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ChinaFile: Haute Everything vs. Hurt Everything

The past week gave us two points of view on Chinese fashion: one from the outside looking in, and one from the inside.

BEIJING — The past week gave us two points of view on Chinese fashion: one from the outside looking in, and one from the inside.

Last week was a week of “haute” for Beijing and Shanghai. It started with private viewing of Chanel’s haute couture collection for spring. It ended with a Dior haute couture show in Shanghai. In between were two days of private viewing of Cartier’s haute jewelry.

Amid all the glamour and bling, rumors of political struggle at the very top level of the Chinese Communist Party continued to linger. The political rumor of the week was that an Englishman might have been murdered because he had quarrels with the now-disgraced princeling Bo Xilai and his wife. These uncertainties at the top have created ripples of uncertainty among the wealthy class in China. All of a sudden, whispers of how to make a graceful exit — a house in California with a nice bag of jewels perhaps — are in the air. So haute everything became hot; sales were reported to be very good. Timing, it really is everything.

RELATED STORY: Click Here for Last Week's 'ChinaFile' Column >>

On the other hand, a resee of the graduating class of Qinghai’s Design School showed a different reality of China. Breathing pollution, and uncertain what the future is going to be for it, the class turned out a series of outfits best described as hurt-locker fashion. Many showed turtlenecks, which doubled as a facial mask, others included color-matching facial masks as part of the look. This is a clear indication that young designers are incorporating their concern for pollution into their design. For China, such things are more than a gimmick; they might prove to be very functional in polluted cities such as Beijing.

Meanwhile, Zuczug’s show at Shanghai Fashion Week was the highlight of the week. Friends and colleagues of the designer Wang Yiyang walked the runway, some even without shoes. The easygoing style and lively color combination was a hit with the audience. Most of them tweeted about the show and said it was moving to see something on the runway that is close to their daily life.

Talking to local fashion designers and design students will reveal that Chinese designers are trying to create fashion for the average Chinese, creating new functions specific to the market. As one graduating student put it, fashion should protect us from our environment, make us feel safe.

Safe seems to resonate also with the haute crowd. After all, diamonds might be everyone’s safest friend.

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