China’s fashion scene is changing. Fast. Although status symbols often still trump sartorial savvy in the country’s newly-minted, logo-saturated luxury retail market, a creative awakening has started out over the last few years, flourishing into an almighty call to arms.
China and Shanghai Fashion Weeks are a snapshot of the industry's strengths: both events have become increasingly more relevant since launching over a decade ago, promoting passion for originality and propelling a growing cluster of home-grown designers under the international spotlight.
Similarly, the recent proliferation of street style blogs and other forms of fashion-oriented social media has inspired new excitement in fashion across the country.
Chinese models, too, are slowly but determinedly coming to the fore of the fashion set – both globally and locally.
Across urban centers, more people are embracing the artistry of dressing and taking risks with what they wear.
With this resurgence in mind, Marianna Cerini has put together some of the budding talents shaping the nation’s fashion world and helping to change the way we think of Chinese style and, why not, Chinese cool.
The (micro) blogger - Han Huohuo
Stick-thin, daringly flamboyant and with over 3.5 million followers on Weibo, Han Huohuo is a top-tier bloggerista and fashion star in his own right.
His first foray into media was as a writer for a newly launched fashion section of a Beijing magazine. Shortly after, he was hired as an editor at Marie Claire China, where he built up his fashion knowledge and network. Two years later, in 2008, he launched his Sina blog, which now counts 1.3 millions readers. His Weibo account came one year after that, and proved so impressively popular that Han left Marie Claire to work full time on it.
Both platforms feature a stream of portraits of the blogger taking to city streets in leather pants, designer purses, fur-lined coats and gold bracelets, or attending swanky fashion events around the world often accompanied by model/actress and BFF Angelababy.
Fashion enthusiasts and insiders have fallen for Han in a big way; he now rubs shoulders with the upper echelons of the fashion world, from Vogue China editor Angelica Cheung to legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Signature look: Androgynous. Han is famed for his avant-garde, experimental style – think women's clutches, skin-tight black pants and the occasional high heel mixed a badass Mohawk.
Beyond the blog: Like most successful bloggers, Han has expanded his reign in the fashion realm well beyond his blog. He has had a few stints as a stylist and designer, and curated editorial features for Hong Kong luxury department store Lane Crawford and global fashion e-tailer Yoox. He has also released two books, Fire Bible 2012 and Fire Bible 2013, which feature a collection of photos showcasing his favorite styles as seen on Chinese models, fashionistas, and celebrities. That’s what we call good business acumen.
The stylist - Lucia Liu
Stylists are a relatively new phenomenon in China, but Lucia Liu is rapidly establishing herself as the most buzzed-about image-maker to work with both here and abroad.
Based between Beijing and London, she completed a degree in fashion design in the UK and worked in the British capital for three years before returning to China to pursue a career in styling.
She has worked on editorials and covers for magazines like i-D, Glass and Dazed & Confused alongside a list of influential fashion photographers such as Pierre Debuscherre and John-Paul Pietrus and Chen Man.
As Harper’s Bazaar China’s Style Director, Liu has styled a number of high profile celebrities and fashion icons, from Fan Bing Bing and Maggie Cheung to Faye Wong, Lucy Liu and Vivienne Westwood. She has also collaborated on advertising and style advice campaigns for luxury brands, including Lane Crawford, Absolute Vodka and Mo & Co de Paris.
Her editorials embody a visionary and edgy aesthetic often verging on the dreamy and the surreal. “I like to present people with images I envisage in my mind,” she says. “Sometimes I just stare at buildings from my window for a long long time, and I get a sudden spark.”
Words of wisdom: “As a stylist, you have many ideas and inspirations that blend into a new concept. You have to grasp people merits and be able to play with different bodies but also different personalities. There are no rules you have to stick to. That’s why I love the job so much.”
Style icon: Chloë Sevigny.
Often seen with: Mega actress Yao Chen and fashion photographer Chen Man.
The model - Ming Xi
A rising cluster of Chinese models has been commanding the global fashion world spotlight over the last few years. Shanghai-born Ming Xi is no doubt one of them.
The quirky beauty had her breakthrough as China’s representative for the Elite Model Look competition, and was chosen by Givenchy’s director Riccardo Tisci to walk exclusively for the Parisian fashion house in 2010 – a first for a Chinese model. Her career has been on a constant upward trajectory since.
Moving easily between haute couture and ready-to-wear, the 25-year-old has starred in a slew of campaigns and magazines and has walked in shows of designers like Lanvin, Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander Wang.
Her ascent in the industry was recently cemented by American designer Michael Kors, who chose her to walk a splashy fashion show he held in Shanghai in May. Kors also sent her to New York’s Met Gala in one of his custom gowns – another sign that Ming is doing things right.
Last December, Ming made her debut as a Victoria Secret’s Angel at the American lingerie brand’s outlandish fashion show, following the footsteps of Liu Wen – one of the highest-paid models in the world – and Sui He, who has been in the show for the last three years.
She is currently ranked 32nd on Models.com’s top 50 list, after fellow Chinese beauties Liu Wen, Fei Fei Sun, Sui He, and Xiao Wen Ju, but is likely to climb higher thanks to her escalating stardom. Supermodel status is only a matter of time.
Beauty pointers: Prominent cheekbones and playfully protruding ears, which have no doubt helped her stand out from the throng.
The ‘it’ girl - Mega Meng Meng
The Alexa Chung of China, Mega Meng Meng is a fashionable force to be reckoned with. Stylist, model, filmmaker, blogger, designer and muse (among other things) there’s nothing the 25-year-old Beijinger hasn’t had a hand in.
She launched her career in school, first at London College of Fashion and then Tsinghua, and has quickly become a regular attendee of fashion weeks in London and New York, as well as a fixture at A-list events in Beijing and abroad.
But Meng is not only famous for floating around and going to parties. Intensely well-driven, she has worked with dozens of publications, penning columns and fashion editorials in magazines like Vogue and GQ, and has collaborated with the likes of Lanvin, Lane Crawford and Yoox.
A fashion icon in the making, this girl is the antithesis of loud and brash. Her style is thoroughly endearing and often described as “quirky,” which is shorthand for "not dressing like a Kardashian." In a world of female celebrities stumbling around in six-inch stilettos and Hervé Léger bandage dresses, Meng is a refreshing dose of accessible prettiness, as opposed to aggressive sexuality.
Why the Mega: “I love big, extraordinary things,” she told W magazine, which profiled her as one to watch already two years ago.
The designer - Christopher Bu
A Beijing Film Academy graduate, Christopher Bu reinterprets Chinese culture with a modern mentality.
Bu entered the fashion industry first as a stylist to the stars, most notably Fan Bingbing, his oldest client and one of his closest friends.
The actress encouraged him to start his own label in 2011, the year she wore one of his creations – a red crane-embroidered gown that received some serious kudos from the fashion set - on the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival. The following year, she chose another of Bu’s frocks. The rest is – admittedly quite recent – history.
The designer’s bespoke range has done so well among well-moneyed Chinese women that he decided to expand into ready-to-wear in 2012, when he launched quirky and eclectic label Chris by Christopher Bu. Shunning away from the glitz of department stores and commercial areas, he opened a showroom down an unassuming Beijing’s hutong last year – a bold move for a newcomer.
Things are only picking up.
In September, Bu made his international debut at Milan Fashion Week, one of three Chinese designers to be showcased at the prestigious multi-brand store No.30 MILANO as part of fashion platform Style East.
He might not be a household name just yet, but the Milan appearance, and the fact that he’s been instrumental in Fan Bingbing’s increasing visibility in the global fashion scene, certainly says a lot about his potential.
The aesthetic: Bu’s collections are beautifully executed and visually charming, playing with bold prints and sharp silhouettes that show impressive artistry.