A new exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art showcases China’s centuries-long influence on Western style. China: Through the Looking Glass features 500 years of European luxury goods, including a Roberto Cavalli evening gown and the 14th-century Ming dynasty vase that inspired its blue-and-white pattern and Paul Poiret’s 1911 hobble skirts, an odd Western fusion of East Asian and Middle Eastern styles. The wide range of items on display demonstrates the complex and colorful relationship Western fashion has had with Eastern art and design.
But the exhibition is more than just a walk through history: it’s also “the culmination of China’s decades-long ascent to the very top of the fashion game,” The Independent reports.
According to Bain & Co., 44 percent of Chinese consumers are eager to purchase new luxury products. Fifty-five percent of luxury purchases by Chinese consumers were made overseas. Another 15 percent of transactions were also made through “daigou,” in which an intermediary is used to avoid counterfeit products and tariffs.
China’s luxury market has felt the effects of President Xi Jinping’s in the last two years, and has fluctuated in the recent past; slower growth in 2011-13 led to a one percent luxury market contraction in 2014. Yet the market remains a prime target for Western luxury brands bent on international expansion.
East Asian consumers in turn are demanding more products from Western brands that reflect their cultural heritage. French luxury house Hermés, for instance, launched a label called Shang Xia in 2008 which “utilises ancestral Chinese crafts in contemporary objects.” But with only three locations globally (in Paris, Shanghai, and Beijing), Shang Xia is still finding its footing, and its not expected to turn a profit until 2016.
Other brands have created capsule collections to celebrate the 2015 Chinese New Year. Fendi, for example, showcased apparel in the traditional New Year colors: red and cold. Diane Von Furstenberg, Lalique, Ralph Lauren, and Loew have offered similar selections.
Though China remains the primary Asian focus of Western luxury brands, Japan and South Korea have also become fashion powerhouses in their own right. South Korea’s £5.9 billion market drew Chanel to stage their most recent cruise show in Seoul. Their pre-autumn collection, Metier d’Arts, was previously held in Shanghai.
Japan also has a long-standing relationship with Western fashion. Louis Vuitton’s iconic monogram, designed in 1896, features stylized flowers and quatrefoils influenced by Japanese art. The company now manufactures Japan-inspired products, which sell well in the country; an estimated 44 percent of Japanese women own one of the company’s products today. Dior also staged their pre-fall 2015 show and a retrospective exhibition in Japan.
photo credit: the metropolitan museum of art/bfanyc.com/joe schildhorn