Chinese Designers Are Taking Centre Stage
The rest of the world is finally paying attention.
Global luxury brands may still be trying to figure out the one-size-fits-all equation for tapping the elusive and prolific consumers in China, but Chinese designers have always had a leg up on understanding what their country’s consumers are looking for — especially during the pandemic.
There’s no question that many still lust after the latest and greatest from international luxe brands, but for today’s Gen Z shoppers, mixing cool emerging local designers with their Chanels, Diors and Bottega Venetas has never had so much clout. With two Chinese designers, Rui Zhou and Shuting Qiu, among the 20 names shortlisted for the semifinals of this year’s LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers (a.k.a. one of the most prestigious fashion awards), a new crop of designers is making waves by showcasing their talent and personality — and the rest of the world is finally paying attention.
Take note of the following seven Chinese designers, including Next in Fashion alum Angel Chen and up-and-coming N.Y.-based talent Private Policy. If they’re not on your radar already, they should be.
RUI ZHOU of RUI
As one of the nine finalists for the 2021 LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers (and the first Chinese designer to make it this far!), Rui Zhou has been a recent editorial favourite for daring It girls. (See Dua Lipa on Rolling Stone’s February 2021 cover and Blackpink’s Lisa on Nylon China’s January 2020 cover.) Known for her sensual asymmetric cut-out knitwear pieces held together by tiny pearl beads, Zhou, a Parsons MFA graduate, is not only drawn to the idea of imperfection but also showcases her own identity as a Chinese immigrant living in New York City — navigating life abroad while maintaining long-distance relationships with her friends and family back home in China — through her designs.
LI NING of LI-NING
Former Olympic gymnast turned athleisurewear designer Li Ning founded his performance-first label in 1990. Today, it’s known for its innovative designs and authentic tribute to Ning’s nationality. (See the Chinese characters and traditional prints woven into the designs.) Although not new per se, the sportswear brand was initially sold exclusively by luxury retailers in China, but the global market took notice of its elevated and reconceptualized athletic designs for everyday pieces — from clothes to footwear — and it has since been at the forefront of performancewear and athleisurewear.
ANGEL CHEN of ANGEL CHEN
You may recognize this Central Saint Martins graduate as one of the inaugural contestants on Netflix’s Next in Fashion. Chen was one half of the much-loved Dragon Princess duo; Minju Kim, the other half, went on to win the show’s design competition. Although Chen, a Shenzhen native, didn’t win the $250,000 prize, her bold designs, technical expertise and sustainable practices certainly caught the attention of the world, including Canada Goose. The Canadian outerwear giant tapped Chen to be its first-ever guest designer to create a capsule collection last spring, which did so outstandingly well that she updated the assortment for fall.
LIUSHU LEI AND YUTONG JIANG of SHUSHU/TONG
After making their marks at Simone Rocha and Gareth Pugh, London College of Fashion MA graduates Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang joined forces in 2015 to start their Shanghai-based womenswear label, Shushu/Tong. They design for the edgy modern young woman who is playful and girlie at heart, so expect to see unabashedly feminine details (read “ruffles, bows and tulle”) paired with bold silhouettes, adorned hardware and timeless tailoring techniques in their collections.
HAORAN LI AND SIYING QU of PRIVATE POLICY
Founded by Chinese immigrants Haoran Li and Siying Qu, Private Policy is a New York-based genderless brand known for its progressive and inclusive approach to fashion designs. Combining Li’s know-how of fabric manipulation and Qu’s love for silhouettes, the Parsons graduates use their collections as a medium to tell stories and start discussions on topics they are inspired by; for example, for their Fall 2021 collection, they looked to the history of Chinese immigrants in America during the 19th-century gold rush. With no set rules on who gets to wear what, Private Policy is all about creating that playful Club Kids edge while giving the wearer the freedom to customize their look.
SHUTING QIU of SHUTING QIU
Shanghai-based designer Shuting Qiu quickly became a talent to watch after graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. After her designs were featured on Mandopop singer Jolin Tsai’s Ugly Beauty album cover, Net-a-Porter and Chinese-based retailers like Joyce raced to stock the Hangzhou native’s colourful and eccentric designs. Qiu is influenced by world cultures and paintings, and as a result, her designs are filled with vibrant colours, intricate embroideries and bold patterns. We’re not surprised to see the likes of Katy Perry and Rita Ora as fans of the brand. The two pop queens have been spotted in her looks — Perry even wore a full look on the cover of her EP Cosmic Energy.
MIN LIU of MS. MIN and XIAN SHENG
Recognized for her traditional meets contemporary designs and for intertwining delicate Chinese aesthetics with modern functionality, Xiamen-based designer and London College of Fashion alum Min Liu has been much loved for her creations since founding her brand in 2010. The once womenswear-exclusive brand recently dipped its toes into the world of menswear with the debut of Xian Sheng. Fittingly named, the line consists of tailor-made pieces inspired by traditional Chinese motifs and Shanghainese tailoring for the modern gentleman. And the expansion doesn’t stop there. Being an interior enthusiast himself, Toronto-born president and Xian Sheng creative director Ian Hylton told Vogue Business that the fashion brand is hoping to expand into the lifestyle arena.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s Winter 2022 issue.