Latest Instagrams
Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Inspirations: The Influence of Chinese Culture on the Fashion Industry

Photographed by Chen Man

"Love it or hate it, what we wear is a huge part of how we communicate with the world. And the messages clothes send are bigger than just the 'hipness' of the latest fashion. Garments and accessories have always been a key part of how humans show respect for one another, how sexuality and gender are established, and how values and traditions are honored. Not least of all, clothes are central to personal aesthetics and individuality." - a Brooklyn housewife, in Clotheslines, by Roberta Cantwell, 1981
I love research and fashion. There are so many reasons behind why things in fashion are the way they are and how they got there and it’s so interesting to peel back these layers of the industry’s history. Lately, this past week especially, the Far East has played a major role in the fashion industry. The week started with two major fashion events first the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala whose theme this year was China Through the Looking Glass, an introspective on how Chinese culture has permeated American fashion. Then Karl Lagerfeld showed his Chanel Resort 2016 collection in Seoul, South Korea, using many unique Korean motifs to marry Parisian and Korean fashion in one collection. The fashion industry has a long history with the Far East, China especially, from manufacturing to retail to showmanship and today’s post journeys through the origins this relationship.

Halston (back row in red jacket) pictured with entourage on the Great Wall of China, 1979

In September of 1980 Halston, American fashion’s crown jewel, took his collection to China in an attempt to give the Chinese a glimpse of what American Fashion looked and felt like at the time. His purpose was not to convert them but to educate them in what types of fabrics and designs they should be manufacturing to sell in America. Coincidentally, according to the International Monetary Fund it was in the 80’s that all exports from China including textiles began to increase at exponential rates. The eighties represented the build up for what would become a dependent relationship between America and China when it comes to textiles, manufacturing, and trade of goods and services. In 1987 alone the United States exported 5 billion dollars of goods to China, which is an equivalent of over 14 billion dollars today, and exports from China to the U.S. has historically been even greater.

“China approaches fashion with strong enthusiasm. And I believe that this enthusiasm can be translated into something interesting, economically speaking. Not only for my brand, but also for other brands.” - Giorgio Armani

Kate Moss in Fall 1996 Chanel Couture Show

The 1990’s brought an influx of Chinese influence on fashion especially in the world of Haute Couture. In 1994 Yves Saint Laurent showed a collection that he described to the NY Times as “the China of my dreams”. Showing a long mandarin collared coat with black and gold embroidering, black satin looks, and textured robes. The Fall 1996 Chanel couture collection included Chinese influences with Kate Moss coming out in a heavily gold embroidered red mandarin coat with a matching clutch purse. This decade also brought the expansion of fashion brands into the country. In 1993, Donna Karan became the first American fashion brand in China starting with DKNY in Hong Kong. Ralph Lauren opened his first store in China in 1994, and Gucci entered the region in 1997. The planting of major fashion brands in China helped to connect the industry to the Chinese consumer as well as to the plethora of Chinese factories and manufacturers.

The early 2000’s brought the mass transition of goods being made in China and other foreign locales versus America because of the cheaper labor and over time better fabrics. The U.S. today does not produce much of the fashion you see in major stores and even if a manufacturer is domestic many of their fabrics and textiles come from China and other locales. This has had several effects on the industry, the first being the change in how quickly you can get goods produced. Today it takes three to six months to get a sizeable quantity produced in China, because you have to figure in the amount of time it takes to produce the goods as well as the time it takes to transport the goods from China to America. Domestic manufacturers in comparison are able to produce substantial quantities in 4-6 weeks at max. This has caused the industry from the luxury tier to the mass consumer retailers to design, edit, and know what will sell many months before it hits the sales floor. With this in mind when you manufacture goods in China you have to agree to give the factory you’re working with a minimum quantity of work to produce to ensure that they are using their factories at max capacity. What this means is not only do you have to get the fashion aesthetics of what you’re producing correct, many times you’re buying a lot of it.

The effects of this are being seen today in the rapid increase of discounters, flash sale sites, and hyper promotional activity in department stores and chain retailers, because of the excess of inventory in retail that has to be cleared out every season. Retailers are trying to meet the consumers ever changing demands by giving them more options and new fashions regularly but in the end it becomes excess inventory that get promoted and discounted shortly after it hits the sales floor.

Fall 2014 Balmain Ad 

More than anything China has introduced globalism to the industry in a way that was never seen before. Europe and America have had a stronghold on the industry for many years and it is only recently that the fashion elite has recognized the fashions of other cultures. has began to cover fashion weeks in Russia, Australia, Belgium, Sao Paulo, and elsewhere opening the minds of the industry to the beauty and style of other cultures. Diversity makes fashion more interesting and as brands continue to develop a presence in other countries the influence of those cultures will surely inspire the industry to think bigger, broader, and create more beautiful fashion.

What else do you feel the industry could do to promote more diversity in fashion? Share in the comments!

Enjoy this post? Subscribe below to be notified of new posts as well as receive bonus subscriber exclusive content!

* indicates required

1 comment:

  1. I love the strong bold colours used in Chinese fashion :)

    It would be great if you could pop over to my blog and maybe leave a comment :)



Latest pins