For generations, purchasing a piece of traditional Chinese jewellery has been considered an expensive lifelong investment rather than a fashion statement. But with the rise of a new set of homegrown jewellery designers, China’s consumer attitudes to affordable contemporary jewellery are rapidly changing.
It’s a shift that Lv Xiaolei, vice secretary general of Shanghai Fashion Week (now a well-established stop on the international fashion circuit), credits to the growth of Chinese ready-to-wear names – both at home and abroad – as well as a spike in demand. “Chinese consumers are transitioning from traditional fine jewellery to costume jewellery,” she says. “The market has also led to the development of costume jewellery due to the rise of local ready-to-wear.”
Additionally, costume jewellery design carries certain geographical advantages in China. Relatively standardised raw materials and sufficient supply chain, as well as the lower cost and the almighty e-commerce infrastructure, make it easier for local designers to build their own labels from scratch.
New ready-to-wear names to know, including Shushu/Tong (above), see jewellery as “essential if you want to present a complete brand image”, explains the Shanghai-based brand’s co-founder Liushu Lei. The label has recently collaborated with jewellery designer Yvmin on an autumn/winter ’19/’20 collection featuring “bloody pearls”, which will launch globally with Ssense.com and Dover Street Market.
Another rising star, Yirantian Guo, the brains behind the women’s ready-to-wear label Yirantian (above), initially saw affordable jewellery as a means to expand the reach of her ready-to-wear offering. Today, however, most shoppers get to know her brand through her successful jewellery line rather than the other way around.
The opportunity isn’t lost on Alice Xu, founder of the select jewellery boutique Ooak and subsequently the eponymous jewellery brand. “Not only fashion industry insiders, but wider consumers are paying more and more attention to the role of jewellery in their day-to-day wardrobes, which brings higher acceptance and purchase frequency,” she says. In particular, young consumers are always looking for distinctive costume jewellery, which is where the power of China’s enormous social media platforms Weibo and RED comes in. “The increase of sale channels that prefer costume jewellery, and exposure by the press and influencers have also boosted the phenomenon,” explains Xu.
However, there are still challenges in the path of China’s new jewellery designers. “Although many designers are constantly emerging, in general, their designs are still very similar,” says Echo Zhuang of the Beast Bling Bling jewellery project, referring to the strong influence of Western labels that take a minimalist and geometric approach. “How to stand out is a very serious issue.”
In response, millennial designers are taking inspiration from traditional Chinese jewellery to distinguish their designs. Midnight Opera House, a brand favoured by celebrities including Ziyi Zhang and Joan Chen, sets its roots in theatrical opera traditions, while RTW designer Min Wu uses Chinese philosophy and ancient coins as the starting point for her 5min label. Here are seven Chinese costume jewellery brands to know now.
Royal College of Art textile design graduate Ejing Zhang’s work makes reference to her traditional calligraphy skills. The designer’s signature technique uses spalted beech wood, which is wrapped with coloured thread and cast in resin, before being sanded and polished. Zhang’s unique approach has paid off. Her label is the first Chinese fashion jewellery brand to be stocked by Net-A-Porter and Selfridges, and will soon be launching at Le Bon Marché.
OOAK began as a Shanghai jewellery store before founder Alice Xu masterminded her own in-house label which champions women’s narratives across everything from sculptural earrings to exquisite ring sets. The line is set to go global later this year via new stockists, Selfridges, Lane Crawford and On Pedder.
London College of Fashion graduate Yirantian Guo initially began her label Yirantian’s jewellery line as an extension of her ready-to-wear collection. “Her clothes and jewellery complement each other,” says Cathy Chan, consultant at Not Showroom and XCommons commerce director. “The jewellery is the crowning glory of the brand, completing its independent female image.”
Designer Xiaoyu Zhang, who trained at China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, takes an experimental approach to jewellery design with face jewellery and embellished headbands capturing the hearts of a new generation of Chinese shoppers. “Yvmin is a great brand that is collaborating with fashion designers to help them to create jewellery lines,” says Beast Bling Bling’s general manager Echo Zhuang.
Midnight Opera House
Gengyi Yu worked as a costume designer for popular Chinese TV series Empresses in the Palace before taking his love of Chinese opera as the basis for his jewellery label Midnight Opera House. His atmospheric collections, worn by actresses including Ziyi Zhang, aim to create a scene-stealing statement. “MOH’s aesthetics are unique, blending traditional Chinese craftsmanship and modernity. It is difficult to find similar brands in the market,” says Joe Cheung, the accessories’ buyer manager of SKP, one of China’s most prestigious department stores.
Ziwei Longhong channels her Nuosu heritage into her label Soft Mountains and works directly with indigenous artisans from China’s mountainous southwest regions. She takes a sustainable approach to jewellery design, upcycling dead stock in favour of working with new materials.
London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins graduate Min Wu uses ancient Chinese coins as the inspiration for her laid-back jewellery designs that complement her 5min clothing line. Comprising distinctive square and round motifs, the silhouettes “convey positive energy”, says Wu.