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“Made in China” Fashion – Forever Doomed?

‘Chinese fashion’ is a hot topic on China’s social media platforms this week. China fashion expert Elsbeth van Paridon hopefully wishes the MET gala throws another Chinoiserie ball in a decade or so. Is “Made in China” Fashion doomed?

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‘Chinese fashion’ is a hot topic on China’s social media platforms this week. China fashion writer Elsbeth van Paridon hopefully wishes the MET gala throws another Chinoiserie ball in a decade or so.

It was a wild week in the world of China fashion news. First, popstar Katy Perry draped herself in a   Taiwanese flag at a Taipei concert. Then Su Mang, one of China’s most influential fashion figures, spoke at the 2015 Harvard China Forum about the future of Chinese fashion. Most controversially, the famous A-list ball at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York called on celebrities to dress for the theme of Chinese influences on western fashion at the beginning of May. The ball became trending on Sina Weibo and dominated Weixin discussions. Many Chinese netizens ridiculed the outfits of America’s celebrities, like Sarah Jessica Parker, who ‘looked like a Beijing Olympics mascotte’, or Rihanna, whose dress resembled ‘a Chinese omelette’ according to Weibo’s netizens.

Elsbeth van Paridon is a sinologist and China fashion writer. She is based in Beijing since 2010, and works in the fashion industry. She gives her view on this week’s happenings for What’s on Weibo:

 

Chinoiserie: Friend or Foe?

 

b8ac6f27b00016b3a4b801Rihanna’s dress, mocked by Chinese netizens for ‘resembling a Chinese omelette’.

Monday May 4 stood out in many a fashion-aficionado/a’s calendar as the annual outlandish couture fest (or frenzy, perhaps) that is the Met Gala rolled out the red carpet once again, sporting the theme “Chinoiserie” (one that many avant-gardists related to China fashion had awaited with baited breath — not this one though, I’m slightly skeptical when it comes to Queen Bey and the likes showing us their take on the wardrobe pick-of-the-season, no offense Your Madgesty).

Now, in hindsight, let me make an attempt to be politically correct in summarizing the A-list peacock feathers du jour: opinions were definitely divided. I’m the first one to agree that Fashion is the Land of Freedom and any take on a specific theme should be completely and utterly personal; but as I stood peering through the looking glass, I had a hard time spotting the ‘Chinois’ in the whole thing. And when the China flash did appear, it gave off somewhat of the “very average design school graduation project idea”, as Beijing designer Iris Wang put it: more tragic than transcendent.

 

Will the label “Made in China” forever be doomed?

 

Then, lo and behold, what are the chances…Coincidence or not (probably the latter, I do get that), a few days prior to the photo-opp of the year, on May 1, the Harvard China Forum hosted a talk on China fashion, and more specifically asked itself: Is China still able to fulfill and live its dream of becoming the reigning Queen Bee of the International Fashion Hive? Or will the label “Made in China” forever be doomed to burn in Vogue purgatory? E-commerce in China, i.e. purchasing your Monday outfit on ultra-popular sites such as Taobao and Alibaba, is thriving; yet that ain’t got that real Alexander McQueen feel to it, now does it?

 

160045_1306606.jpg.800x533_q95_crop-smart_upscaleSu Mang speaking at the Harvard Forum.

Both entrepreneurship and fashion remain relatively new concepts in China anno 2015. One-woman-powerhouse Su Mang, President and CEO of Trends Media Group, has been working in the industry for almost two decades now, and impeccably dressed, she had her say at the forum. In the early 2000s, with China fashion in its newborn stages one might say, Su took on her first job as editor-in-chief and founded “Bazaar in China, and embarked upon a period to which she refers as being one of “trial and error”. Heading a crew of no more than 30 at the publication, she started weaving the little silk she had been given and over the next decade “saw China fashion growing into an increasingly powerful tool able to influence artists, musicians, dresses to the stars and thus the clothing trends of hundreds of thousands across the nation”. Again, that all happened within the span of merely ten years. Not too shabby.

 

“China will grow into its own style.”

 

Putting the final hemlines on her discourse, Su pointed out how her fiercely fiery dreams regarding China’s fashionable development are by no means slowing down, let alone been diminished to cinders, on the contrary: the Fashion Dragon roars (I’m slightly paraphrasing here; thought it sounded more passionate, anyhoo). “After all, who is to say what fashion really is? Is it merely couture; or does it cover a wider range of clothing[racks]? China will grow into its own style mode; let’s just see what that will be. But in no way does it end here.” Amen to that, Su.

Maybe the MET should have another “China-do” in another decade then. Let’s wait and see.”

_82774782_82767298British model Cara Delevingne was covered in fake floral tattoos as she arrived for the gala. As reported by BBC’s Saira Asher and Heather Chen, the Weibo verdict: “Those fake flower tattoos – Frightening!“, and: “Aren’t cherry blossoms Japanese?

 

By Elsbeth van Paridon
Follow What’s on Weibo on Twitter

 

Images:

http://www.thecrimson.com/image/2015/4/27/sumangchinaforum/
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-32586993

Elsbeth van Paridon is a sinologist and fashion writer. Since 2010, she has been living in Beijing, where she has become an expert on all the ins and outs of the world of China fashion. She has her own blog on China fashion: Chasing the Fashion Dragon.

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China Comic & Games

Chinese Woman Taken Away by Suzhou Police for Wearing Japanese Kimono

The Chinese cosplayer was taken away by police for dressing up as a Japanese manga character: “You are wearing a kimono, as a Chinese. You are Chinese!”

Manya Koetse

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A Chinese female cosplayer who was dressed in a Japanese summer kimono while taking pictures in Suzhou’s ‘Little Tokyo’ area was taken away by local police for ‘provoking trouble.’ The incident has sparked concerns on Chinese social media.

A Chinese woman who was making street pictures of herself while dressed in a kimono was taken away by local Suzhou police for “picking quarrels” and “provoking trouble.”

A video that circulated on Chinese social media this week showed the local policeman talking to the young woman and screaming at her for wearing the Japanese kimono, suggesting she is not allowed to do so as a Chinese person.

“If you would be wearing Hanfu [Chinese traditional clothing], I would never have said this,” the policeman can be heard saying: “But you are wearing a kimono, as a Chinese. You are Chinese!” The video stops when the girl is taken away.

The incident happened on August 10 at Huaihai Street in Suzhou New District. Huaihai Street is also called “Little Tokyo” because the area is home to many Japanese businesses and restaurants.

The girl, who was previously active on Weibo under the nickname ‘Shadow not Self’ (是影子不是本人) is known to be a cosplayer, someone who likes to dress up a as a character from anime, TV show, or other works of fiction.

On the evening of August 10, she dressed up as the character Ushio Kofune from the Japanese manga series Summer Time Rendering, wearing a cotton summer kimono, better known as yukata. After she took some pictures to reenact a scene from the fictional work, she waited for her order at a local takoyaki place when the local officers approached her and eventually took her away.

According to a social media post by ‘Shadow not Self,’ she was released from the police station five hours later after she received some ‘education’ and police investigated the contents of her phone.

The scene from Summer Time Rendering that ‘Shadow not Self’ wanted to reenact while doing cosplay in Suzhou’s Huaihai street.

The incident first started surfaced on Chinese social media on the night of August 14 and then went viral on August 15, which marked the 77th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II.

“Has even cosplay become dangerous now?” some commenters on Weibo wondered, with others calling the actions by the police “scary.”

“It’s just cosplay!” “How did she break the law?” many wondered, with some people calling the officer “incompetent.”

The kimono worn by ‘Shadow not Person’ is sold on Taobao for 158 yuan ($23).

Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also weighed in on the issue via his social media channel (#胡锡进谈女孩穿和服被带走#). Although emphasizing the legal right Chinese citizens have to wear a kimono in public, Hu also mentioned that at a time of tense Sino-Japanese relations – noting Japan’s cooperation with the U.S. “to contain China” – there is a growing antipathy towards Japan, resulting in different perceptions of what it means to wear a kimono.

Nevertheless, Hu wrote, “a kimono is not a Japanese military uniform, and there is no legal reason why it should be banned.”

Hu also warned: “But when someone wants to wear a kimono, I would advise them to pay attention to their surroundings to prevent causing displeasure to those around them and, more importantly, to try to avoid becoming the center of unnecessary controversy themselves. There’s nothing wrong with respecting the feelings of the majority.”

Later on Monday night, CCTV uncoincidentally promoted a topic (#穿汉服就是回到古代吗#) related to wearing Hanfu or traditional Chinese clothing, writing: “As Chinese national traditional clothing, Hanfu can be fully integrated into modern daily life. (..) Change into Hanfu, let the beautiful culture move forward in a new era!”

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes and Xianyu Wang

 

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China Brands & Marketing

Mamianqun Gate: Dior Accused of Cultural Appropriation for Copying Design of Traditional Chinese Skirt

This is not just a matter of plagiarism, according to some, it’s about Dior taking a traditional Chinese design and claiming it’s theirs.

Manya Koetse

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This article was first published by What’s on Weibo on

French luxury fashion house Dior has come under fire on Chinese social media today for the design of one of the skirts in its 2022 Fall collection, which resembles a Chinese traditional skirt known as mǎmiànqún (马面裙).

On the Chinese version of the Dior official website, the French fashion brand describes it as a “mid-length skirt” that is an “all-new elegant and stylish piece based on the iconic Dior silhouette.”

But many Chinese netizens do not agree, and say that the pleated skirt in question is actually a mǎmiànqún (马面裙): a wrapped, apron-like traditional Chinese skirt that was worn in China as early as the Song (960–1279) and Liao dynasties (916–1125) and became popular during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The skirt by Dior.

The literal translation of the word mǎmiànqún is ‘horse face skirt.’ The skirt is composed of two overlapping fabrics wrapped around the lower body: the two sides of the skirt are pleated, and there is a smooth section in the middle. The skirt is also known as mǎmiànzhěqún (马面褶裙), ‘horse face pleated skirt.’

“It’s just exactly the same,” some commenters wrote. “They’re copying China and then selling it to Chinese consumers, I don’t know what to say.” On the Chinese official Dior site, the skirt is priced at 29,000 yuan (US$4292).

The Dior skirt on the left, Chinese mamian skirt on the right, image from Weibo.

“They’re vilifying China and at the same time, they’re stealing from Chinese culture. They’re shameless,” one Weibo user (@改改hj) wrote.

“Can’t the propaganda department set up an organization to defend our legal rights?” other commenters write.

The influential history blogging account @Qinyimo (@秦祎墨, over 7 million fans) wrote: “I’m not even kidding. I hope that a lawyer specialized in copyright law and an expert in cultural preservation will jointly evaluate this matter, and pay attention to how nasty this is.”

Some people are especially offended that Dior suggests the skirt’s design is inspired by their own original Christian Dior skirt, without any reference to China at all. Others foresee greater problems for Chinese traditional dress if Dior is actually claiming this design is theirs.

Side by side comparison of Dior’s skirt and mamianqun.

The blogging account Qinyimo raised attention to this potential problem.

“This is not simply a matter of plagiarism,” they write: “As traditional Chinese apparel, the mamianqun has historical origins in the Chinese traditional dress system which has continued to the present-day and has never been discontinued. If Dior has patented the version of their mamianqun design, this would mean that when the Chinese fashion industry uses this traditional technique, they could end up in an international legal dispute for doing so.”

“What is ours is ours, I am confident about that. But if their patent is approved, it would mean our way out is blocked (..) This is not a joke, this requires serious attention.”

Mamianqun examples shared on Weibo.

Chinese traditional dress is increasingly popular among Chinese young people, especially due to the rise of the Hanfu Movement, which can be described as a social movement that supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing (read more here).

“Dior, this is blatant cultural appropriation [文化挪用],” one Weibo user writes, receiving nearly 12,000 likes on their comment.

At the same time, not everyone agrees that Dior is guilty of plagiarism: “It’s not plagiarism, don’t be mistaken, the mamian skirt is not protected by copyright law so you can’t really plagiarize it. It is, however, 100% cultural appropriation.”

“They are misappropriating our traditional apparel,” other commenters write.

It is not the first time for a Western luxury fashion brand to ignite controversy in China. In 2018, Italian fashion house D&G faced consumer outrage and backlash on Chinese social media for a marketing campaign featuring a Chinese-looking model clumsily using chopsticks to eat Italian dishes (read more here). Various other brands, including Versace and Givenchy, also came under fire in 2019 for for listing Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as a separate countries or regions – not part of China – on their official websites or brand T-shirts.

However, it is rare for online controversies to come out in China accusing foreign brands of ‘cultural appropriation.’ In the past, China has been accused of cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to Korean traditions. Earlier this year, a performer at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics drew condemnation in South Korea for wearing a traditional Korean dress known as hanbok.

Although ‘cultural appropriation’ is at the center of today’s discussions, it is arguably a bit more nuanced than previous mainstream discussions regarding the issue of cultural appropriation outside of China. More than feeling offended about Dior using Chinese mamianqun design, it is about Dior claiming the design as being based on their own original classic. As one netizen writes: “Let’s not be misunderstood, it’s useless to talk about ‘cultural appropriation’ [文化挪用], we need to let people know that in the future if they’ll wear a mamianqun, they could be told by foreigners that ‘Chinese people just love to wear big fashion brands rip offs .’ When our own international clothing brands use our own mamian skirt elements, it is likely they’ll be sued by Dior for doing so.”

At time of writing, the official Dior Weibo account has not responded to the controversy. They have, however, turned off the comment sections of their latest posts.

By Manya Koetse

 

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