When the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York unveiled "China: Through the Looking Glass," earlier this year, it was inundated. It's now the Met's most popular fashion exhibition ever.
It's no wonder then, that this October's Shanghai Fashion Week has entered the radar of fashion's international scene. The industry is growing curious about what Chinese designers are up to.
The event, in its 14th edition, lures young designers from across the country, and compared to China Fashion Week in Beijing, is considered the country's least 'official' or government-influenced event.
Therefore, the shows are edgier, open-minded and provide revealing glimpses into China's homegrown talent. Here's a roundup of this season's standout designers. Take note: these names are going to make waves.
Zhang Da of Boundless is another veteran of China's fashion scene -- and one of its most intriguing figures, seldom making public appearances. The Shanghai-based designer has been producing capsule collections under his own label for over a decade, making deceptively simple clothing that mixes the aesthetic of Martin Margiela with references to China's revolutionary history, philosophy and culture.
This was also the case for his spring/summer 2016 collection.
Boundless' vision for next season posited minimal, sometimes-asymmetrical silhouettes in lightweight cotton blends. Models wore a series of laidback, almost uniform-like ensembles, sporting dresses, skirts and wide-leg pants that were conceived to take shape only once settled on the wearer, and falling differently depending on body type.
Lines and shapes were kept minimal and incredibly neat, with the occasional slits and maxi pockets appearing here and there, as did slogans in English and Chinese, which adorned graphic sweatshirts and jersey dresses.
Simple as it was, there was certainly beauty in the collection. It offered a blend of practical and hopeful, which is exactly what Zhang's aesthetic is known for.
Beijing-born designer Zhang Na showcased 'Microscope' -- a collection of summery hues, prints and casual fashion in the shape of draping gowns, relaxed shirts and wearable trousers.
Composed of lightweight silks and cottons, looks included ultra feminine full-length dresses and wide-leg jumpsuits hanging from thin crisscross spaghetti straps.
It was a well-polished, bohemian affair that made us yearn for sunny summer days.
Young designer and Central Saint Martins graduate Moti Bai's aesthetic is rooted in romantic surrealism.
Models in doll-like makeup -- exaggerated red cheeks, heart-shaped lips -- donned drop-waist dresses, billowing sleeves, frilly collars and organza layers that shifted between the eccentric and the conceptual. Some looks had an almost pirate-like style, some a gothic tone that contrasted with the lightness and romantic prettiness of other pieces.
In its voluminous excess, the line exuded a sweet solemnity.
Wenzhou-born Nicole Zhang might not have a traditional design background (she is a former PR and fashion visual artist) but, since launching her accessory brand in 2011 and her ready-to-wear collection two years later, she has certainly made a name for herself. Her trademarks are a sporty, streamlined style and a design approach that's unfussy and fun.
Her SFW show stayed true to her previous work, featuring a collection that was both positively loud and disco-inspired. Of note were the head-to-toe Lurex looks. Denim, jersey and sneakers were paired with louche suiting and bejeweled oversize outerwear.
Menswear designers still make for a relatively small cluster on China's fashion scene, but the few that are out there, like Xander Zhou and Sankuanz, are consistently creating and experimenting with interesting concepts and forms.
Zhou Xiaowen of HIUMAN is no exception. The ESMOD Paris graduate, whose show was supported by China's ELLEMEN, debuted a starkly simple, beautifully-crafted spring/summer 2016 line, proving that sometimes, less is more.
The collection drew inspiration from nature and its elements, and played with an Oriental, Zen-like aesthetic of simple lines, natural fabrics and pragmatic shapes.
A series of urban and somewhat contrasting looks came trickling down the runway: smooth, soft-tailored ensembles versus crisp streetwear separates.
Museum of Friendship
Living and working between London and China, Liaoning Province-born, Central Saint Martins alumna Tianmo Momo Wang is one of the country's most vibrant and playful designers.
Museum of Friendship is her new ultra whimsical label, and the collection she debuted at SFW was a boisterous affair that had models skipping, running and bouncing down the runway.
Titled 'After School,' the colorful show could be described as a nerdy 90s throwback. Drawing inspiration from the innocence of childhood, looks featured puppy and kitten motifs, 'grown-up' takes on tracksuits, pinafore dresses and tennis skirts that wouldn't have looked out of place twenty years ago, or say, in Tokyo's Harajuku district.
Wang's show was all about girls having fun, and acting like kids again. "I want my clothes to usher in the new 90s," she said. If dorky cool is going to be back in fashion, we want in.
Feng Cheng Wang
Feng Cheng Wang's was probably one of SFW most visually compelling shows. The Beijing-born designer (another UK graduate, this time from London's Royal College of Art), brought her collection to Shanghai after showing at New York Fashion Week in September.
Her vision for spring/summer 2016 had a depth and audacity China's local fashion industry can definitely learn from.
Titled "Love and Life," the collection was inspired by Feng's personal life: learning of her father's liver cancer diagnosis last year, and taking an interest in the process of recovery to the point of even watching his surgery.
On the runway, that translated into a collection that oscillated between the avant-garde and the futuristic -- think exaggerated samurai-like trousers, IV tracks running through zippers, deconstructed pants and gigantic backpacks reminiscent of parachutes.
Her garments made us think of what streetwear would look like during the apocalypse -- not something you see every day, and all the more noteworthy for it.
SFW shows diversity, range, and depth, as well as a real consistency in delivering interesting, fresh ideas. Whoever thinks Chinese designers are still second players in the game of fashion might have to change their mind. And fast.
Shanghai Fashion Week runs from October 13 to October 21