China’s affluent, young and fashion-savvy brides-to-be in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai are writing their own rules when it comes to finding the one dress for the most important day in their life.
While their demand only represents a tiny portion of China’s 1.7 trillion renminbi wedding industry (as of 2021, according to Statista), many of these people are tastemakers who can easily influence the rest of the market with their active presence on social media platforms like Xiaohongshu, Douyin and Weibo.
For them, the big number doesn’t have to be white, but it should be the envy of all their invitees. For that, some tap into the traditional culture revival trend, choosing traditional wedding outfits gilded with golden dragon and phoenix embroideries, while some commission well-known fashion designers to adapt runway reactions for the occasion, or simply ask for bespoke service to create the dream dress.
Eveningwear specialist Huishan Zhang, whose private clients range from China’s elusive red princesses in Beijing to business empire heiresses in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, told WWD that he has been getting a considerable amount of bridal requests as many of his loyal customers are planning to throw lavish weddings as the COVID-19 pandemic is coming to an end.
“Most of our bridal clients have been our existing clients, but as we have done more weddings we have been introduced to new clients through the bridal side of the business, which is great. The demand was there, so we decided to design a stand-alone bridal collection. Seeing pictures of women wearing sequins and feathers for their wedding day is just so fun,” he said.
“We have also had a growing bespoke business for weddings that give brides the opportunity to have something totally unique. I love seeing how originality has become so important to brides. Across ready-to-wear, bridal and bespoke we are able to cater to so many different types of brides from simple and chic to the most experiential,” he added.
Zhang observed that affluent brides in China nowadays have less desire to be traditional on their wedding day.
“They like to go to rtw brands for their wedding dress rather than traditional bridal brands as there is an opportunity to be more unique and also more in keeping with their personal style. Also as Chinese brides tend to have a lot of outfit changes throughout the course of the wedding, it allows them to be more experimental with both style and color across all the different occasions,” he said.
Susan Fang, whose airy sheer dresses and beaded accessories have earned her more than a dozen of international stockists, including Selfridges, Dover Street Market and Browns, has been seeing a growing number of customers tagging her on Instagram in wedding photos.
“People now know what they want and like instead of just following the main trend, they want something unique and made with love. Our pieces are always inspired by nature and made in a very surreal way. Always very joyful and feel a bit ethereal. So mood-wise it fits weddings and special occasions well,” Fang said.
She counts her signature air-embroidery pieces — layered white organza dresses with colored feathers within the organza that makes the dress look like floating watercolor paintings — as the most popular wedding option.
“We found out they were used for weddings as people started asking if they can be customized. People also order our bubble crystal glass headpieces as bridal veils,” she said, adding that FIL, a retailer in Fuzhou, China, simply markets her designs as wedding dresses in store.
Samuel Guì Yang, Shushu/Tong and Caroline Hu are also noticing this shift, but on different levels.
Yang said even though he thinks his brand is still a long way from having a proper bridal business, the use of red in his Chinese culture-influenced designs has made him an attractive option for some.
“Currently we have a commission project for a couple who is going to have their wedding celebration in Italy this upcoming summer, due to the Chinese heritage reason that they see from some of our pieces,” he said.
Another reason he sees the younger generation is moving away from traditional western styles is the lack of originality and creativity in the local bridal dress business. He thinks whomever manages to combine the traditional elements with modernity as many emerging Chinese talents have done in the space of designer fashion in recent years can build a huge business around that.
Liushu Lei, cofounder of Shushu/Tong said he sees that the style of wedding dresses that his friends in the creative industry go after has changed dramatically in recent years. He enjoys designing wedding dresses for his close friends as it gives him unlimited creative freedom.
Hu, who creates fairy-like dresses with her unique smocking technique to recreate and experiment with watercolor effects, said half of her private orders are for weddings. Most of the clients want a white dress made in her style, and some of them are also asking for pieces in more experimental colors.
Yueqi Qi, one of the 19 semifinalists for this year’s LVMH Prize for Young Designers, is also discovering that there is this lucrative opportunity in the market after Cristine Sun, an influencer friend of hers with millions of online followers, wore a dramatic bespoke black gown with embroideries of white phoenixes and red ribbons at her lavish wedding last November.
“She wanted something dark, with Chinese elements and their names on the wedding dress. She told me that she tried those bridal brands, such as Vera Wang. The wedding dresses that they have are mostly traditional western style in white. She wants something more special,” she said.
Since then, she has been getting a lot more enquiries and has designed another wedding gown for a private client.