Stylist’s editor Susan Riley reports from the front line of Shanghai fashion.
New York. London. Milan. Paris. These are well-trodden stomping grounds for the fashion elite, who flit between the cities several times a year to see the international collections first hand.
It’s a glamorous but gruelling tour. And so well-worn is the route, no matter how spectacular the show or venue - even if its Louis Vuitton taking over the entirety of the Louvre at dusk – it’s criminally hard to make a sizeable impact on a crowd who’ve been there, done that.
Unless, of course, you throw everything spectacularly off-course – literally 5,752 miles off – and head to China to host your fashion show: home of the luxury label-mad and one of fashion’s biggest emerging markets.
That’s exactly what Tommy Hilfiger decided to do this season, which is why I’ve been shipped off to Shanghai for 36 extremely muggy hours (it’s 34 degrees here as I type, with a grey smoggy sky that feels like its constantly clinging to your clothes. Frizzease, where the hell are you when I need you?)
I’m here with Monica Gellar-style hair for the most modern of fashion shows: Tommy Hilfiger’s “See Now, Buy Now” platform - now in its fifth season - a concept which enables the fashion-savvy public to purchase the brand’s men’s and women’s HILFIGER COLLECTION runway looks straight away.
No waiting; no messing. Last season, the brand sent the collection down a palm-tree hugging LA boardwalk, and now it’s the turn of Shanghai; the allure of the East meeting the very American sports preppiness of the West.
It’s 7pm. I’ve been here just over 24 hours. Last night saw us overordering wildly at Canton Disco (the Shanghai Edition’s dimly lit restaurant where only disco music plays) and singing karaoke until 3.30am at Chunk KTV alongside influencer (and Mr Tanya Burr), Jim Chapman, whose assistant can sing a mean Rolling in the Deep.
I’m famished. Lunch was another expansive Chinese feast at Canton Table at Three on the Bund, where an enquiry into what was in the birdnest soup deduced that yes, it actually was a bird’s nest, and so probably contained at least a trace element of bird saliva.
Night has fallen and it’s nearly show time. Shanghai’s skyscrapers – turned off in just a few hours time to conserve energy – are lit up like a giant pinball machine once more, and stretched out like a neon carpet across the water.
The show’s location at Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal is an epic one; right on the lip of the city’s Bung river: an emblazoned red, white and blue catwalk lying along the edge of it, boats passing by every minute, cutting through the brown muddy water. Many are passenger ships lit up like roving Christmas trees full of iPhone wielding tourists, others are stealthy and silent, carrying cargo under khaki tarpaulin. Shanghai from the river is most definitely where it’s at.
Back on land, the pre-show buzz is mounting. Chinese influencers taking their selfies; guests taking their seats. Tommy Hilfiger’s global brand ambassadors Winnie Harlow, Hailey Baldwin, Maggie Jiang and Lewis Hamilton (the F1 champion has partnered with Hilfiger on a TommyxLewis collection, which is launching here tonight) have just taken an irritatingly good-looking group selfie against the skyline and headed backstage to get ready.
Backstage is simply a giant white makeshift hangar with cordoned off dressing areas and rows of make-up chairs and mirrors. Baldwin and Harlow sit in the far corner, two chairs apart being groomed and prepped, the former being presided over by what looks to be her bodyguard, the latter enjoying a pasta salad (I think; I try not to dinner stalk her) while she can catch a few minutes. Tommy Hilfiger himself does interviews a few meters away. Him and Hamilton interact like old friends.
Half an hour passes. The lights finally dim. Childish Gambino’s This is America erupts out of the darkness to start the show’s soundtrack, an apt statement of intent that’s followed by Baldwin leading out a model army in brightly coloured sportswear separates. Then follow faux-fur-trimmed parkas and high heeled biker boots; tartan shirting mixed with khaki bombers; tailoring and body con dresses made playful with sporty stripes; classic coats contrasted with relaxed lounge pants, and a sequin shirt dress that looks like the Hogwarts uniform has been deconstructed and pimped to the max.
It’s quintessentially American; there can be no mistaking the fact that Tommy came to town.
The crowds disperse far quicker than they came. Then, more food. This time at Sense 8, where a Lazy Susan and extreme air conditioning accompanies an authentic lemon chicken and a suckling pig that’s had its left eye reimagined as a red LED light. We are the last to leave, having dined unfashionably late (last orders are 9.30; early eating is the norm here).
Enroute back to the hotel, we pass a hospital dedicated entirely to plastic surgery. I’m itching to explore the city more but there is no time. Not this time anyway. Perhaps Shanghai could be the new Paris, after all.
Images: Getty / Instagram