Society

The Birth Of Bona Fide Chinese Street Style

China has its fashionista culture, and it is increasingly original rather than a knock-off of someone else's city chic.

Chinese trendsetters in Beijing’s Sanlitun and Shanghai’s Xintiandi areas
A Guai

BEIJING — The Chinese fashion social network P1.CN recently held an exhibition called The Great Style Leap.

Of six million photos in its database, the exhibition showcased several hundred images taken in Chinese cities — Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou — over the past six years, a sort of slide show of popular fashion evolution.

The photos reflect Chinese street style over the last few years, but they also correspond perfectly to changes in Chinese consumer views about luxury apparel.

Svante Jerling, the Swedish curator of the exhibition and P1.CN’s vice president, titled the show The Great Style Leap because of the way fashion in China has changed in recent years. When he first arrived in China, he found that it was difficult to spot people with style. Whereas today even ordinary people on the street demonstrate their unique flair for fashion — in particular, in hip districts such as Beijing’s Sanlitun and Shanghai’s Xintiandi.

Style photographers who work for websites and fashion magazines are constantly stationed on the street in Sanlitun's Taiguli Square. This place has become the platform for the Chinese capital’s fashionistas showing themselves off, perhaps precisely in the hopes of being spotted.

Street shooting was originally the Hollywood paparazzi’s way of uncovering the less glamorous side of a star’s life by exposing their off-screen personalities and how they wear casual clothes on the street. Paradoxically, the move led to giving celebrities their best opportunity for showing their real character. Many gained fans thanks to their personal good taste in clothing. The model Kate Moss and the American star Jessica Alba are two very good examples. Fashion brands in turn saw a business opportunity in this and began sending clothes and accessories to stars with the hope that they’d become product symbols.

The shades of fashion

Though taken just seven years ago, the set of photos from 2007 show an amusing idea of Chinese taste in fashion back then. Conspicuous logos were everywhere — even the combination of a checkered scarf from Burberry, a Louis Vuitton bag with a colorful pattern, and a Gucci belt. People believed the bigger the logo, the better. The best fashion was in everybody knowing that you wore status accessories.

In 2009, wealthy Chinese people began to care about whether their fashion choices were unique. But Louis Vuitton and Gucci remained favorites. Even modest white-collar workers could save a month’s salary and fulfill the dream of owning an affordable item from these brands.

By 2010, China’s female fashionistas had become infatuated with Hermès handbags. But many young fashion hounds also began looking for their own style, and street fashion was a blend of rock ’n’ roll and retro.

Making full use of accessories

For those who don’t have a bulging wallet but do have a strong sense of fashion, using accessories cleverly is a smart strategy. When haute couture handbags are out of financial reach, a strong and affordable accessory choice can still help someone stand out.

For example, it was popular Chinese singer Zhou Bichang who inspired the Chinese trend of black-rimmed glasses. By 2009, even a big film star such as Fan Bingbing was also showing up wearing them at airports. All of a sudden, whether it was exaggerated big rims or refined and thinly rimmed black glasses, all variations were fashionable.

Other accessories were also “in,” although they were not as universally popular as the black-rimmed glasses. Bringing a pet along was one of them. Cycling has also been during the last couple of years. Though Beijing’s air is notoriously bad, its traffic jams are even worse. Many bicycle companies are taking the opportunity to promote their items, retro or trendy, and make their bicycles essential equipment for hipsters.

The uniqueness of China’s fashionista

Looking through the several hundred photos chosen for the exhibition, it is impossible to generalize China’s street fashion. There is not a single overall sensibility — such as simplicity in Paris or New York. Nor does it reflect neighboring Japan or Hong Kong, where black reigns.

China’s street fashion is, in fact, much bolder. Fluorescent colors, for example, are very popular. Meanwhile, when prints or mix-and-match become the designers’ new love, Beijing and Shanghai’s trendsetters are probably the first to catch the fashion. What’s clear is that the only rule of Chinese street fashion is to be as bold as possible.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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