Susie Bubble: ‘There has been a lot of focus on how western brands handle cultural sensitivities’

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Susie Bubble: “I can’t stress enough how inspired I am every time I have been to Shanghai”

The original fashion blogger on highlighting Chinese talent and what Dolce & Gabbana can learn from last November’s furore

There’s nothing like an international fashion fallout to highlight a stark reality. In the case of China, the furore around the cancelled Dolce & Gabbana show in Shanghai last November amid allegations of racism related to the accompanying campaign did just that – but not just for the obvious reasons.

Resultant headlines post-event (or post non-event) highlighted to those who didn’t already know just why offending consumers in China could be so damaging: it currently makes up 32% of global luxury consumption and is forecast to overtake the US as the world’s largest fashion market in 2019.

They are statistics that the fashion industry isn’t unaware of. The British Fashion Council has partnered with China’s largest retailer, JD.com, since 2017 to help introduce British designers to the lucrative market as well as fund its annual Vogue and GQ prizes. Its partner and supporter, the Value Retail-owned outlet Bicester Village, is also more than aware of the numbers.

It is the second most popular tourist attraction in the England (Buckingham Palace takes the top spot) for Chinese tourists – Chinese customers accounted for “40% of total tax refunded sales” there in 2018, it says, all eager to snap up a tax-free designer bargain and satisfy the increasing demand for newness. London Marylebone station, which serves the station, was even forced to make loudspeaker announcements in Mandarin after a surge in tourists using the station for travel. To kick off 2019 and mark Chinese New Year, it has tapped the original fashion blogger Susie Lau (Susie Bubble) to curate a pop-up shop dedicated to Chinese designers, called Celebrating China.

“It’s a really well-timed initiative as there has been a lot of focus on how we treat Chinese consumers and how western brands handle cultural sensitivities,” says Lau. She says that the D&G backlash “teaches every brand a lesson on how to create campaigns for a Chinese audience and how to react when something does get flagged up”. She also notes what many international brands have found. “The domestic [Chinese] audience is much more savvy then it was 10 years ago … they are more educated and choosy with individual style and a voracious appetite, which is why brands want to court them.”

As well as cater to the Chinese audience, Lau wants the pop-up shop to highlight the design talent emerging from the country, too. “This [pop-up] gives a different angle to what China is now for people who can’t travel to Shanghai to see it happening. I can’t stress enough how inspired I am every time I have been out there – Shanghai has so much talent from designers who are referencing their culture but in a nuanced way.”

Lau has selected an edit from the brands Huishan Zhang, Ryan Lo, Anais Jourden, Mukzin, I Am Chen, Marie Yat, Xu Zhi, Matter Matter, Yang Li and Snow Xue Gao to showcase in the shop. Not all designers hail from China, some have Chinese heritage and have grown up and studied elsewhere. They are all names that Lau has been tracking for a while.

“There has never been a better time to show off beautiful, slightly lesser known fashion brands as the increasing appetite for ‘newness’ is omnipresent,” says the Bicester Village business director John Durnin. “We have always been keen to nurture up-and-coming talent, offering these young designers a platform to showcase their collections to a UK and global audience, introducing them to new customers from around the world.”

Following its official launch, the pop-up is already off to a good start, with Lau’s edit offering something different to what else is on offer at Bicester, she says.

“It’s a great platform for those designers – the people that are coming in know their stuff and are very discerning. This specific mix of names reflect where Chinese fashion is at today and there’s something for everyone. This new generation of creatives are really paving the way forward – plus it’s a pretty souped up shopping experience.”

Celebrating China is open now until February 17.