MADE IN CHINA

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Sankuanz Spring/Summer 2017 catwalk show.

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Conrad Xiamen exterior.

Hailed by fashion critics as China’s answer to ‘the Antwerp six’, Xiamen’s new crop of designers is unapologetically avant-garde, inspired by the inclusive nature of the town they live and work in.
Something is happening in the sleepy seaside port of Xiamen in China. Known to most as a holiday destination, the town is a far cry from fashion-forward cities such as Shanghai. Yet today, the coastal town has become home to a coterie of Chinese designers. Bubbling beneath the surface is a refreshingly independent fashion scene. “Many talented creators escape from big cities and come to live here,” says fashion designer Shangguan Zhe, who describes it as a sheltered creative sanctuary of sorts. “It is a small place. On the weekend you can run into everyone in the same bar.”

Zhe, who founded the internationally acclaimed label Sankuanz, is known as a ‘big brother’ to other young talents in the city. He is one of a handful of rising designers based in Longshan Cultural Creative Park, a government-supported complex with low-rent studio space for emerging names. Shortlisted for the LVMH Prize, Zhe is making waves for his experimental menswear.

“My inspirations come from how youth live and their favorite cultures,” he explains of his references, ranging from Japanese manga to Chinese calligraphy. Zhe has already shown at London Collections: Men and Paris Men’s Fashion Week. His label is stocked internationally at Galeries Lafayette, Opening Ceremony and the Comme des Garçons Trading Museum among other prominent outlets.

Xiamen is now on the fashion map and has become a breeding ground for creativity.
Located just above Zhe’s space is the young designer Dido Liu’s studio. Zhe met her when she was a freshman in college. She worked in his atelier one summer before striking out on her own to launch Deepmoss. The Central Saint Martins graduate is now turning heads for her out-of-the-box designs. Her inspirations span from ancient herbs to 19th-century European printmaking.

Designer Min Liu, who also studied in the UK at London College of Fashion, returned to her home town to set up her label Ms Min. She has built a reputation for her elegant collections and eye for exquisite fabrics. “They both are outstanding designers with their own unique style,” says Zhe, who stocks both of their labels, Deepmoss and Ms Min, in his multi-brand concept store Akipelago (AKP). While he describes the Xiamen scene as low profile, the trio have recently been thrust into the international limelight. The New York Times likened the designers, along with a few others, as the “Antwerp Six” and referred to them as the “Xiamen Gang”.

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Sankuanz Spring/Summer 2017 catwalk.

“We have been blown away by their success,” says Kelly Wong, Lane Crawford’s general merchandise manager of womenswear and menswear. The Hong Kong retailer has been pushing young talent from China for years and says the response to the Ms Min label in their stores, for example, has been astounding. Following stints at Viktor & Rolf and Ports 1961, Min Liu started small, selling online before she burst onto the global fashion scene. “Basically, I started cutting patterns and sewing on the dining room table,” she recalls. Since then, she has gone on to open her own store in Shanghai and presents in showrooms in Paris and New York.

While Xiamen is now on the fashion map and has become a breeding ground for creativity, with designers collaborating with contemporary Chinese artist Xu Zhen among others—Zhe worked with Xu on his futuristic 2017 spring collection The Safe House A—Zhe himself is weary of all this attention getting in the way of Xiamen’s original appeal. “I don’t want [the scene] to develop,” he admits. “Or I should say, I hope it will digress a bit. I just want to live here quietly and do my creative work, enjoying the sea and the sun.” Min Liu shares a similar sentiment. Asked what are her hopes for the future, she replies: “I’m living my dreams. Doing what I love is exciting. Doing what I love in a place that I love … is quality of life.”

EXPLORE XIAMEN’S VIBRANT FASHION SCENE WHILE STAYING IN THE NEWLY-LAUNCHED LUXURY LANDMARK THAT IS XIAMEN CONRAD, VISIT conradhotels.com/xiamen

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