China’s fashion capital is teaming with young designers, many of whom have studied in London, Paris, New York, or Milan before moving to Shanghai. Amongst this group of mainly millennials, some teamed up in pairs to drive their young labels forward. A process of constant collaboration and partnership, the design duo format can be a compelling one especially in a fast-paced country like China. Growth can be fast, and these labels are being quickly snapped up by the likes of Lane Crawford. But will any of them become China’s answer to Viktor & Rolf or Dolce & Gabbana?
Pronounce Spring/Summer 2019 Ready-to-Wear show in London. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
1. Pronounce: Yushan Li and Jun Zhou
Yushan Li and Jun Zhou. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
For the two men behind menswear line Pronounce, new interest in independent designers in their native China offers fresh and exciting opportunity. Their frequent visits and time spent in Milan help to underscore the more serious tailoring and fabrication skills they employ at the brand.
In their creative collaboration, the pair refer back to an archive of reference material built together since they met. There’s a carefree, masculine edge to the pure lines on luscious knits, belted pants, and contemporary coats. Central Saint Martins’ MA graduate Yushan explains, “we often get inspiration from things that aren’t necessarily ‘trendy’ or ‘fashion-y,’ but more classical.”
The dynamic between the two is complimentary. Whilst Jun hones his skills on the tailoring, cutting, and menswear details, Yushan prefers to work on colours, fabrics, and image. Thus, Pronounce’s take on contemporary Chinese menswear uses “fun ideas and more creative thinking to tackle traditional menswear,” says Jun, a graduate of both Istituto Marangoni and London College of Fashion.
“It goes back to the things we love, and our customers are similar types,” adds Yushan. And even though menswear is growing at a slower pace than womenswear in China, Pronounce has already made a serious dent in the local fashion scene – at Shanghai Fashion Week, London Fashion Week (supported by GQ China), Pitti Uomo, and beyond.
2. Sirloin: Mao Usami and Alve Lagercrantz
Mao Usami and Alve Lagercrantz. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
Whether it’s lingerie in the streets, streetwear under the sheets, or the unexpected drapes commonly found in their clothes, this wild and whimsical world of Sirloin comes from Mao and Alve’s view of their world around them.
“We first met in London where we studied together at Central Saint Martins, and we became a couple once we graduated,” explains Alve.
“It’s so difficult to start a brand now,” says Mao. “We have so many friends who are trying to do it themselves. And, for us, this was kind of starting the label another way. A Chinese factory contacted us to offer backing and we moved to Shanghai.”
Sirloin. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
That was 2-3 years ago, when both had worked for other brands (Alve had a stint at Dries Van Noten, whilst Mao was at Louis Vuitton) in Europe. And now, they’ve already gained a legion of young Chinese hipster fans with Sirloin. The label’s funny, slightly-off look is backed by wild thoughts, and “bits and bobs” of observational humour forged in their rather sweet coupledom. Their initial collection was “inspired by pot-bellied men in Shanghai who roll up their wife beater shirts in the summer heat.”
For outerwear, it’s easy to identify the tribes, Alve explains of the pervasive influences of undergarments on their look: “the Céline types of people buy that aesthetic, and if you like the Versace look, you buy that. But for underwear it’s harder. All of our friends in fashion had a hard time finding underwear that’s cool and fashionable, so we used this as a starting point.”
3. Staffonly – Shimo Zhou and Une Yea
Shimo Zhou and Une Yea. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
“We want to illustrate unlimited imaginations,” says co-founder Une, an alum of the Royal College of Art. “We focus on the logic hidden beyond first appearances.”
This all sounds rather conceptual, but that is what they are going for. Both girls studied in London (Une in Accessory Design and Shimo in Menswear) where they mined its extreme openness to creativity. Since founding Staffonly, the pair have worked in tandem and curiously never take a bow after their runways, nor do they run on the fashion party circuit.
“We quite enjoy the moments that we can purely focus on the design developing process,” explains Shimo, who previously cut her teeth at McQueen and Erdem.
For their SS19 at London Collections Men, the pair sent snake-shaped accessories, insect jewelries that “scream repression and quirkiness,” funnel-shaped collars, and inflated column handbags down their runway. It was about addressing how “people of modern age show reluctance in dealing with emotions, but crave deeper understanding and expression,” says Shimo. Hidden fragility was expressed with a wide material vocabulary of intriguing textures, such as pre-shrunk wool, mat cotton, and hollowed-out waterproof fabrics in a variety of shades with faded tones.
As young designers bang in the midst of an energized new Chinese fashion industry, the Staffonly women argue that the industry is “growing faster than anyone imagined. For the designers and buyers that are well-respected in this city, we’re starting to have a real creative community.”
4. Shushu/Tong: Yutong Jiang and Liushu Lei
Youtong Jiang and Liushu Lei. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
“We came from the same high school, did our BA in one class, and went to LCF (London College of Fashion) together,” says Liushu about how she and her friend Yutong formed their design duo. “We were classmates and then flatmates. We found out we have so much in common in terms of our attitude towards design and other things.”
Since then, Shushu/Tong has developed collections that often take from 50s office worker or 60s schoolgirl silhouettes and are eccentric enough to earn them high fashion fans. The talented duo behind this brand are well placed in China’s rapid style evolution.
“I interned in Gareth Pugh,” explains Yutong, “and that really made me focus more on the clothes themself, where every small detail has to be really considered.”
Shushu/Tong. Photo: Courtesy of PR.
Consistency in their feminine quirkiness makes Shushu/Tong somewhat of a standout in the Shanghai scene – their runway shows at Fashion Week are packed with a mix of young local and international fashionistas. It’s the type of outfits you’d easily see Susie Bubble in, where the tension between girlhood and womanhood remains a constant source.
And so far, those giving their seal of approval include Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony, 10 Corso Como, and Lane Crawford, who’ve all stocked the audacious Chinese label. A bright future lies ahead.