31 Jul Shushu/Tong taking the world by storm
Taking the world by storm and available at IF Boutique Dubai this summer is woman’s wear label Shushu/Tong which is leading a new wave of design talent from China.
Liushu Lei (Shushu) and Yutong Jiang (Tong) are the Chinese duo behind Shushu/Tong, a high-end Shanghai-based band that blurs the boundaries between a mature woman and her younger self.
The label’s two founders, Liushu Lei (Shushu) and Yutong Jiang (Tong), are both from Chengdu and graduated from studies in London in 2014 before moving to Shanghai to kickstart the production of their first collection in Spring/Summer 2015.
Their clothes are styled with modern silhouettes and girly overtones bubblegum-pink structured dresses are paired with tube socks, while coats are lined with a gingham print and decorated with cut-out bows that are a cheeky take on the typically frilly accent.
Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang graduated from the woman’s wear master’s degree program at London College of Fashion in 2014 and worked with Simone Rocha and Gareth Pugh, respectively.
Things are always so much more fun when you’re doing them with a friend. Dressing the women of the world in totally-on-trend styles is no exception.
The geek chic edge and sharp tailoring of the Shushu/Tong brand has attracted a young, hip consumer class, as well as retailers around the world.
They are part of a new generation of Chinese designers known as the “Gang of Six” who ventured abroad to study before returning to their homeland to start their own fashion brands. Today they are considered some of the country’s most promising design talents
Angel Chen, Daniel Xuzhi Chen, Momo Wang of Museum of Friendship, Mushroom Song of WMWM, Xiao Li, and design duo Liushu “Shu Shu” Lei and Yutong “Tong Tong” Jiang of Shushu/Tong, make up this cadre of 20-something design talents. Their names are becoming increasingly familiar to Chinese fashion watchers, whether they are scanning the schedule at Shanghai Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week or flicking through the racks at multibrand boutiques in China and around the world.
“It’s a new group of talented Chinese designers, it’s like people used to look at Antwerp. It started with the consumers and the retail and e-commerce boom and then the creative side also comes up. Now Chinese designers are in a market and a position where they can really push the boundaries,” says Angel Chen, who studied at Central Saint Martins before moving to Shanghai to launch her eponymous brand.
These emerging designers aren’t simply lumped together because of their age group and education at prestigious schools like Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion. They often show together at showrooms both in China and abroad, and in many cases, help each other out – literally as they each chart a path to creative and commercial success.
“Take my show at Shanghai Fashion Week, ShuShu [Lei, of Shushu/Tong] was my receptionist, Angel [Chen] was helping me with sewing. I don’t have a studio in Shanghai so I was using them to finish the whole collection,” explained Daniel Xuzhi Chen, whose brand, Xu Zhi, has won acclaim for its clever textural elements. “We are in the same industry, facing the same challenges, with the same opportunities and threats and we are all aware that we need to help each other.”
The question of whether there is a sense of competition among these young designers splits the group, though all agree that even when they do get competitive, it’s a positive impetus to push themselves to achieve more.
“We are really good friends, we always show in Paris and in Shanghai together, we have dinner, and even buy and wear each other’s clothes,” said Yutong Jiang, one half of Shushu/Tong. “Of course there is competition, but it’s competition in a good way. When you see others doing something good, it will push you to do something better.”
One thing these young designers are in agreement about is the importance of their international experience and fashion education in London and venturing out of China.
“I wanted to go to London because the feeling there is different. In China they don’t have the same culture of art and fashion exhibitions and they don’t really have a culture of fashion. In places like London and Paris, I can discover things that are unique and different,” explains Mushroom Song of WMWM.
For designer Xiao Li, her years spent studying in London were important for two fundamental reasons: one was to develop an identity independent from her family in China and the other was to gain an international insight into creativity.
“When I was in China, my parents took care of everything for me, but when you go overseas you become more independent; when I went to London I had to take care of myself,” Xiao Li says. “In London, designers are encouraged to have a more creative mind. A designer in China has a more business mind. It’s a different focus.”
This international experience obviously has many benefits, but it also leads to questions about each brand’s identity as a “Chinese” versus “international” label.
“I’m fine with people thinking about me as a Chinese brand, partly because I really want to support Chinese culture,” Angel Chen says. “I feel like this is part of my responsibility. I want to make Chinese culture more contemporary and acceptable for international audiences.”
Shushu/Tong’s Yutong Jiang says she and her partner prefer to be known as “a brand based in Shanghai,” rather than a Chinese brand.
“We have been several places so I don’t define us as a Chinese brand in particular. We are based in Shanghai, but we go to Paris for showrooms twice a year. We want to be quite international,” she adds.
Regardless of whether they are striving to be known as a “Chinese brand,” all of these designers have graduated within the past five years and chosen to return to China to launch their own brands. It’s a path that might seem unusual to a fresh graduate from Europe or the U.S., who might opt to work at an established brand before launching his or her own label.
But China is different – this isn’t a country for climbing ladders, but for building ladder factories. Fortuitously for this generation of designers, China is simultaneously experiencing a desire for independent design, a growing curiosity about local design, as well as a generation of millennial consumers who boast buying power unimaginable to past generations of Chinese consumers.
As China’s fashion industry continues to grow and the market of consumers expands, these up-and-coming design talents will have even more opportunities to expand their businesses.