China at New York Fashion Week

On September 27, 2011 by Timothy Coghlan

Chinese Model He Sui in the Ralph Lauren fashion Show at New York Fashion Week

Its been a rather hectic September for the Maosuit, with two visits to the United States and lots of running around China in between. From September 8 through 16 I was in New York for Fashion Week and the associated industry events, meetings and shindigs that make up the biggest week in American fashion every year.

On the first day in New York my excitement kept the jetlag at bay during L2 Think Tank’s China Clinic. The clinic outlined the massive opportunities for prestige brands to do business in China and made my mind boggle how underdeveloped China’s luxury industry still is even though its soon to be the biggest in the world. My next post will be dedicated to L2’s recently released China Digital IQ study.

There is much better analysis of the design trends and what was happening during New York Fashion Week than I myself could produce on other media and so I wont delve into any of that. What I was on the look out for in New York was how China was accounted for and represented, and how Chinese were involved in the events, shows and happenings.

The first thing that caught my attention when flipping through the official program was how many American designers are descendant from Chinese ancestry including: Anna Sui, Derek Lam, Phillip Lim, Vivienne Tam and Vera Wang just to name a few.

The second Chinese element I noticed at the shows was the amount of Asian models, of whom I predict a fair share were Chinese. As I don’t attend fashion week every season its difficult to tell if the number of Asian models is on the increase, (apparently it is), and whether or not its done for politically correct reasons or to appeal to Asian consumers and buyers. I would say it’s the latter!

There was a relatively small contingent of Chinese media making the rounds of the shows who tended to be the younger twenty something editors and contributors to Chinese versions of international magazines such as Elle and GQ etc. Some high profile bloggers such as Han Huo Huo were also invited to selected shows. It was encouraging to see these young fashionistas enjoying all the glamor and excitement that goes along with their first time at New York Fashion Week. Forgoing the difficulties of obtaining visas to the US, it’s a safe bet that American brands will continue to tout Chinese Media to their shows as the Chinese market continues to grow.

The issue of Chinese Nationals obtaining visas to travel to the US came up over and over again with discussions with the big US retailers. As I mentioned in this post from the Magic fashion trade show a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, there are severe impediments for Chinese wanting to travel to the US. To be granted a travel visa, Chinese citizens are subjected to an in person interview at the US Embassy in Beijing or other consulates around China. Currently the waiting list for an interview is around three months. This is detrimental to the American fashion industry on two accounts. Firstly, industry professionals such as media and buyers who didn’t plan at least three months ahead simply cannot obtain visas in time to gain admittance to the country for fashion week. Secondly, and perhaps even worse is that the massive amounts of Chinese now travelling overseas are choosing visa friendly countries like Japan, France and the UK to go and spend their money.  (See this post about Chinese tourists shopping en masse and lining up at Gallaries Lafayette in Paris). The big US department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Barney’s etc are therefore missing an easy windfall of tourist dollars. Understandably the US has its concerns around immigration and national security and, yet with their economy in dire straits, one would assume the political powers that be would be trying hard to resolve this issue asap and get Chinese spenders in the doors of their biggest retail stores.

The American designers showing at Fashion Week who have well established business in China include: Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, DKNY and Marc Jacobs.  Other designers such as Tom Ford, Badgley Mischka, Phillip Lim and Tory Burch are  just beginning their foray into China and can use their fashion shows to attract Chinese media attention for their brands. Ports 1961 – a Hong Kong based brand even showed as part of Fashion Week. Presumably, by showing in New York Ports is trying to appear ‘international’ and convince a large percentage Chinese consumers that they are a foreign, and therefore a more desirable brand.

Designer Phillip Lim’s Spring Summer 2012 Collection at New York Fashion Week

An Asian Model in the Marc by Marc Jacobs Fashion Show

Chinese Media Swarming Over Chinese Model He Sui After the Y3 Fashion Show

Chairman Mao at the Lincoln Center in New York for Fashion Week

Ralph Lauren’s Chinoiserie Collection Inside His Madison Avenue Store

Blanc de Chine Flagship Store on 5th Avenue

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