It all started with “Neo”… And then it spiraled out of control. Temper turned one piece into its own little trinity – we’re talking China’s Neo style, New Youth and the metaverse.
Neo-Chinese style (新中式| xīn zhōng shì in Chinese) mainly covers two basic aspects: 1) the interpretation of the cultural significance of traditional Chinese style in the current era; 2) a contemporary design based on the full understanding of modern Chinese culture. Neo-Chinese style has spread into many fields, including neo-Chinese tea, neo-Chinese baking and neo-Chinese home décor. Neo-Chinese fashion (新中式穿搭| xīn zhōng shì chuān dā ), meanwhile, often takes Chinese elements from grandma’s wardrobe and pairs these with contempo aesthetics, think outrageous rainbow hairdos and bold goth makeup. Or a qipao accompanied by fishnet tights and combat boots.
Fast fashion fact: By the early 2000s, luxury label Shiatzy Chen reassessed its strategy and decided that it was time to target younger consumers. Instead of abandoning traditional Chinese wear, the brand wanted to continue building on tradition, but with a twist. Calling its style “neo-Chinese chic,” one of the brand’s most notable staples is their qipao-inspired jackets. Many are cut with the same qipao shapes, equipped with traditional Mandarin collars, but they are blended together with the look of a Western trench coat or puffy sleeve.
Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba’s Tmall report on 2022 Taobao apparel industry trends published on August 26 resulted in the hashtag #Why has neo-Chinese style gone viral?# trending on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent. The tag garnered over 230 million views.
To answer that tagged question: Driven largely China’s New Youth (aged 18 to 30-something), this modish mayhem speaks to the staying power of guochao (国潮), according to Jing Daily. Translating to “national wave” or “national trend,” guochao refers to the rising tide of products that incorporate elements of traditional Chinese culture and style, tszujed up with a modern twist.
As China’s younger generations continue to develop a strong sense of “cultural confidence” (文化自信| wénhuà zìxìn), another buzzword in China this time referring to the country’s rising cultural self-esteem, they’re incorporating traditional culture back into daily life — in this case, meshing frog buttons and Mandarin collars with Western ready-to-wear accoutrements.
So with all this talk of Neo, and the subsequent Matrix scenes and Morpheus quotes flashing before the eyes, Temper decided to take this Neo Youth slash style journey to the next destination: China’s metaverse.
Neo to Metaverse
As one of the most headline-catching tech developments in recent years, the metaverse has been described as “the future internet ecosystem” and “the next evolution of social and digital connection.” These descriptions underscore the expectations projected onto said verse. Yet the reality is that the metaverse is still very much a work in progress. Nevertheless, it has the potential to bring about a host of new innovations and opportunities. And according to Next Trends Asia, China is already witnessing the development of an insulated version of the metaverse—one with Chinese characteristics.
Fast finance fact: this nascent industry in China alone could be valued up to USD 8 trillion by 2024, according to American multinational investment management and financial services company Morgan Stanley.
But while many companies are looking to leverage these new opportunities, a number of, well, sorta essential factors differentiate the Chinese metaverse from its Western peer. To comprehensively understand China’s metaverse, certain factors need to be considered. Like the law. #minordetail
In recent years, Chinese policymakers have sought to create a regulated environment for “secure and controllable” technologies that are produced domestically and held closely accountable to government oversight. Given this context, China’s metaverse ecosystem is likely to further develop under strict regulatory oversight, with an emphasis on protecting personal information and an increasing scrutiny of data exports, among other thingamajigs. This trend suggests that China’s metaverse will probs not be interacting with its overseas counterpart. What’s more, the Chinese government’s strong anti-monopoly enforcement may encourage the development of many competing metaverses.
But except for these regulatory constraints, Chinese cities and regions are creating enough room to co-opt the metaverse’s development as companies innovate. For instance, last year, Shanghai mentioned the metaverse in its five-year development plan for the city’s IT industry.
And as Shanghai is China’s shop window…. We move along to the next virtual checkpoint: fashion.
Catwalk to Cover
This spring, China Fashion Week ran with the country’s digital fashion fever by tapping into the metaverse in celebration of the international fashion affair’s 25th anniversary—FYI, the event takes place twice a year in China’s capital city of Beijing.
A total of 14 brands from ready-to-wear, tailored-to-taut-body and kidswear to shoes and other accessories were invited to strut their stuff at the rather futuristic AW22 showcase. The catwalk appeared in three 3D sci-fi-style settings, creating an immersive experience for onlookers to explore the universe–a contemporary artistic prairie fantasy, according to Dao Insights.
Digital, virtual, whatever-all tech continues to take China’s fashion industry, in particular, by storm. And brands who can adapt to this new landscape will naturally stand out to their target audience in the country. Designers and publications alike must reflect on shifts in culture and talent, and today that increasingly includes digital art and virtual fashion.
In September this year, for example, global Vogue titles unveiled an oceanic metaverse world to showcase digital talent, a project spearheaded by Vogue China.
Called the “Vogue Meta-Ocean,” the experience includes an above-water exploration followed by a mythical underwater world, featuring work by 24 artists including 3D digital sculptures, nominated by editorial teams from global Vogue titles, including India, Australia, Mexico and Latin America, Japan and China. Many of the pieces were inspired by the pages of various Vogue September issues and wearing digital fashion, with additional artwork and artists expected to be added over time.
Chinese photographer Momo Chen’s work (originally created for Vogue China’s January issue), for one, captured the five elements of nature—earth, water, fire, air and space– as defined by Chinese philosophers.
The Vogue Meta-Ocean was initiated by Vogue China to build on the publication’s previous metaverse creation: Infni+ (pronounced “Infinity”), an avatar introduced in June on the cover of a companion title called Vogue+, which invites cover stars to curate separate bi-monthly issues.
It’s all pretty much “where hi-tech meets high fashion” stuff. And speaking of all things high-end…
O Avatar, Where Art Thou?
“Many luxury and fashion brands see the metaverse as a marketing opportunity via art toys, games, and idols rather than a direct source of profit,” a Jing Daily report on luxury in the Chinese metaverse read.
Alibaba this fall actually celebrated five years of its Tmall Luxury Pavilion, an online shopping platform for luxury brands, with the launch of digital experiences.
To celebrate, the company headed into the metaverse alongside global luxury labels for an augmented reality (AR) fashion show and an exhibition using extended reality to showcase the future of retail. The fashion show on September 22, executed in collaboration with Vogue China, witnessed several brand mascots stomping up and down the virtual catwalk. It came as part of Alibaba’s strategy to multiply ways luxury brands can connect with Chinese customers digitally, with the group already implementing 3D shopping sprees, AR product try-ons and digital avatars into its offering.
The metaverse can be considered a novel marketing ecosystem. In a future where everything can be digitalized, brands will need to find a foothold in a virtual parallel universe. In other words, to win over the next generation in terms of providing forward-looking services and products, entering the metaverse and optimizing its potential have become a must.
Chinese platforms and labels are following in Alibaba’s footsteps to launch “hyper-realistic virtual idols.” These digital avatars or virtual idols are becoming the linchpins of the convergence between the real world and the metaverse, between brands and Gen Zs–and even younger generations.
Fast fun fact: A hyper-realistic digital human has stolen the spotlight at the press center for the 20th CCP National Congress (October 16-23) in Beijing — which is likely to secure an unprecedented third term for China‘s main man, President Xi Jinping. #nowyouknow Many journalists are lining up to interview “her.”
However… China’s virtual idols may not be safe from censorship either, it seems, with a government report issued in January this year vaguely noting some virtual idols are “used to engage in illegal activities,” “may affect and impact social cohesion and values” and pose a risk through promoting the same intense fan culture reserved for human idols.
Real time will tell.
“I Don’t Know The Future. I Didn’t Come Here To Tell You How This Is Going To End. I Came Here To Tell You How It’s Going To Begin.”
–Neo (or Keanu Reeves)
FEATURED IMAGE: “CRYSTAL” BY KULDAR LEEMENT
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