As the seat of China's cultural, administrative and operational hub, Beijing wields undisputed power in China. Yet there is one sector that poses an anomaly: fashion. Experts suggest that over the last number of years Beijing has lost its grip on the fashion industry, the mantle of which now lies firmly with Shanghai; if there is competition it comes from cities like Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, and Chongqing, China’s newest tourist hub. The event is no longer working with global sponsor Mercedes Benz, and from the outside would appear to be a lacklustre and overtly commercial event which fails to attract international press or often even draw its own local industry professionals.
Spanning 8 days, and showcasing 60 brands and designers, the event opened with a theatrical runway from European-based designer Sheguang Hu. Hosted at the event’s flagship venue, 751DPark (close to Beijing’s Art District), it featured models making dramatic poses and covered head-to-toe in monochromatic designs. However, not all of Beijing’s must-see fashion action takes place within the confines of official schedules.
“I have never seen the real point of fashion weeks from a market perspective. You don't have supermarket weeks, where Tesco, Carrefour and Walmart launch their latest design in shopping trolleys! But really the most important thing is about how each company, or designer, in the fashion industry, is innovating, what they are trying to express, who they are trying to appeal to, and (perhaps) what that says about changes in consumer attitudes,” explains Matthew Crabbe, regional trends director, Asia Pacific, at market research firm, Mintel.
“Often, it is therefore what happens off the catwalk, and away from the media hype, that is important. Just as important, for instance, as the big names in the fashion industry, it’s the young, up-and-coming designers who are really setting the pace in terms of innovation and responsiveness to their generation, locality, clique, etc,” suggests Crabbe.
Cue Fashion Now. Operating over the last nine seasons, it is a biannual showcasing platform which started in October 2013; this season it ran one day prior to Beijing’s official fashion week schedule and is viewed by some as both a precursor and alternative to China Fashion Week.
According to London-based duo Tommy Zhong, the platform can add the missing value that China Fashion Week seems to lack. "Fashion Now was founded by a group of fashion insiders and editors; they are professionals in the industry with the right connections, they know what is missing and want to see something new," explains Jenny Nelson, commercial director of Tommy Zhong.
"Fashion Now covers all areas for a brand. It’s not just putting on the show, it’s doing PR, sales, brand development, everything,” she enthuses. “It’s essential to cover all areas, not advertising alone, because after the show finishes, if you don’t do the follow-up work, it’s not going to translate into sales."
It is this dedicated, niche vision which appeals to emerging brands like Tommy Zhong Nelson. “It is a more Chinese-based audience at Fashion Now than at Shanghai Fashion Week, for example, or other fashion weeks, but it is a more industry-targeted and tailored audience for our brand specifically, which is what we need. We go through all the guest lists with our PR, so it’s tailored to us and we know that they will be engaged with the show and the brand,” Nelson tells ORDRE.
This season Fashion Now featured M Essential and Dents de Sagesse alongside Tommy Zhong, who continued to draw inspiration from its current muse, a woman of contradictions. The 9 evening looks feature the brand’s signature off-kilter mix of fabrications including jacquard, wool, check and prints, this time infused with a gothic take on florals tapping a young Miss Havisham. This fractured version of tailored femininity seems to be working in Beijing.
“Compared to international customers, people in Beijing are definitely more open to buying new brands and there is a strong selection of new boutiques in the city that support us,” Nelson says. “Also other factors as simple as the weather help us too: based in London we can’t help but end up designing slightly heavier clothing which is better for Northern climates and its customers unlike areas in the south, with hotter weather.”
This year Fashion Now scaled back from two days to one. Although they declined to comment beyond suggesting it was more to do with the Chinese New Year falling late, this indicates that perhaps organisers are recalibrating the event. Despite this, support is high among the local industry for the platform.
“It has a high reputation among China’s fashion industry. Many established independent designers show at Fashion Now. If it was part of China Fashion Week it would help raise the event’s profile and offer a more comprehensive range that covers both commercial fashion and indie design,” suggests Sandy Chu, editor of retail and buying at trend forecaster, WGSN, and based in China.
“It would actually be great if Fashion Now was added to China Fashion Week - maybe it could take up the role of a platform like Fashion East at London Fashion Week?” says Kit Lo, merchandising manager at Galeries Lafayette Beijing. “In general, I think we need more platforms to develop the fashion scene in China and provide more information. Chinese customers are very young and open-minded so it is very important that they have the best education. To be honest, it’s never enough.”
“As we can see, most of the well-known Chinese designers European graduates so more or less they are known by the audiences before returning to China. But, I think celebrities are still the key influences for the majority of Beijing/China customers however. I would personally love to see more designers from the local schools or the local market,” Kitt continues.
Despite the growing success of alternative Asian fashion weeks, including Shanghai Fashion Week’s platform Labelhood, Tommy Zhong is resolute. “We don’t have any plans to move from Fashion Now at the moment. We have a great relationship with them, and this is only our second full show with the platform, so there is still a lot of room for the brand to grow in the future with Fashion Now,” Nelson enthuses.
WGSN’s Chu summaries the intricacies of the city’s fashion infrastructure: "Right now, China Fashion Week is an important industry event for Beijing, with many fashion industry insiders attending, but it would be great to see more up-and-coming talent join the show.” She also suggests that the fashion week could learn from Shanghai’s recent transformation.
“If the fashion week could be expanded through the addition of showrooms or collaborative cultural and arts events that tap into current trends, this could really add more consumer buzz to China Fashion Week, which would cater to Beijing’s consumer tastes. Shanghai has been steadily growing with its partnerships and the industry events that surround the fashion week. Trade shows, exhibitions and showrooms have made Shanghai Fashion Week the fashion leader in China,” Chu concludes.