Women's Wear Daily, the fashion trade mag to rule them all, is expanding its China coverage with a new weekly column, Chinafile. China is one of the world's fastest growing fashion markets, projected to triple in size over the next ten years, and WWD has enlisted the help of the prominent blogger and journalist Huang Hung to find out what Chinese consumers are buying, why they're buying it, and what it means for the global fashion industry.
Even though China's often cited as an important sector for international luxury sales, Hung used her debut column as an opportunity to spotlight a different aspect of China's emerging fashion scene: a countercultural style she calls "Zen," driven by popular national design brands like Exception, Zuczug, and Uma Wang. Using muted, neutral colors and boho-ish, utlitarian silhuoettes, Zen designers have carved out a market niche by appealing to young, fashion-conscious consumers without a taste for the flashy, luxe goods imported by major international brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci.
More specifically, the designers have embraced a longstanding Chinese character archetype:
"The Literary Girl (Wenyi Gingnian) is the Chinese 'girl next door' — quiet and obedient on the outside but dreamy and sensual inside. 'It’s not a concept Westerners can understand,' says Uma. 'The Literary Girl only exists in Chinese culture.'"
Right. The quiet-submissive-girl-with-hidden-depths is totally a desirable, non-icky trope with absolutely no visibility in Western art, literature, or music. I feel a little like a cultural chauvinist for getting a bee in my bonnet about the "Literary Girl" as a sellable image of the Chinese woman, but I'd just feel better about this emerging fashion trend—which, given China's ever-growing economic influence, has the potential to seep into the States—if it didn't hinge on reaffirming tradtional ideas of submissive femininity. But mostly, I just really want to know more: is there any kind of counterculture to this counterculture? What's the typical socioeconomic status of the women that buy these clothes and aspire to Literary-Girldom? How do you say "spunk" in Mandarin? Let's go China, okay?