Madame Lv, Shanghai Fashion Week’s Doyenne, Talks Next Move

For Shanghai Fashion Week’s doyenne Lv Xiaolei, retirement means she will finally have time to activate the white space between each edition of Shanghai Fashion Week.

Lv, known universally as “Madame Lv,” is the secretary-general of Shanghai Fashion Week, and for the past 10-plus years has been responsible for repositioning Shanghai Fashion Week to become a key industry event and a major trade and ordering platform in Asia.

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Starting next month, Lv will focus on her new role as executive vice chairman of the Shanghai Fashion Designer Association, a dormant initiative founded in 2009 to promote Chinese fashion creative talents on the global stage. From 2013 to 2018, the association organized several events in New York City and London under the Design by Shanghai Overseas Project banner.

“The organization will further promote local creative talent — that’s the most important thing. This initiative can open a window to the world about our local creatives,” said Lv, who said the organization will provide services such as supply chain development and legal support.

Initiated designers will also enjoy perks such as funding and a preferential hukou policy, which is a household registration system that determines where residents can access education, housing and welfare services.

The new organization will occupy a two-story historical villa along the Suzhou River, Shanghai’s oldest waterway in the heart of the city. The space, a former private member’s club, will also serve as a salon space for industry events.

For example, Shanghai Fashion Week’s longtime partners, such as Dupont Sorona, a partially plant-based polymer material, and Woolmark will be able to meet with local designers more regularly.

“We want to help connect the dots and unveil the collaborative process behind the finished product showcased on the runway,” said Lv.

She stressed the need to position the organization as a platform available for anyone interested in the industry. “We get so many inquiries from investors; they want to know which brand is a good investment, but we are not in the position to have a say. We are not the middleman, we are a platform where everyone can meet and connect,” said Lv.

The platform will also work with manufacturers such as Chenfeng Group to play a more significant part in the supply chain evolution in the market.

Chenfeng Group — the manufacturer for Uniqlo and a dozen Chinese fashion designers including Haizhenwang, Chenpeng, and Feng Chen Wang — began working with local brands as early as 2012. But for Lv, companies like Chenfeng have to continue to evolve.

Lv also thinks it’s time for local designers to reorient themselves around a more localized market narrative.

“The last batch [of designers] were offered an opportunity because they were seen by overseas media and buyers, so now the right question to ask is, where can the next generation of designers seek opportunity? Who do you think is more important now? The shoppers or the buyers? Should we give a voice to brands that make our shoppers proud?” added Lv.

Looking at the uncertainties facing the local market, Lv thinks that most local designers will be able to weather retail hiccups and growing pains with small and agile operations.

“It’s more about making less money compared to the booming years before COVID[-19],” said Lv. “If they see this through, I think they will forge a new path. To be honest, the economic situation is not the only factor at play here. We’ve seen so many brands shut down at their prime, so it’s up to the designers themselves to find new meaning and purpose to keep going.”

This week’s fall 2024 edition of Shanghai Fashion Week might be Lv’s last at the helm full-time, but it will also be a new beginning for the weeklong showcase as Lv shifts gears.

“One of the first major fashion happenings after Lunar New Year is Shanghai Fashion Week. It is our slingshot moment and a review of what went down in the past six months,” observed Lv. “It’s time to summarize with numbers. We have to work with a legitimate data agency to calculate the social media impact, the boost to retail during the event, and its broader economic impact.

“How old is China’s fashion industry? It’s less than 10 years old, and so much has happened. We need to keep track,” said Lv.

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