China's haute couture brands have been innovating and setting new trends across the country and worldwide, exporting quality garments to many of the world's fashion centers.
Bespoke in China: innovating the classic
Along London's Savile Row, a mecca of bespoke tailoring, the world's most prestigious tailors and shirt makers work attentively to tend the image of the Western gentlemen, such as prestigious H. Huntsman & Sons and Henry Poole & Co., from where many top designers including the late Alexander McQueen began their careers.
"Bespoke [fashion] is an art form more than a service process, to create exquisite artisan suits to measure for each client," said Shelly Liu, founder, partner and head designer of MAKAIF Bespoke, a brand founded in Chengdu, an emerging fashion center in southwest China.
Bespoke masters take measurements of the client's body, devise a unique pattern for each person, carefully select fabric and sew pieces manually, making subtle adjustments so a piece that fits the human body to every detail is created.
Sharing a yearning for perfection and a spirit of craftsmanship, the bespoke business is soaring in China. From big enterprises to small workshops, the sector makes suits, footwear and accessories to the high standards of haute couture.
"The idea is not just to offer a garment but a new style for the Chinese gentleman to present himself to the world," said Mark Lee, MAKAIF's Korean head designer. "Many Chinese cities, especially those located along the eastern coast, have reached a high level of internationalization ... The demand for quality and stylish business attire is strong."
Sens Bespoke, a men's suit-maker in Beijing, was founded five years ago by fashion designer Zhao Peng and his partner and patterning master Li Weichao. They chose bespoke for another advantage: zero inventories.
Sens Bespoke's business strategy targeting socialites and entertainment personalities has generated satisfactory profits, with his work often seen on television hosts and movie stars.
Growing bespoke business in China
Named by Forbes as one of the "Top 10 Best Tailor Shops in the World," Dave's Custom Tailoring in Shanghai is a valued piece of heritage in China's suit-making tradition dating back to the 19th century with the opening of Shanghai port.
Master tailor, Dave K.C. Shiung, born in 1949, began his professional training as a suit-maker aged 14. For decades he has been polishing his skills in bespoke tailoring.
Shiung is one of the veteran tailors who form a solid foundation for China's fashion industry. But standing on their shoulders is a new generation of bespoke designers devoted to updating China's sartorial reputation.
"The Chinese people have gone long past the stage where we only cared to wear clothes to keep warm, as well as the stage where we focused our presentation on a superficial level," Liu said. "We now long to be different from the rest, expressing our own unique being."
Zhao also thinks that China's fashion industry is going through something of a revolution: "I believe that China's fashion industry will see a transformation, a succession between the old and the new, with many new brands being born in the process and many old brands struggling to adapt."
"With people's income level rising and social status improving, the bespoke market in China will grow larger, but challenges will remain for us to keep finding solutions."
Fighting copycats while consolidating the brand's own competitiveness is the key issue for Zhao, who says the future looks bright for the industry and his company.
National to international
"China's fashion industry is finding its path at its own pace," Liu said. She says that in the past "Chinese style" was interpreted as patterns and elements from the archives of history, alongside oriental stereotypes.
However, in recent years, local designers have been pushing to create outfits representing a more modern China, fully recognized under the international spotlight.
"We are no longer blindly chasing the steps of major brands from the West; we've begun to display our strengths in profound understanding of both Western and native cultures," she said.
Body shapes in Asia can be different to those in the West, and this is reflected in Chinese designs.
"In comparison with many luxury brands prêt-à-porter garments, our bespoke brands understand the Asian male body figure better, and we know to make clever designs to bring out the slender oriental features of our men," Zhao said.
MAKAIF and Sens have both participated in the Pitti Uomo show in Florence, Italy, the most important international event for menswear and men's accessory collections.
"It is our goal to prove to our customers that a national brand can compete with the most outstanding brands in the world and even succeed in this competition," Liu said.
She even keeps a souvenir card sent by an Italian client, on which are the words "I love them, thank you very much," evidence Chinese haute couture is valued in Italy, a prominent center of la bella figura (good dressing style) and high fashion.
Besides Italy, Liu's brand exports bespoke products and services to the UK, the home of bespoke tailoring; as well as the United States, the Republic of Korea, Thailand and several African countries.
Fashion goes sustainable
Advancing information technology has made it easy for industries to predict trends and boost production, creating "fast fashion," an era of huge volume and turnover, but one with its own set of problems: huge textile waste, environmental damage, sweatshops, and a slew of monotonous, standardized fashion designs.
For the new smart factories aided with big data analytics and supply chain digitalization, the bottom line takes precedence over creating work of the very finest quality.
Nonetheless, humanity will never tire of its fondness for natural wool and the stitching of an experienced tailor. There will always be people who desire to own something that's personal, made-to-measure and unique.
The McKinsey Global Fashion Index shows that emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific will lead fashion sales worldwide by the end of 2018, with the rise of sustainable fashion generating the highest interest among investors.
"I would rather spend 999 yuan on a dress of higher quality, which is more eco-friendly and will last for years than purchase one for 99 that ends up in the donation box months later," said Tang Beijia, founder and CEO of GoZeroWaste, a promoter of green lifestyles, which aims to reduce the amount of waste in daily life.
The sustainable way of life is gaining popularity in China amid efforts to tackle waste.
"I believe we as customers have the votes, and by choosing products and services more responsible to the environment, we are pushing the development of the Chinese economy towards a model that's greener and more sustainable," Tang said.
(Xinhua News Agency August 6, 2018)