Post-Colonial definition of Chinoiserie

Defining Post-Colonialism in modern fashion industry

With the acceleration of market globalization and the growing influence of social media, the acceptance of cultural diversity has gradually become the leading factor in the developmental strategy of the fashion industry. According to the report of The State of Fashion 2020, “Over the past 10 years, China accounted for 38 percent of global fashion industry growth across segments. Since 2012 it has been responsible for an impressive 70 percent of expansion in the luxury segment, and we expect this dominance to continue out to 2025.”[1] As the importance of the Chinese market has grown, luxury brands’ outreach strategies have undergone a transformation. Special Chinese editions and commercials are becoming the must-have promotional leverages. Dolce&Gabbana’s 2018 Chinese New Year commercial is a prime example of this. This brand posted three video clips on their social media cans with a Chinese female model was struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks, which sparked global fury with accusations of racism and cultural ignorance. Then the terrible Instagram PR response from one of the founders, Stefano Gabbana, exacerbated the outrage, eventually leading to the cancellation of the new collection show in Shanghai, and the termination of the brand’s sales cooperation on all Chinese e-commerce platforms. Here we are, two years later, this famed Western fashion brand has fallen into disuse from the Chinese market. This is an emblematic case of Western prejudice that led to disastrous consequences for the brand’s image.

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Figure 1 Dolce & Gabbana Promotion Video 2018. The video recorded
a model’s attempt of eating Italian food such as pizza and cannoli with chopsticks, with stereotypical Chinese music played in the background.
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Figure 2 Chinese ideogram for “East and West” and “Thing”.

Why does the Cultural Post-Colonialism Happen?

For this topic, it is necessary to mention the 2015 Met Gala theme of “China through the looking glass.” The curator Andrew Bolton took this exhibition opportunity to both celebrate the centennial of the Met’s Asian art department, and reflect on Orientalism in the Western fashion history.
By juxtaposing the Chinese traditional handicrafts and Western garments, in this show, audiences can immerse themselves in how Western designers excavated Chinese elements to convert them into a complex artistic language of communication and miscommunication.

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Figure 3 The exibition photos with theme of “The Export Silk” and “Manchu Robe”. Copyright © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
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Figure 4 The fabric ration stamps of Guangdong province, China in 1983. Copyright © Collection of Changsha Wansheng Culture Media co., LTD
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Figure 5 Different types of the native costume in China.

How to break through the Post-Colonial Barrier

Behind the shadow of post-colonialism, the international luxury brands ceaselessly use resembling and crude ways to enter what they view as exotic markets with the reason of making profits. When the fashion industry “invades” uncharted territory, only having a templated marketing plan or a reckless cultural fusion is problematic. Nowadays, mutual respect for disability, body shape, and gender is becoming the mainstream value. However, when it comes to the cultural level, the tag or the stereotype of China should also not remain unchanged. As a Chinese designer, I can’t help but wondering whether only the color red and the zodiac are the most representative of “Chinese characteristics”? Is “opening the Chinese market” a new type of colonization, and how do fashion workers in China avoid and break this phenomenon?

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Figure 6 Photographic Creations by Leslie Zhang
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Figure 7 Special Beauty, Chinese Marie Claire magazine in September 2018. Director: Mix Wei, Photographer: Leslie Zhang, Stylish: White Fan
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Figure 9 The official group photo of Rocket Girls 101. Stylish: Fix XiaoBai

How we future

In the cover page of Vogue China magazine in October 2019, photographer Man Chen created a tribute to an Italian Vogue classic illustration cover a century ago, as well as celebrated with a fashion gift to China’s National Day on October 1. The model Xiaowen Ju was acting the Chinese girl that pursues a dream bravely, with the red Dior dress sitting on a crescent moon. This is a wonderful collision between Chinese traditional aesthetic elements and contemporary western art. This group of works successfully integrated the typical Chinese symbols, red and poetic illusion into the Western aesthetic, allowed for a coexistence of mutual echoes. That Chinese traditional aesthetic components and contemporary Western art can be a wonderful collision is a clear signal.

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Figure 10 A Girl’s Tale, cover photo collection of China Vogue magazine in October 2019. Photographer: Man Chen, Editor: Angelica Zhang, Model: Xiaowen Ju
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Figure 11 Left: Louis Vuitton live- stream show in China. Right: SHUSHU/TONG live-stream show in Shanghai fashion week 2020.

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