China Institute held its 2019 Fashion Competition at the weekend showcasing collections of 11 young designers working in NYC and inspired by Chinese traditions, art and culture. The runway show was preceded by a panel event on the topic “China Cool; How next gen designers are defining a new culture,” participants of which were Harlan Bratcher of China’s largest retailer, JD Fashion, Hazel Clark of Parsons, Simon Collins of WeDesign.org, Anqi Jiang, 2018 competition finalist, and fashion writer Mary Wang, The five were fresh from their backstage deliberations to determine the winning designer.
What it means to be Chinese today?
Themes behind the collections presented an intriguing window into contemporary China: Demolition, the one-child policy per family, marriage, tai chi, water, migrant workers, and celebrity culture. These creatives are confronting the multi-faceted identity of the ever-evolving, influential country of their birth. They are navigating two cultures, experiencing the fast pace of change in China through their studies in the fast-paced world of New York fashion.
“New York Fashion Week is practically 30 percent Chinese now,” remarked Simon Collins during the panel, yet the appeal of returning to China after studying in the US is an increasingly popular option for young designers who want to be part of the new China.
New Chinese market has start-ups and luxury brands
The layers of possibility for these emerging creatives provoked Mary Wang’s comment: “Do they want to dethrone LVMH, do they want to dethrone Zara, do they want to create something very specific to their local Chinese sub-culture?” The message is clear: Chinese brands no longer have to emulate typical big European names. They are establishing a fashion system of their own. Labelhood, a platform for promoting young fashion designers has the start-up market covered, while homegrown high-end luxury has also exploded, so aspirations run the gamut for new designers coming through. Emphasizing the depth of opportunity there but also the need for a nuanced understanding of the market, Bratcher summarized China as “100 countries with 1.4 billion people who exist in a cashless, digital culture in which change happens by the second.”
The evening culminated with the announcement of the winner, Feiyang Qiao, who received a 10,000 dollar check and a summer internship with Nicole Miller. Bill Donovan, fashion illustrator and Dior’s artist-in-residence, presented the prize. The winning collection was inspired by Chinese weddings––formal presentations which combine elements from the West and East into what Qiao describes as “an artificial, meaningless requirement every couple goes through to prove their love.”
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.photos from China Institute.