Just as Western luxury brands colonize China, it is inevitable that Chinese companies will want to do the same right back. Big ambitions – and big payrolls – amid Chinese designers and entrepreneurs mean that some of the country’s brands are already making bids at international status. The most anticipated of these is Shanghainese designer Uma Wang, who American Vogue featured following the Paris show in October.
While many popular European brands like Louis Vuitton have an artisanal history spanning several centuries, young Chinese dominate the top business schools and creative colleges today, bringing their whole new style of know-how to customers.
Huishan Zhang, ready-to-wear and couture designer and graduate of Central Saint Martins, is another Chinese success story. Browns boutique in London exclusively stocks Zhang in Britain. Françoise Tessier, the womenswear buyer at the store, says, “His couture pieces made me realize how talented he is and they are so original and exquisitely made. The collection has been extremely well received here at Browns as they are such individual pieces, something new and exciting for our customers.”
Powerland is a Chinese accessories brand offering bags that look somewhat like Prada (for whom “Made in China” carries no stigma given that more than 20 per cent of Prada’s products are now produced there).
Other brands are more directly influenced by European labels. Shang Xia is a contemporary collection of furniture, homeware, and clothing that celebrates fine Chinese craftsmanship in association with Hermès. Qeelin, the luxury jewelry brand that makes popular motifs such as pandas and goldfish in precious stones, was co-founded by Guillaume Brochard, formerly of the Swiss watch brand Ebel, who is French.
“I want to be a brand. I want to make beautiful things that are appreciated by people here and in Europe,” said Bao Bao Wan, another Chinese jewelry designer, during a Fendi Fashion show on the Great Wall in 2008. While LVMH’s Bernard Arnault and Dior CEO Sidney Toledano were a bit skeptical of Wan then, her brand has taken off in the intervening years. Wan’s seasonal collections, like Armour Paradoxal and Bao for Forever, earn her regular press coverage in American Vogue and W.
Fashion designers are also striking out from other emerging economies, such as India and South Korea. But it looks as if China, replete with new billionaires looking for glamorous investment opportunities, will be the ones that rally strongest against established European brands.