Last week Vivienne Tam held a big fashion show in Beijing, in front of an audience of Chinese VIPs and fashion followers. It was only her second show in mainland China, and first in more than a decade.
Her spring-summer 2017 catwalk extravaganza was the main event of the three-day InStyle Expo, which happened just after China Fashion Week. Tam partnered with Motorola for the show, introducing a branded add-on accessory for the new smartphone Moto Z. It was just one of several growing moves the designer has planned in a pivot towards Eastern markets.
“The last time I did a show in Beijing, it was in 2002 on the Great Wall,” says Tam a few days later at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong. “It was a time when the arts district 798 was just starting there.
“This [recent event] aimed to promote Chinese culture and usual etiquette for formal dressing and style.”
Tam’s brand is obviously popular in Hong Kong, but it’s really the American market, where she lives, that has been her base. That could all change when she opens stores in China, riding on her two decades of global fashion expertise and a renewed world interest in designers and brands hailing from the East.
Tam is of course keen to tap into the lucrative Chinese market, which has a natural affinity for her clothing, style and legacy. She’s considering altering her clothing to cater more to the diversity of Chinese market.
“It’s more about adapting to the different climates rather than the design,” she says. “The north of China is really cold, so I would need to have thicker coats or big sweaters, which I don’t really have right now. It’s definitely something to think about.”
Tam has learned a lot about the shifting Chinese market over the years. And with it comes the realisation that there is huge potential for her brand in the country, where she currently has no stores. In Hong Kong, she has seven.
“I learned a lot even on this Beijing trip, with women telling me what they like or don’t like. Chinese women have changed a lot, they are much more individual. It’s different from before, [where they] just followed the big brands,” she says.
“Over the years there has been a lot of people who told me to change my style, not to make my designs so ‘Chinese’,” she says. “But now Chinese consumers are more accepting of their own styles, and more Chinese designers are embracing their own culture.”
Tam, who was born in China but moved to Hong Kong at age three, has also recently launched an e-commerce site. With her affordable-luxury price point (a chic dress or nice jacket might cost about HK$4,000, while a big winter coat is about HK$9,000), the site should appeal to wide market. For the Chinese clientele, who are buying more and more native or Asian brands, it’s also about connecting culturally and emotionally to a designer who has never been shy of her heritage or its cultural references.
Tam is also looking to build a stronger core team in China, and she will do more research on the country and get access to more places like the fabric fairs in Shanghai that she personally frequents each season.
“There’s a feeling of coming home when I’m in the region,” says Tam. “There are so many great materials and resources here in China – it has great potential if the system if made more modern.”