War Will the Yu Prize Find Fashion’s Next Household Name?

War Will the Yu Prize Find Fashion’s Next Household Name?

War

Overview: 

The Yu Prize, a program that identifies and supports China’s up-and-coming fashion talent, has named 20 semi-finalists to move forward in its 2022 competition. Among those selected are Didu, Nosense Official, PONDER.ER, Private Policy, Ruohan, Victor Li, YIRANTIAN, and ZI II CI IEN. Ten finalists will be announced on March 2, with the awards ceremony to be held at Shanghai Fashion Week. 

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For the first time, the Yu Prize will launch the Yu Prize Rising Voices Award in collaboration with UGG, awarded to the designer who can reimagine two classic UGG styles and embody the brand’s message of bold self-expression. Other collaboration partners this year include luxury C-beauty brand YUMEE, which will once again offer the Yu Prize Infinite Beauty Award, as well as OTB, Harrods, and Xiaohongshu.

The winners will receive a total cash prize exceeding 1 million RMB (about $157,000), opportunities to showcase at Paris and Shanghai Fashion Week, access to industry experts from the Yu Prize Committee, mentoring with OTB, retailing support at Harrods, and social media training from Xiaohongshu. 

What is it: 

The Yu Prize is an annual fashion award program set up by investor Wendy Yu and presented by her company, Yu Holdings. It runs in official association with Shanghai Fashion Week and the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode to incubate promising local fashion players. Established in 2020, the Yu Prize is open to designers of Chinese nationality who have evidence of commercial success and at least two collections under their belt. Applicants are scored by a jury of industry experts, such as Tasha Liu (Founder of LABELHOOD), Madame Lu (Vice Secretary General of  Shanghai Fashion Week), and Sarah Mower MBE (Chief Critic at Vogue.com).

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Wendy Yu, founder of Yu Holdings, will serve as one of the jury members. Photo: Yu Holdings

Why it matters:

While several international award programs exist for emerging creatives — such as the LVMH Prize, the International Woolmark Prize, and the Amiri Prize — few focus solely on developing Chinese talents. Here, the Yu Prize not only shines a spotlight on homegrown designers but, more crucially, provides them with the resources to take their brands global, from cash prizes to consulting on retailing, promotion, and investment. Winners of the Rising Voices Award and Infinite Beauty Award will even see their design put into production via potential collaborations with UGG and YUMEE, respectively.

And this year, by announcing semi-finalists for the first time, the Yu Prize is taking an extra step to amplify more names. As Wendy Yu stated, “We also want to provide more opportunity to celebrate other participating designers who are on the up and help them gain recognition. Our strategy together with our Prize partners further accentuates this; we share a common objective which is to nurture Chinese creatives as a whole community whilst providing game-changing opportunities on an individual basis.”

The bigger picture:

More Chinese designer brands are entering the cultural zeitgeist: Chen Peng, last year’s Yu Prize winner, has seen his puffer jackets sported by Rihanna and Lady Gaga; Shanghai-based designer Zhou Rui snagged the 2021 LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Special Jury Prize last September; Angel Chen was featured in Netflix’s Next in Fashion; and many others have upped their publicity by partnering with household brands such as H&M and Estée Lauder.

Part of this growing popularity can be attributed to the Guochao trend. As Chinese consumers seek items that are nostalgic, reference pop culture, or contain traditional design elements, they have helped domestic talents expand and, subsequently, capture attention abroad. On top of this, younger generations are also gravitating toward lesser-known brands (as seen on Xiaohongshu), using their style choices as an expression of individuality rather than status. 

The bottom line: 

Clearly, there is an appetite for Chinese designers that goes well beyond the country’s borders. And while these rising creatives do not yet pose a challenge to established houses, they do offer opportunities for collaboration — helping brands both better appeal to Chinese audiences and add refreshing twists to their global offerings.

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