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ChinaFile: The Dragon Is Born

Huang Hung looks at why some of the Chinese fashion set spend each Chinese New Year hailing cabs in Europe.

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Every year, the fall fashion shows in Europe inevitably fall on Chinese New Year, the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar. It only goes to show that we Chinese have no clout in the international fashion industry despite the fact China is becoming its most important market. How else can you explain the fact that we are all in Europe desperately looking for taxis rather than being with our families on the most important day for families all over China?

Why is this?

I thought hard and realized perhaps this is our own fault. We have no buyers in China, at least not in Mainland China. Every department store here (except Lane Crawford) operates as a landlord, rather than a traditional Western, multibrand department store. Counter space is leased to brands and the store takes no risk in the merchandise. This has also been a major stumbling block to the development of a fashion industry in China. So far, we remain as manufacturers.

RELATED STORY: Luxury Players Embrace Year of the Dragon >>

The second reason that makes us spend holidays working is very embarrassing to admit — we are copycats. Till recently, the biggest local fashion brands simply copied the West. I remember once dining with some major league Chinese fashion brand owners and asking them why big local brands like to label themselves after animals: Northeast Tiger, Baoxiniao (St. Angelo), which means Happy Bird in Chinese, and Sept Wolves.

“You know,” one of them confessed after a few glasses of wine, “the first fashion brand that sold really well in China is the crocodile jerseys. So, we all thought if animal sells, let’s all give ourselves animal names!” Hence, a real zoo in Chinese fashion labels.

This is sad, but it is the reason why we spend our one major family holiday away from home fighting for cabs thousands of miles away. We don’t have originality.

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

But today is New Year’s Day; I cannot end this column on such a down note. So for all those who are not celebrating Chinese New Year, here are some “dos and don’ts” for the Year of the Dragon:

Tip 1: Being a dragon in a dragon year is a dangerous thing. So you have to wear something RED to fend off the spirits who are trying to get you. Most preferably, a red belt. Big brands are making red things for the New Year, from red underwear by Calvin Klein to red dragon handbags by Ferragamo. Can someone just make a red belt please?

Tip 2: Chinese language is evolving very quickly in the age of social networking. In the old days, the number 4 should be avoided in Chinese because when pronounced, it sounds the same as the word “death.” This is old, very last season. For this year, please do not use the number 2. For some reason, 2 has taken on the meaning of stupid, moronic and just dumb beyond salvation. I went to a conference where the organizer proudly gave away a silk scarf with a huge 2 on it to commemorate its second year. Two is definitely worse than 4, to be labeled 2 is worse than death itself.

Tip 3: Have you seen the crowd outside the Apple store when the iPhone 4S came out in China? People lined up all night for it. There were so many scalpers that iPhone had to halt the sales of 4S in China. But the fashion statement is not the phone, it’s the phone cover. There are these outrageous 3-D relief phone covers for iPhone. It’s the latest rage, a perfect combination of bling, kitsch and high-tech.

Happy Year of the Dragon.

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