There is a popular stretch of Shanghai called the Bund, which runs right along the Huangpu River and cuts through the heart of the city. On its north end, Tommy Hilfiger staged his fifth see-now-buy-now show last night, setting his runway right along the waterfront. Night had just fallen and the skyscrapers in the Pudong financial district glimmered across the water—the landmark Pearl Tower and one office building that had the Hilfiger flag splashed across it in lights.
Tommy Now, as it’s called, has become a traveling showcase. Through an ongoing partnership with Tmall, the e-commerce giant owned by Alibaba, each piece is instantly shoppable across China, which per Hilfiger is the brand’s fastest growing market. “Someone once told me to go to where your customers are,” Hilfiger said backstage, “and this is the ultimate version of that.”
Falling as it did one day ahead of New York Fashion Week, both the crowd and models were largely culled from East Asia, a logistical move that also made good business sense. K-pop stars Chanyeol Park of EXO and Taeyeon of SNSD were in attendance, the former drawing a hysterical mass of fans who literally pressed their noses against the glass wall surrounding the venue. The $290 black monogrammed crewneck that he wore will no doubt sell like hotcakes (Tommy x Chanyeol, anyone?).
Yet the night was more closely devoted to three Western stars, chiefly Lewis Hamilton, the British Formula 1 racing champion, who won his fifth Italian Grand Prix two days ago and flew straight to Shanghai to debut the first Tommy x Lewis capsule collection (the brand’s sequel to Tommy x Gigi). “He loves sport and casual as a blend, and when you mix those, it’s street style,” Hilfiger says. Think: a slew of red and emerald green track pants, matching sports bras, logo slides and socks, and other easy sportswear.
Then there was Tommy Icons, a second capsule represented by models Hailey Baldwin and Winnie Harlow. Icons is a new collection of classic Hilfiger shapes, reimagined for today: a cropped shell parka or loose velvet sweat pants and bombers, plus little hoodie and rugby stripe dresses (also shoppable). Between them came the Fall 2018 Hilfiger collection, which drew from the brand’s ’80s archives. Exaggerated proportions were made less so, and “modern” trimmings like Lurex and velvet brought knit pullovers and other classic pieces into the present. In sum, 110 looks split into three acts, delivered to one ready audience.
Hilfiger is not alone in his pursuit of the Chinese market; Victoria’s Secret brought its show to Shanghai just one year ago. The Xintiandi shopping district is littered with banners sporting Riccardo Tisci’s new Burberry logo, flapping in the wind. And in Jing An, an enormous billboard promotes the forthcoming Balenciaga flagship, which will sit alongside a Thom Browne, a Moncler, and a Gucci.
On one hand, it is practical. China is vast, and that means many, many potential customers. But its retail space is evolving at breakneck speed and dominated by Alibaba and Tencent, which owns WeChat. What’s more, relations between China and the U.S. are strained at best; Trump-imposed tariffs and ongoing trade negotiations promise to impact both. China is also in the middle of an economic slowdown, as its leaders purport to pursue more sustainable growth. Consumption is decreasing as costs of living increase. Has the Chinese market become the mythical goose that lays golden eggs?
Well, a spectacular China show is still a mark of success. More important, it generates buzz. Tommy Hilfiger has leveraged social media influencers like few other brands have, and by cornering affordable sports basics and classics engineered for the street—a $99 Icons button-down, a $49 Lewis tee—it could perhaps still pin down that golden Shanghainese goose.