x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

China is revealed as the new force in fashion

At the end of the pret-a-porter season in Paris there were countless affluent Chinese tourists snapping up luxury buys.

I caught the last three days of the prêt-a-porter season in Paris. It felt rather a novelty to be arriving fresh and keen while other fashion editors were visibly wilting and grumbling about the heat and overall lack of tickets due to the emergence of the all-important Chinese fashion pack.

Having just finished my third article about the rising importance of the Asian Pacific customer, I had expected to find perhaps some evidence of the startling statistics I've sifted through of late, such as Prada's 74.2 per cent jump in profits in the past six months, or Burberry's buyback of directly owned shops in the region, which accounted for 60 per cent in its recent 34 per cent rise in sales.

Seemingly overnight, China has become the biggest market for fashion brands, including Gucci and MaxMara, the latter with a whopping 300-shop presence in mainland China alone.

Then there's the opening of Louis Vuitton's new emporium in Singapore, which can only be reached via boat or bridge, a show of force by the French luxury giant as to where its loyalties now lie.

Or, the Chanel Culture "rolling" exhibition, soon to arrive in Beijing after making its debut this summer in Shanghai.

On the catwalks, around one third of all models in shows I saw were of Far Eastern descent.

Meanwhile, the front row celebrities ("frowers") included Chinese actresses such as Fan Bing Bing and Princess Sirivannavari of Thailand (another honorary part of BRIC - Brazil, Russia, India, China: the syndicate of emerging nations that fashion designers are trying to court right now) along with Singapore.

Off-catwalk, the number of Chinese tourists in Paris was mind-boggling.

When I pointed all this out to my fashion-writer peers, their eyes glazed over. The "Chinese conversation" clearly had taken place as early as Milan and had become the elephant in the room. Oops! Getting back to my hotel each evening required navigating the Rue St Honoré, the main arterial shopping route for wealthy visitors in Paris. There, I was faced with two options: either walk in the road facing the full onslaught of Paris traffic to avoid getting behind Chinese shoppers weighed down with bags from Hermès and Goyard (only the best for the Chinese customer). Or, walk behind shuffling window shoppers.

Whatever else emerges as the biggest fashion story of the season from the spring/summer 2012 shows - 1920s drop waists, lace, couture-like maxis, the colour emerald - I won't believe it.

By 2020, the middle-class, affluent Chinese will outnumber the population of Europe.

Let's just say last week felt like 2020 had already arrived.

The last big show of Paris, following Louis Vuitton and Miu Miu, was Elie Saab. The Lebanese designer is popular with models, not just because his clothes know how to flatter a woman's body - as everyone from Kate Winslet, Aishwarya Rai and Angelina Jolie to Princess Beatrice, Queen Rania of Jordan and Halle Berry can testify - but also because he's a rather nice man, as I quickly found out, having been granted backstage access.

There's nothing like a fashion show to remind you that there is nothing crazier than a fashion show, particularly in Paris on the last day of the season.

Here, you not only get to see models close-up - always a fascinating experience - but you also get to see the madness that goes with the job. In fact, witnessing the pre-show build-up explains why models rarely smile.

They are mostly under 20; nobody older would put up with a) the whirring of hairdryers and b) a loud and aggressive army of beauty photographers who set up camp pre-show. (I happen to know this provides some photographers with their annual salary, which explains their determination.) Catwalk-show coverage bags models such as Karlie Kloss and Anja Rubik lucrative billion-dollar campaigns. I can only think these girls learn to grin and bear it, knowing the financial rewards?

Post-show, models spilt out from tents into the dusty Jardin des Tuileries, where a shower of rain had brought alive the scent of lavender planted in abundance in nearby flower beds.

Kloss immediately became surrounded by a gang of Chinese tourists whow were busily snapping photos of her with their mobile phones.

"That's it guys, basta," she cried, lapsing into Italian, punching the air and, I suspect, for possibly the first time in a long time, refusing to pose for pictures for girls who barely came up to her waist.

Then she turned, screamed to no one in particular, "Yeeeessss! I survived the season," and ran off as fast as her high-heeled boots could take her, smiling all the way.