new Chinese designers, positioned at the top of the range, is not insignificant. Especially since this young generation is challenging preconceived ideas about "made in China", thereby creating what can be called a "new wave".

The mention of Chinese brands often leads to negative perceptions, whether technical, ecological or ethical. It is misunderstanding the potential of this country, which has historical clothing traditions, has become the world's factory (and therefore knows how to manufacture) and represents an ideal target clientele for luxury brands (and therefore knows how to appreciate beautiful things).

"The pejorative aspect of Made in China and fast fashion have gradually made us forget that China is one of the first civilisations to develop a real know-how in clothing," said Jean-Loup Rebours, a young entrepreneur that has opened an agency dedicated to Chinese fashion. "Faxion was born out of a passion for China and its history, which is not well known in the West for political reasons (ideological rivalry between China and the West which hinders cultural exchanges). The idea is to offer them a platform because it is not easy to evolve alone on the Parisian scene (language barrier, administrative obstacles, time differences, bureaucracy, etc.).

Today, Chinese designers are driven by the desire to make their voice heard in the West, and to enhance the value of Made in China through the promotion of Chinese craftsmanship, philosophy and arts in fashion. This is achieved through incubators such as Labelhood.

Labelhood supports the development of emerging Chinese designers

Courtesy of Faxion, Ruohan

According to a report by strategy consulting firm Eclair, relayed by the magazine Jing Daily, the consumption power of luxury in China has increased exponentially between 2011 and 2018. By 2025, China will account for about half of global luxury spending and nearly 80 percent of that spending will be by people under 40, with young people being the driving force behind fashion consumption. At the same time, there has been an average annual increase of 30 percent in the number of companies in Shanghai.

It is in this context that Labelhood was built. This self-proclaimed cultural community connects designers with young Chinese consumers through events, retail experiences and brand incubation. With a staff of 70, Labelhood now has eight retail spaces, including the flagship, a VIP house and various pop-ups.

Labelhood showcases talent at Shanghai Fashion Week and the Youtopia Festival, and runs Lab, a retail showroom that hosted thirty brands for the autumn/winter 2022/2023 collections. As an incubator, the community also acts with international B2B and B2C counterparts such as Pitti Uomo, Tomorrow Group and Machine-A.

Ruohan: craftsmanship at the heart of a work process based on exceptional materials

Courtesy of Faxion, Ruohan

A graduate of Parsons School of Design, Ruohan Nie founded her eponymous brand in March 2021, at a time when Covid restrictions were raging. “Even though the pandemic was a pretty depressing time, it was an unprecedented opportunity," she said. “We have had time to question ourselves and re-examine the production and creative processes. We are determined about the challenges we will face in the future.” Her main challenge is communication. Accustomed to Chinese channels (social networks such as XiaoHongShu, Wechat and Weibo), it is difficult for her to express the subtleties of her minimalist style on Western media that she is not familiar with.

For the autumn/winter 2023 season, Ruohan Nie has created a sautéed silk fabric using a traditional Chinese silk dyeing technique. Nie said: "We manipulated the fabric to achieve a 'contemporary mud' feel that relates to the theme of the collection. We value craftsmanship and strive to apply it to every detail, in order to revalue and achieve a better version of craftsmanship in our time."

At Shanghai Fashion Week SS22, Ruohan was awarded the Lane Crawford x Labelhood Scholarship and Business Performance Award. Her collection was selected to be shown at the Harrods x Labelhood pop-ups in London and Shanghai. The brand has collaborated with over 40 Chinese retailers and 16 boutiques in Europe, Japan and the US. It is also on the official calendar for Paris Fashion Week, set to be shown on March 2.

Peng Tai: from trendy Chinese herbal medicine to Yin and Yang

Courtesy of Fashion, Peng Tai

Since its inception in October 2016, Peng Tai has used the five elements and the ideology of Huang-Lao Taoism as the core of the brand, constantly experimenting with new techniques to give clothes a different expression. Since 2017, the designer has been exploring Chinese herbalism and using herbal dyes such as gallnut, astragalus, mugwort (which some recommend as an anti-Covid treatment), sappan wood and gardenia to give each garment a unique colour and shape.

Courtesy of Faxion, Peng Tai

In 2019, Peng Tai launched the Medication Room project and established a traditional Chinese medicine laboratory in Pan'an, the home county of Chinese herbs, to investigate the possible links between herbal dyeing, garment making and healing. In the same year, the brand launched its first men's collection. For his latest collection, Tai looked at the philosophy of Yin and Yang: everything has the source of its own destruction. From this arises the source of movement and evolution.

r.l.e: transforming textile waste into new collections

Couresty of Faxion, r.l.e

r.l.e is a sustainable fashion brand founded in 2021 by Chinese designer Qixin (Cici) Zhang. The brand's name is inspired by the word "rule" without the letter "u" (you), which signifies the brand's message of "being yourself without limits or definition". r.l.e presented its AW23 collection at London Fashion Week on February 20. The brand’s product range includes womenswear, accessories and bags.

Like Tai, Cici felt the difficulty of understanding Western culture and the difference in human relationships. However, it was in Europe that she was able to meet the artists and friends whose open-mindedness inspired her to launch her brand.

For her creations, she has designed a yarn made of the elements rejected during the manufacturing process of certain pieces, and aspires to make the brand waste-free. The designer is currently working on a machine that would transform any type of textile waste into a sustainable material to be implemented in the production of her next collections.

Weisheng Paris and the demand for new masculine codes

Courtesy of Faxion, Weisheng Paris

Born in Taiwan, Weisheng Wang, a menswear designer based in Paris, wants to "break with the traditional codes of masculinity by creating feminine-looking pieces for men". He believes that fashion cultivates self-confidence and should encourage people to be themselves and to live without prejudice or fear.

Courtesy of Faxion, Weisheng Paris

Weisheng puts European know-how at the service of his creativity: he makes his embroideries with the Parisian workshop Safrane Cortambert, his jewellery with the Madrid jeweller Anton Heunis and collaborates with Italian feather makers. He also works with materials created in China, such as a fibre optic fabric, which lights up with batteries and is flexible enough to make clothes or accessories. One of his dresses has gone viral on Twitter and TikTok.

Ruirui Deng: debut show to open Paris Fashion Week March 2023

Time spent at Central Saint Martins University in 2015 and practical experience gained from her internship at Burberry enabled London-based Rui Deng to found her eponymous brand in 2021, based on the mythology of alien mermaids arriving on Earth to explore art and life.

All materials used are produced in China (including a signature lace with the brand's designs) and then assembled in her London workshop. Although the high level of competition between Paris and China is at a difficult stage, Deng still showed in Paris on February 26 2023, as if to give Paris Fashion Week, which started February 27, a taste of what luxury could be like in the future.

Courtesy of Faxion, RuiRui Deng presentation FW Paris March 2023
This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.FR. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.