I had always had a problem with my water heater ever since I moved into my own flat over four months ago. It shut itself off within a minute, so to get hot water again I had to switch it off and wait for two minutes for the water to be heated up proper. I had put off calling a repairman because the weather had been rather bearable. Not knowing where to find anyone trustworthy – as my last two experiences with handymen had been troubling (another story for another time) – also made this a daunting task. Do I call my landlord whom I really not want to see? Or do I call the various numbers plastered all over the walls of my apartment’s corridors? But as winter took over, the chills in between the waits became unbearable. The final push came knowing that one of my best friends was flying over within 48 hours. As I didn’t want to be a terrible host that provided intermittent hot water in the middle of winter, I finally texted my real estate agent – a sweet lady younger than me from a small village - for a reputable repairman. Two hours later as promised, an old man with a heavy-duty tool box - the kind that looked more like something mafia men transport a million dollars’ worth of notes in - knocked on my door. Between his heavy regional accent and my English-inflected southern Mandarin accent I was well-pleased to find we could understand each other for the most part. Thirty minutes and twelve dollars later, I finally had the luxury of uninterrupted hot water in my very own place for the first time. I thanked him profusely and sent several more grateful texts to my agent. Then wondered why I hadn’t done this earlier.
Despite the astronomical rents in Shanghai and the high prices of Veblen goods and activities, everything else in China is still relatively affordable. With so many people vying for a slice of the pie, business owners and the self-employed are forced to undercut each other, resulting in sub-par outcomes on many occasions. Finding a trusted real estate agent and handyman becomes a chore, and the same goes for a tailor or Taobao vendors. Despite the uncertainties and inconsistencies, most of my experiences in engaging with service providers have been heartwarmingly positive, from my real estate agent, to my part-time ayi from Anhui who is very much like my own grandmother now, as well as knowing which reputable Taobao store to buy for potteries.
So where am I going with this? My intention with the long-winded introduction was to stress on the importance of finding a trustworthy Chinese label that is consistent with their offering, and that one particular label is Zhu Chongyun.
I first wrote about Zhu’s eponymous line early this year here after discovering the store in Singapore. I had the pleasure to attend the Fall/Winter 2016 show in Shanghai – a lucky coincidence considering that previous shows had been held in Beijing. The venue and setting were grander than those of the typical Shanghai Fashion Week shows, with a large projected screen and a long narrow strip of water that separated the runway from the audience. Nomadic solitude in winter immediately comes to mind.
The Chinese fashion scene is still in its infancy, so young that you can smell its rebellious attitude from a mile away. And as with any teenager still trying to find its identity, a large percentage of the burgeoning fashion names is easily swayed by the cool Parisian and English zeitgeist, which is why Zhu Chongyun’s steadfast aesthetic stands out amongst the crowd. Much like her demeanour, the garments are modest but regal, subdued yet rich and poetic.
For her Fall-Winter 2016 collection, Zhu showed her trademark luxurious outerwear made with three-dimensional textured fabrics that reminded one of moss-covered rocks on the banks of a shallow creek hidden deep in evergreen forest. Her love for red shone brightly as she shifted from muted ruby to fiery dark vermillion. She’s always had a preference for high collars while showcasing the rigid, voluminous cocoon silhouettes that moved ever so subtly in motion, a tailoring feat that is not easy to achieve.
What was apparent in Zhu’s designs is the profound respect for craftsmanship and history. She continued to harness the rich cultural past of the East, from distinct floral embroideries to her special textile treatments. The painstaking amount of work that went into each garment was evident even from a distance away. It’s no wonder her coats and dresses cost upwards of a thousand dollars. Relatively speaking it is still cheaper than a typical offering from luxury French labels, many of which are overpriced coughSLPcough. You might also like to know that runway items are available for purchase in store. Aside from her eponymous line, she also heads the sister label Marisfrolg that leans more towards modernity, as well as the recently revived Krizia, an old Italian label that is now back on the catwalk. One can only wander how she is financing her very expensive endeavours, considering that she has over ten flagship stores in China, and many more overseas.
Immediately after the show I spotted Uma Wang who got up to congratulate Zhu on the stage. One swathed in ivory – a gentle, shy figure surrounded by fans, the other clad in floor-length ebony – by now a powerful name on the international stage, both lighting the torch together for the rest of China.