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How Fashion Can Tap Into China’s Latest TV Craze

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How Fashion Can Tap Into China’s Latest TV Craze

LONDON, United Kingdom — Every Friday since June 12, hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers have tuned in to Chinese streaming platform Mango TV’s new hit programme, Sisters Who Make Waves. The show, a knockout-style singing competition, goes against the entertainment industry’s ageist grain by featuring 30 older, established female artists rather than undiscovered starlets. Within three days of the programme’s premier, it already raked in 370 million views.

Soon after the credits roll each week, social media platforms like Xiaohongshu and Douyin are flooded with content recreating contestants’ beauty and fashion looks. From videos revealing their exact lipstick shades to serums and face massaging devices credited for actress and participant Ning Jing’s age-defying looks, China’s latest pop culture obsession has cemented itself as a sales-driving hot topic for largely domestic fashion and beauty players. International brands, however, have been slower to take advantage of this marketing opportunity.

In a market where content and commerce have become virtually inextricable, it was only a matter of time before television shows came to the fore. “China has seen rapid growth in [its] entertainment and media industry in recent years,” said Arnold Ma, founder and chief executive of China-focused digital agency Qumin. Programmes have grown from entertainment to “multi-channel brands,” said Ma, spanning TV, video, e-commerce, live commerce and new media formats.

Mainland programmes have begun to rise in the estimation of style-conscious Chinese consumers.

“This is important for western brands to understand, because the distinction between content and commerce has never been closer,” he added. But like most of the platforms and formats that populate the mainland’s saturated digital ecosystem, making an impact with some of the market’s estimated 854 million (and counting) internet users can be a costly and complicated endeavour.

The Shows to Know

Television and streaming platforms are yet another expressway into the country’s influencer economy, which drove $4 billion in sales in 2018 according to influencer company Ruhan. Once lamented as tasteless by local media outlets, mainland programmes have begun to rise in the estimation of style-conscious Chinese consumers.

“The truth is that magazines are no longer popular in China, and have lost their authority even among the wider fashion set,” said Maggie Ma, founder of Shanghai-based showrooms Looknow and Creator’s Showroom. Social media platforms — from WeChat, Weibo and Xiaohongshu to Douyin and Bilibili — has become a more accessible point for consumers to track trends and products via recommendations from key opinion leaders (influencers known as “KOLs”) and channel-specific fashion subscriptions.

Though there are plenty of platforms through which brands can work with KOLs, few are as high-octane or will be seen by a larger audience than that of television and streaming programmes. This is thanks in part to Covid-19: during Chinese New Year, China’s TV and streaming viewership surged 33 percent and 17.4 percent respectively, according to a report released by entertainment platform Maoyan Zhiduoxing.

For deep-pocketed brands, there are plenty of dedicated fashion and beauty programmes that can bolster sales for everything from lipstick to breakfast cereal.

Take Fourtry, a hit streetwear-focused show by Netflix analogue iQiyi that featured celebrities like Dior ambassador Angelababy and Louis Vuitton favourite Kris Wu, who has since jumped ship to join Tencent Video’s programme Where Are the Trendsetters? and will compete with other A-listers to launch their own fashion brands. The show inked more than 40 partnerships during its first season with the likes of Lancôme and Ikea.

Meanwhile, Alibaba owned-Youku has 720 Trend Manager, which puts its stars on a 720 hour deadline to curate a fashion showroom. Crazy Wardrobe helps audience members with their styling questions and has been known to boost sales for brands, said Ma. Mango TV’s ‘I’m a Beauty’ consults KOLs and celebrities to help viewers with their fashion and beauty woes. “All beauty products introduced in the show can be purchased on WeChat and brand’s official websites, which provides audience [members with] a one-stop instant shopping experience,” said Ma.

Then there are a host of programmes not specifically about fashion, beauty or style, which can just as easily boost sales if an actor or guest sports an eye-catching item or makeup look. Last month, Women’s Wear Daily reported that a scene from local drama Nothing but Thirty — in which its protagonist was ostracised by fellow wealthy housewives for carrying a Chanel bag rather than a Hermès Birkin or Kelly — resulted in a “viral moment” for the latter luxury house though neither brand was named explicitly.

Global brands in other categories already engage with China’s television programmes, as they can afford to. 720 Trend Manager has been tapped by the likes of Peugeot and e-commerce powerhouse Tmall, which launched a flagship store selling products featured on the show. Fourtry, now in its second season, has both an online and offline store — shoppers reportedly queued outside its Shanghai location for six hours to nab the latest drop.

Pay to Play

For brands to ink deals with programmes with such reach is expensive. Apart from the biggest global fashion and beauty players, few have marketing budgets that would stretch to this level of investment. Outfitting a whole cast of celebrities on a leading show — like Keep Running, the top-ranking celebrity variety programme modelled after Korea’s Running Man — can cost upwards of ten million yuan (around $1,439,823), said Ma, founder of Creator’s Showroom.

Ma has worked with both editorial and celebrity stylists, including on shows like Sisters Who Make Waves. But as her showroom largely represents emerging brands like homegrown jewellery players Lin and Mistova, she has gone down a different route of lending pieces to celebrity stylists she has built relationships with over the years by charging a small fee for delivery and cleaning to cover her costs.

“It is definitely not a rate you’d get from a typical PR company, because the designer brands we currently work with are still young, like us,” Ma said. Because the brands she works with are generally pricier than mass-market options, the most that Ma has seen items sell at is in the hundreds. But for a young brand, even a hundred units can be a windfall.

For deep-pocketed brands, there are plenty of dedicated fashion and beauty programmes that can bolster sales.

“If the stylist and celebrity like the look, the payback is huge,” she added. “You get endorsement, great content for social media and increased sales. It’s a small price to pay for fame and fortune.”

Even so, challenges await brands that don’t have sufficiently strong supply chains to support an uptick in demand (which for younger brands is the norm). “When sales increase, items sell out quickly,” said Ma. Moreover, designers have to keep up the momentum and make the most out of a sudden spike in interest.

What’s more, those that rely on star power for exposure without carefully considering brand alignment can be at risk of losing their brand identity and direction to appease the masses.

Accessible Marketing Options

Access is of course key. It helps to know the top stylists that have worked on television programmes, such as Mix Wei — who, alongside styling celebrities like Angelababy and Gong Li, has worked on shows like the country’s Sex and City analogue Ode to China and singing competition The Voice of China — and Li Hui, a fashion media veteran who did a stint as the fashion director for romantic comedy One Night Surprise.

But brands don’t have to work directly with a show or celebrity stylist to leverage the buzz surrounding a hit show. Staying up to date with the relevant programmes and what actors are wearing can allow a brand’s social media teams to curate relevant styles for their followers.

But for those looking to get their products on a particular programme or actor, not all shows are equal. “We consider more TV dramas because the cycles and seasons are longer,” said Creator’s Showroom’s Ma. “Variety shows don’t air for as long, especially if there are eliminations involved.”

When working with a show, which like Fourtry has its own online and offline e-commerce channels, brands need to ensure that their own retail touchpoints are up to scratch. Digging into the network or platform’s audience is vital: Nothing but Thirty is more mature, largely female audience could produce results for anti-ageing skincare, whereas Fourtry would be a top pick for a sneaker label.

Streaming will play an important in the marketing mix for fashion and beauty players in the years ahead.

When it comes to dressing specific celebrities, brands shouldn’t necessarily limit their search to A-list stars — even if they can afford them. “Bigger celebrities sometimes have a smaller impact on sales,” said Ma. “Fans of top TV drama actors are smart and won’t blindly buy whatever they see them wear on screen.”

On the other hand, smaller or up-and-coming talents often boast bigger, younger social media followings. Ma has been caught off guard in the past, where she wasn’t aware of the extent of an actor’s star power until the brand’s social media channels began blowing up.

It is important to also note that despite the increasing overlap between luxury fashion and China’s celebrity economy, the way A-listers are styled for television hasn’t quite caught up, said Creator’s Showroom’s Ma. Save for Wei and Hui, many top stylists have yet to venture into the television space beyond working with single clients on variety shows. But Luna Jia, who has been working as an in-house stylist at both Looknow and Creator’s Showroom for a year on editorial, celebrity and television projects, reckons that the TV styling space will only get more crowded as platforms continue pumping out hit shows.

“The concept of a television show has changed — new styles and formats exist now, which will mean a large uptick in demand for our work,” Jia told BoF.

Often, only the top actors and guests can bring in their own styling teams. “Many stylists on TV dramas are old school and can’t produce cutting edge looks,” Ma added. This stands in stark contrast with television styling in South Korea, where actors in popular dramas have been known to sport brands like Celine and Jimmy Choo on the regular.

However, Ma is hopeful that the mainland’s entertainment industry is catching up. “I hope that more stylists, aside from focusing on editorial jobs, will work on shows and drama styling. It’s a win-win situation, really.”

If, as Ma expects, more shows do secure better styling and art direction, then China’s TV and streaming medium will have an even greater role to play in the marketing mix for fashion and beauty players in the years ahead.

时尚与美容
FASHION & BEAUTY

Balenciaga sign | Source: Shutterstock

Balenciaga Faces Backlash for Qixi Ad Aesthetic

The fashion brand’s campaign for Chinese Valentines Day hit a nerve with some netizens, who deemed the lo-fi, so-called “Too Cool” (a homonym for tuku, or intentionally tasteless) styling and design of four limited-edition handbags insulting. The bags, sprawled with phrases like “he loves me,” have been interpreted as a nod to fashion beloved by China’s rural population, and by Tuesday night the hashtag “Balenciaga’s tasteless Chinese Valentine’s campaign” drew over 210,000 mentions and 170 million views on Weibo, with some calling for a boycott. This isn’t Balenciaga’s first brush with backlash in its most important market: the brand apologised in 2018 after a video appeared to show a Chinese customer assaulted at the Balenciaga store in Paris’ Printemps department store. (Jing Daily)

Louis Vuitton’s Shanghai Show Draws Fifty Million Hits

The French luxury brand, which took its first offline show to Shanghai since Covid-19 upended  the industry calendar, showcased its Spring/Summer 2021 menswear collection by Virgil Abloh on the likes of local brand ambassador Kris Wu. Louis Vuitton livestreamed the event on platforms like Douyin, Weibo, its WeChat mini programme, with views and likes on Weibo exceeding 50 million and 320,000 likes respectively. The collection — which designer Walter Van Beirendonck later called out as “shocking” for copying his own designs — is slated to be shown again in Tokyo this September. (Irina Li for BoF China)

Burberry CEO Remains Hopeful as Hong Kong Retail Suffers 

The British luxury player’s Chief Executive Marco Gobbetti is positive that the erstwhile luxury hub will recover from months of hardship, but is staking bets on neighbouring Shenzhen to be safe. “Hong Kong has an incredible energy to bounce back and rebound. Of course we will have to look at our retail footprint if tourism from China will be severely impacted for a long time,” he told the SCMP. This month, Burberry opened a “social retail” store in Shenzhen in partnership with WeChat owner Tencent, which boasts social media and gaming functionality. Meanwhile, a third wave of coronavirus in Hong Kong and socio-political strife in the wake of Beijing’s national security law has prolonged retailers’ woes. Just this week, department store Sogo announced that sales in its Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui locations dropped 50 percent and 70 percent in the first half of the year, respectively. (SCMP)

科技与创新
TECH & INNOVATION

Bytedance-owned Douyin, the Chinese counterpart to Tiktok | Source: Courtesy

Douyin Amps Up Supervision Over Beauty Content

Beauty has long been a hot category among the mainland’s host of livestream and short video apps, but regulation around monetisation and third party retailers has been slow to catch up. In a statement published last week, it was announced that from August 6, TikTok’s sister app would strengthen controls over beauty-related content to protect consumers by requiring third party retailers to receive verification in order for direct orders to take place through video content. If these rules are violated, Douyin may block retailers from its product sharing functionality. (Douyin Bar)

Pinduoduo Launches Fashion Mini Program

This week, Pinduoduo — the controversial hit group buying platform making up China’s e-tail trifecta alongside Alibaba and JD.com — launched Duochao: a digital fashion community housed in WeChat’s mini programme ecosystem. Though the program hasn’t introduced e-commerce functionality, a roll-out is expected by local media outlets. The move signals Pinduoduo’s goals to boost user engagement among younger consumers as its growth slows: active buyers in the year ended March 31, 2020 hit 628.1 million, a year-on-year jump of 42 percent after 50 percent annual growth recorded a year earlier. The likes of Nike and Y-3 have already launched their official accounts. (Technode)

消费与零售
CONSUMER & RETAIL

T Galleria is part of DFS Group Limited | Source: Shutterstock

Duty Free Giant DFS Bets on Shenzhen

The Hong Kong-based, LVMH-owned duty free player DFS is now the second largest shareholder in the e-commerce arm of Shenzhen Duty Free Co., a Chinese state-owned duty free product provider. DFS claimed a 22 percent stake in the business, while the provider owns a 40 percent stake. Further details regarding the transaction have not been disclosed. Though China continues to recover from Covid-19, international travel remains at a standstill — DFS’ investment in e-commerce seeks to strengthen its digital capabilities in a post-pandemic landscape. (Winshang)

Drugstore Giant’s Sales Dropped 10 Billion in H1 2020

CK Hutchison Holdings Limited — the Hong Kong-based parent of Watsons, the world’s largest health and beauty retailer — reported the latter’s financial results late last week. The figures revealed that Watsons’ global sales during the period fell 11 percent year-on-year, whereas sales in China fell 30 percent year-on-year. CK Hutchison acknowledged that the pandemic has hit Watsons the hardest, despite having invested $1 billion HKD (around $129 million) on digitisation over the last eight years. (CBN Data)

Uniqlo Gears Up For Opening Spree

The Japanese fast fashion maker isn’t slowing down. Rather, it will open 19 new stores in mainland China on August 14 alone. These new locations include spaces in Shanghai’s Shiji Bailian Shopping Centre and Chengdu’s Ito-Yokado department store. The brand’s recovery is going smoothly: data released by owner Fast Retailing revealed that sales rebounded in July, with both online and offline transactions increasing 4.7 percent and same-store sales in its native Japan jumping 4.4 percent year-on-year. (Linkshop)

政治,经济与社会
POLITICS, ECONOMY, SOCIETY

WeChat app | Source: Shutterstock

What Does a US Ban on WeChat Mean for Fashion?

A sweeping executive order issued last Thursday by President Donald Trump banning “super app” WeChat could have major repercussions for American businesses that use it to engage with and sell to over one billion Chinese shoppers. The ban’s scope remains unclear, but brands and agencies around the world are scrambling. The app — which is both a B2B and B2C lifeline to China for fashion and beauty brands as well as PR firms, digital agencies and the like — has become a linchpin of most business strategies. The removal of the app from US app stores could affect Chinese nationals living in the states, while China-based smartphone users may be forced choose between WeChat and the iPhone (Apple relies on China for around 20 percent of its worldwide revenues). The implications for Tencent — which derives most of its revenue from gaming, but would lose a big chunk of valuable data — remain unclear. (Casey Hall for BoF)

ByteDance Valuation At Risk as TikTok Sale Nears

TikTok and Douyin owner Bytedance — which was given an estimated valuation of $100 billion just this year — has been in the hot seat for months as Sino-American tensions fluctuated. But after TikTok lost an estimated third of its user base when it was banned in India, the drama has only escalated following President Trump’s executive order banning transactions with Bytedance starting September 20. Now Bytedance’s $100 billion valuation is at stake as a TikTok sale (Microsoft has been named as a potential buyer) appears more likely, investors told TechCrunch. At present, TikTok only makes up a fraction of Bytedance’s revenues, the latter has only begun to monetise its 2 billion (and counting) users, and the tech ecosystem is much more crowded and competitive back home. (Techcrunch)

China Decoded wants to hear from you. Send tips, suggestions, complaints and compliments to our Shanghai-based Asia Correspondent casey.hall@businessoffashion.com.

Fashion

Fashion Briefing: Fashion’s emerging founder-investors are mega-influencers – Glossy

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Fashion Briefing: Fashion’s emerging founder-investors are mega-influencers – Glossy

Fashion’s OG Instagrammers are building empires and, at the same time, growing their influence beyond the industry.

After being schooled for years on the workings of the fashion industry, mega-influencers including Danielle Bernstein (2.7 million Instagram followers) and Rocky Barnes (2.5 million Instagram followers) are graduating to careers less reliant on brands. To take it to the next level, they’re leveraging their prowess and communities, driving deals with effective business partners, and evolving their focus, based on the industry’s direction and their own passions. The emerging results, for both Bernstein and Barnes, are personally-backed brands and investment portfolios set to expand based on early successes.

“The plan is to grow, in a big way,” said Bernstein. “I’m a serial entrepreneur, so I’ll always want to introduce new businesses and categories to my brand. And I’m angel investing and joining the board of advisors for so many companies. That’s the future of the creator economy: harnessing and creating community around your existing followers and then figuring out how to monetize that.”

In 2019, upon inking a licensing deal with New York-based clothing company Onia, Bernstein launched the Shop We Wore What e-commerce site, populated with her expanding We Wore What fashion collection. The collection has been at the center of much recent controversy, due to allegedly including copycat designs. According to Bernstein, she turns to vintage pieces, editorials and travel for inspiration. Bernstein’s also become an investor and advisor for hair supplement company Wellbel and CBD brand Highline Wellness. In May, she became active on Patreon, offering exclusive video content to paying members of her community.

In addition, Bernstein heads up We Gave What, a charitable arm of her company. In 2019, she launched tech company Moe Assist with a project management tool for influencers, though its social accounts have been inactive for two-plus months. When asked for comment, a spokesperson said Moe Assist is in a new fundraising stage and “should have news to share shortly.”

Barnes, meanwhile, partnered with Reunited Clothing to come out with her apparel company, The Bright Side, in December. And she recently became a first-time investor-advisor, for 6-month-old SMS shopping platform Qatch. She announced the partnership in an Instagram post on Monday.

“I feel like a grown-up,” she told me, before confirming that she’s interested in investing in more companies. “Diversifying my business has been a really big [focus] for me. I interact with so many different brands and companies on a daily basis. Using my market knowledge in ways that can help other people is fulfilling and exciting for me. And I especially love when I can be involved with a company from the beginning.”

Building on their content creator role in fashion is a natural progression, both said. And it plays into many industry shifts: On its way out is fashion’s DTC era, largely fueled by Harvard Business School and Wharton graduates using a plug-and-play, marketing-heavy business model to launch brands. More consumers are prioritizing quality, differentiated products, making industry experience and style expertise greater virtues among insiders. At the same time, consumers are increasingly taking shopping cues from relatable, platform-native celebrities, moving on from authoritative editors and more closed-off celebrities.

The school of collaborations
The collaborator-to-founder shift isn’t the newest thing. Other longtime influencers that have made the pivot include Arielle Charnas, with Something Navy; Aimee Song, with Song of Style; Rumi Neely, with Are You Am I; the list goes on. Most often, the names behind these brands don’t have formal design and business training — for her part, Bernstein said she “went to FIT for two years, but didn’t study design and production.” But, for years, they’ve worked hand-in-hand with companies to bring their visions to life. And along the way, they’ve come to know what resonates best with their vast communities, from marketing to merchandising to product.

“My most successful collaborations have led to the largest share of my business,” said Bernstein.

Bernstein’s partnership with Onia came out of her swimwear collaboration with its Onia brand, in May 2019. On the collab’s launch day, it drove $2 million in sales, and an included style was the brand’s best-selling swimsuit of the summer. Also in 2019, Bernstein collaborated with Joe’s Jeans on multiple denim collections. The launch day of the first, in March 2019, marked Joe Jeans’ best sales day to date, said Jennifer Hawkins, the brand’s svp of marketing and innovation on a Glossy Podcast in October.

Both served as learning opportunities for Bernstein, who said — as with all of her collaborations — she took full advantage: “It was never just [uploading] a post, and then I went away,” she said. “I always wanted to know how the performance was, in terms of sales, and asked questions: ‘Can you share the analytics?’ ‘What did you see on your end?’ ‘What worked and what didn’t work?’”

She added, “They provided a ton of data, in terms of what I could sell and what the market was missing.”

Likewise, she said, she always followed and shared with partner brands the Instagram Insights and Google Analytics numbers around her corresponding posts. Doing so gave all parties a 360-degree view of a collaboration’s success.

“I’ve learned what works for brands so they get the largest return on their investment,” she said.

For example, she’s learned to lean on her audience’s tastes, versus rely on her own, by allowing them to offer feedback throughout the design process through Instagram. That’s included the selection of fabrics and colors and the fit sessions with models. She only spotlights her favorite styles and what she wears in her own social posts, as a play for authenticity.

According to Bernstein, the collaborations with brands allowing her to play an advisor role — by guiding them on influencer partnerships, marketing and messaging — are always more successful. And they often turn into longer-term investment or advising partnerships.

Bernstein chose to work with Onia on the We Wore What collection based on its prioritization of quality and fit, and ability to keep to affordable retail prices. Currently, prices on the We Wore What site range from $20, for a scrunchie, to $228, for a vegan leather jumpsuit.

Barnes was also ready to go out on her own after finding the right partners. Her Reunited Clothing partnership came after working with the company to create her Express product collaboration, in early 2019. On its first-quarter 2019 earnings call, interim CEO Matthew C. Moullering said the company had seen “a strong start to [the] collection both in-stores and online and [believed] it [was] helping to introduce the brand to a new audience.”

“Having your own brand is terrifying,” Barnes said. “But I like that I’m in control and not so dependent on doing the day-to-day posts promoting other companies.”

But, she added, “One of the huge benefits of working with all these different brands on all these different projects is that we’re constantly getting introduced to new people and seeing who we like working with.”

Barnes’ internal team consists of her husband, who’s the “business brains” of the company, she said, and an assistant.

Like Bernstein, Barnes stressed the need for outside support in the production process: “I love such quirky, crazy things, but I also understand what is realistic for a buyer and a normal girl buying clothes,” she said. “The experience of taking ideas and making them work for a bigger group of people was my learning curve going into a business. It’s important to have a good, diverse team around you who can make your idea something that’s marketable.”

For its part, We Wore What has seen “200x growth in the last year,” as it’s expanded to new categories, Bernstein said. Its ready-to-wear, swimwear, resort wear, and activewear are now sold in “dozens and dozens of retailers around the world,” many of which offer style exclusives; they include Revolve, Bloomingdale’s and Intermix.

“Launching my own brand was putting the proof in the pudding for the power of influencers, when it comes to selling product,” she said.

As with her Joe’s and Onia collaborations, Bernstein sees a rush-to-buy with We Wore What product drops. “The first 10 minutes is when we see the biggest portion of our sales for the entire collection,” she said.

To build buzz, Shop We Wore What’s Instagram account (213,000 followers) features in its Stories the line sheets of the soon-to-launch styles, allowing customers to thoughtfully plan their buy. Doing so has led to lower return rates, Bernstein said. The company’s marketing mix also includes text messages and emails, VIP discounts and user-generated content.

Bernstein has a staff of four people, which include a chief operating officer and a brand coordinator. She said she prioritizes establishing partners with skills and expertise she doesn’t have, so she can learn from them along the way. Ideally, she’d have learned about tech packs, fittings and production logistics in school, but she’s training as she goes.

Moving forward, Bernstein said she plans to extend the size range of We What What styles, which are currently available in sizes XS-XXL, and launch collections with collaborators to sell exclusively on her brand’s DTC site. In addition, she aims to eventually open “experimental” physical retail, starting with pop-ups.

As for her investment-advisor portfolio, she’s currently in talks with companies centered on the concepts of “being able to sell your closet and even rent your closet.”

As for Barnes’ Bright Side, she said it will hit “a bunch of new retailers this year.”

Moving beyond fashion
Up next for Shop We Wore What is a new product category that will hit before the holiday season. Considering her passion for home furnishings and decor — based on her @homeworewhat Instagram account (7,500 followers) and recent press coverage of her new SoHo loft — it’s a safe bet that a home-related category is in the cards.

Likewise, Barnes hinted at a future Bright Side home collection, following her recent, two-year home remodel, which she’s getting set to debut on social media.

Lifestyle brands are the clear goal.

“I would love to be a combination of Rachel Zoe and Martha Stewart, just having my hands in everything and creating this really beautiful lifestyle where you can entertain and be fashionable,” Barnes said. “That’s kind of the dream.”

She added, “Fashion is where my heart has always been, but I’m growing as a person and there’s so much more in my life right now: my family, my home — and I’m getting older, so beauty [and skin care] makes sense now. Sharing all of that with everyone seems so natural; it would be weird if I only did fashion.”

As for future investments, though Quatch fits perfectly into Barnes’ world, with its fashion-tech focus, she said she’s open to investing in any company where she sees opportunity.

What’s more, she has no plans to retire from social media, though she has yet to tackle TikTok.

“People’s need for content has only increased, so I’m posting and creating content more than ever,” Barnes said. “But I’ve learned to become more of a hard-ass with brands. The companies that are willing to work with me and [facilitate] the most like authentic relationship possible are the ones I move forward with.” Reunited can attest.

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Marcelo Gaia on Mirror Palais’ First Pop-Up and Beyond

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Marcelo Gaia on Mirror Palais' First Pop-Up and Beyond

In an age where fast fashion is king and our feeds are constantly over-saturated with a rapidly-changing array of trends, Marcelo Gaia, the owner and lead designer of Mirror Palais, is forging a new path. Since founding the brand in 2019, the New York-based designer has taken social media by storm. After accumulating a large and devoted fanbase that includes the likes of Kendall Jenner, Ariana Grande, Bella Hadid, and Dua Lipa, Gaia has established Mirror Palais as one of the most-coveted labels on the internet.

marcelo gaia

Mirror Palais founder and designer Marcelo Gaia

Heido Stanton

However, more than just being a popular social media brand, Mirror Palais stands for something greater than a revolving door of trends and has quickly solidified its own unique position in the fashion world. Made in New York City with deadstock fabrics and fair trade cottons and silks, the label is humanizing the design and construction processes. Operating on a made to order system for its RTW collections, it strives to minimize waste and excess supply at every step.

mirror palais

Mirror Palais Collection II campaign

Heidi Stanton

mirror palais

Mirror Palais Collection II campaign

Heidi Stanton

Mirror Palais has also proven to be just as thoughtful and distinct in its designs. Inspired by the most influential women in Gaia’s life, the brand celebrates the female form in novel, fun, and enchanting ways, with sizes ranging from XXS to 2X. Some of the label’s most unique and beloved designs include the famed underwire polo tops, sultry lingerie-inspired mini dresses, and Brazilian bikinis embellished with eccentric florals and ‘90s patterns.

This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Now, Gaia is bringing the Mirror Palais experience into the real world with the brand’s first pop-up in New York City. Launching on October 22, just in-time for the label’s second anniversary, the brick and mortar will be located at 27 Orchard Street in the Lower East Side and will give shoppers the opportunity to experience the brand’s second collection in-person.

Ahead of the opening, CR spoke with Gaia to reflect on the past, present, and future of Mirror Palais.

mirror palais

Mirror Palais Collection II campaign

Heidi Stanton

mirror palais

Mirror Palais Collection II campaign

Heidi Stanton

CR: Mirror Palais is arguably the most in-demand small designer brand right now, with a quickly-growing following. With such a high level of popularity, how are you managing producing new garments and designs under such pressure, while still staying true to a small-scale, environmentally conscious image?

MG: I think the biggest thing is that I’m super transparent with my clientele and with my following about everything that’s going on. So, I never feel that I have to promise something that I can’t deliver and even if I do fall short, there’s this understanding that the business is growing during such an unprecedented time. … I have an amazing communications manager who has been with me since I started the company, and she’s taken over communicating with our customers, which is pretty much the most important part of our business because we’re made to order. We make sure that, whoever they are, they know that their order is very important to us and that we’re going to do everything in our power to accommodate them. So, it’s basically that everything I do comes with the client, the Mirror Palais girl in mind and then everything else trickles down from there.

CR: Along the same lines, Mirror Palais has been seen all over Instagram and TikTok, as well as on numerous celebrities including, Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid, and Kylie Jenner. How has this widespread exposure via social media helped the brand, and in what ways, if any, has it harmed it?

MG: I think that some people get it wrong, in that, there’s this idea that celebrities are necessary for implementing a brand into a higher status. With my own experience, I’ve found that not to be the case because, before I had any celebrity wearing my clothes, I was already amassing a strong community and following just based off of the story that we were sharing online. So, with the first celebrity moment, which was Dua Lipa in one of her music videos, it was one of those moments when, anyone who maybe needed that affirmation that we were legitimate because the business was founded on Instagram, was like, “okay, maybe this is someone to take more seriously.” I think it ultimately helped with that sort of endorsement. … Perhaps one of the ways that it might harm our business is that people have a perception of the business being bigger than it is. It’s like “oh, if so-and-so is wearing their clothes, they must be this big corporation,” when, really, when we started it was just me in this little tiny room with a garment rack. We’ve grown, but we’re still a really small team and we have four full-time employees. So, I guess that’s where we are harmed a little bit, with putting unrealistic expectations on us even though we’re still so young.

CR: Wow, only four full time employees? Well, you are clearly making it work.

MG: We are, we are. I’m a really conservative person and I don’t want to make any promises that I can’t keep. So, the idea of bringing people on is like a ship, right? I don’t want to bring on more people that I can feed, or more than the boat can actually handle. So, I’m just trying to find that balance as a business owner, and it is definitely difficult to do creative and business at the same time. But, I have an amazing team that are supporting me in all of those ways.

CR: Considering the saturation of specific trends in the fashion world as a result of social media, how do you go about keeping the Mirror Palais image unique? More specifically, where do you look for inspiration in order to ensure that the brand continues to stand out and have an identity of its own?

MG: I love old films, they’re a huge inspiration for the brand. I think that the Mirror Palais story, the feed, can kind of roll out like a movie story might and I try to capture moments that may not have been used in terms of the imagery. I just trying to capture something that might resonate with someone in a different, less commercial or contrived way; maybe catching those little moments in between the shots. I don’t retouch my images, so I was really careful to not go a traditional route with my imagery. I was really just shooting people who were helping me, my friends in my clothes and we would just go out onto the street and we’d go get a coffee and then I’d take a video that would go viral. And it wasn’t as if I’d set up this big-budget shoot or anything, I was just being in the moment with a friend. I think just trying to deliver more, I know people hate the word “authenticity,” but I guess just trying to show something that you don’t exactly see anymore. Even that has become more popular. I feel like I just try to capture those little in-between moments and that’s what really resonates with our following.

CR: When you’re designing new looks, what sort of individual do you envision? Essentially, what kind of person is the “Mirror Palais” muse?

MG: Initially, I envision my mom and who she is, and especially who she was in her younger years. She grew up in Brazil and moved to the states, and she kept this insane archive of all of her clothes wherever we moved. It was a big source of inspiration and exploration for me as a young gay man. I would go into her closet and secretly try her clothes on. I got this intimate sense of what it felt like to be a woman. I’ve just been surrounded by women by whole life: I was raised by my mom and older sister and in grade, middle, and high school I only had female friends. I also only really have close female friends now. So, I think that I exist in the world as a cis-man, but my point of view is very much female. In a way, I think I am just trying to create what I think the women in my life would like to find in a thrift or vintage store. I did a lot of thrifting when I was younger because we didn’t have a lot of money. So, that was how I created my fashion identity: through my mom’s stuff and going to thrift stores. The idea of finding that one thing that stands out and getting super excited about it is the moment that I’m trying to recreate with my store and with my designs.

CR: This week, you are opening your first pop-up for the brand in New York. What does this mean to you as a New Yorker to be able to open a brick and mortar in your home city?

MG: I never thought that it would ever be something that was possible for me. It’s amazing that I’m getting to do what I love the most, which is getting to go shopping with my friends. I feel like all of my customers and all of my followers are like my friends and they are going to be coming by and we’re going to be playing dress-up! And I hope that people are going to be able to find something that they really love. I feel really hopeful that the experience in-person will be even greater than the experience online and I’m really excited. It still hasn’t really hit me yet. I was having a meeting with Susan Alexander right before this, who is also opening her first store. I’m 27 Orchard St and she’s 33 Orchard St. And then across the street is Sandy Lee Yang. So, I feel like there this is the new wave in New York fashion and I’m hoping that I can connect with as many people as possible to determine how we can do things differently than the people who came before us.

CR: What can shoppers expect from the Mirror Palais pop-up with regard to its aesthetic, design, and overall vibe?

MG: It’s a very clean layout. It’s a white box gallery space at the Larrie gallery, so, it’s just going to be super clean and there are going to be little Mirror Palais touches here and there. There’s just going to be a lot of playing and the clothes themselves are really going to contrast with that stark white, which I think will be really fun. I feel like you’re going to get the chance to experience the brand in-person, which is basically us, my team, us girls hyping each other up. Basically, that’s what happens in our office every day when we get new samples and everyone in the office tries everything on. And we’re going to be debuting our new campaign by Heidi [Stanton] on Thursday [October 22nd]. We did this really cool images that I have been kind of hoarding, just waiting for the right moment to release. So, we’re going to do those in-conjunction with some wheatpastes around the city. We’re going to be all over downtown for a little bit, which I’m excited to do.

CR: Considering this pop-up is a huge milestone in the brand’s trajectory, what’s your next goal or milestone for Mirror Palais after opening a physical space?

MG: My long-term goal would be to create a space where people can come to create a customized wardrobe with our shapes. At the turn of the century, when designers started opening their ateliers, especially in Paris, the made-to-measure movement with high-end designers was something that seemed really cool and is something that I don’t think most of us have access to. So, I would love to create a space where people can come by, see the shapes, and try-on the different sizes that we have. We carry XXS to 2XL, so we would have someone to measure you and create a really intentional experience with your wardrobe acquisition, so everything that you’re putting into your closet is made for you and has a really special memory attached to it. Hopefully, that will make you want to hold on to it forever and ultimately, create less waste, which is something that is important to me and should be important to every designer right now. It’s about how we can be more conscious about what we’re putting out into the world and I think that, if you’re really in-love with your clothes, then you treat them better and they won’t end up in a landfill.

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Fashion

The Best Street Style at Paris Fashion Week

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The Best Street Style at Paris Fashion Week

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

At Paris Fashion Week, photographer Christina Fragkou captured street styles during the nine days of shows and events.

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @louispisano

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Hera is wearing Daily Paper pants and jacket with Goossens jewelry and an Off White bag.
Instagram: @herapradel

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I just wanted to be comfy. I like earth colors — nothing too vivid!”
Instagram: @ogqueen

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: amyyaa_

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Cõvco: “I’m inspired by my mama.” Tshegue: “I’m inspired by chaos.”
Instagram: @_covco and @tshegue_official

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“Different influencers inspire my style … Oh, and TikTok.”
Instagram: @elviedesu

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Jessica is wearing an Ottolinger top and shorts, Doc Martens, and a Dior bag.
Instagram: @jessicaaidi

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Sofia is wearing all vintage. “I’m inspired by party life.”
Instagram: @sofsanfe__

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Aleali is wearing an Ottolinger shirt and pants, a Mowalola purse, and Miista boots.
Instagram: @alealimay

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I’m a walking disco ball; I need dance!”
Instagram: @yumasui

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I love corsets, and I’m very into ’60s vibes, especially when it comes to shoes!”
Instagram: @aim_.d

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Courtney is wearing an Ottolinger outfit and Gucci shoes.
Instagram: @alwaysjudging

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Maria is wearing Ottolinger.
Instagram: @maria_bernad

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Kiddy is wearing a Prada top, jacket, and gloves; Mugler pants; and Ann Demeulemeester shoes.
Instagram: @areyoukitty

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Cindy is wearing Ottolinger and Rick Owens shoes.
Instagram: @cindybruna

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @susiebubble

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @sachaquenby

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @parlonsstyle

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Courtney is wearing a Courrèges leather set.
Instagram: @alwaysjudging

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Ellie is wearing a Coperni top and bag.
Instagram: @slipintostyle

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Scottie is wearing a vintage look that’s “a little Audrey Hepburn.”
Instagram: @scottielarsonn

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Devon is wearing a vintage outfit with a Maison Margiela bag. “I believe in being sustainable and don’t want to add to my footprint, so I dress mostly vintage. I styled this outfit entirely around this perfect jacket. I wish I had this when I was a kid.”
Instagram: @devonkaylor

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Kristen is wearing a Loewe dress and a Munthe coat with an Ottolinger bag.
“Today is vacation style: Miami and retirement homes and White Lotus!”
Instagram: @kristenvbateman

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @louloudesaison

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Jamie-Maree is wearing a Balenciaga outfit.
Instagram: @airtomyearth

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Selma is wearing pants and a jacket by Patou with a vintage vest, a JW Anderson bag, Gucci necklaces, Nanushka sunglasses, and Yeezy shoes.
Instagram: @selmakacisebbagh

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“My friend who owns a vintage boutique dresses me. He wanted me to be out of my comfort zone because normally I dress very femme, and this is all men’s clothing!”
Instagram: @la_dingue

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Petra is wearing a Résumé dress with ASOS shoes and a Cala Jade bag.
Instagram: @petrahenriette

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Louis is wearing Coperni.
Instagram: @louispisano

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Nina is wearing a Hyein SEO outfit with a Coperni bag and Celine boots.
Instagram: @ninauc

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Gala is wearing a Coperni outfit with Giuseppe Zanotti shoes and Valentino sunglasses.
Instagram: @galagonzalez

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Tiffany is wearing an outfit from the Attico with a Chanel bag.
Instagram: @handinfire

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Linda is wearing an Ivy Park x Adidas jumpsuit and Zara shoes.
Instagram: @letscooktonite

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I don’t really have an inspiration today. I just wanted to wear my Crocs and highlight them, so I wore all black!”
Instagram: @17xpk_

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“My inspiration is retro, ’70s, ’80s. It’s a little bit of a mix!”
Instagram: @missgeburtz

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Hillary is wearing Collina Strada.
Instagram: @_collina

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I couldn’t decide what shoes to wear so I wore one of each.”
Instagram: @selenaforrest

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“To be honest, I just wanted to match my hair!”
Instagram: @hannahparent

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @clementine.bal

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“I just came from Geneva and wanted to get some new clothes. I went to my friend’s vintage shop and gave him the freedom to dress me. I was his doll.”
Instagram: @spiceandcurls

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @angel__emoji

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Symone is wearing Vivienne Westwood.
Instagram: @the_symone

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Michelle is wearing a vintage dress, a Balenciaga jacket, and Louis Vuitton boots with a Loewe bag.
Instagram: @laffmichelle

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Miss Fame is wearing Vivienne Westwood with Earnest shoes.
Instagram: @missfamenyc

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Linda, left, is wearing a vintage Yves Saint-Laurent top, a Raey jacket, Róhe pants, and Prada shoes with an Hermès bag. Erika is wearing a Celine top, a By Malene Birger coat, and Christopher Esber shoes with an Hermès bag.
Instagram: @lindatol_ and @erika_boldrin

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Alex is wearing Loewe.
Instagram: @alexgoyaa

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Taqwa is wearing Fendi.
Instagram: @taqwabintali

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Tiana is wearing a vintage top and skirt, Pretty Brain Vomit tights, and tabi shoes with a Telfar bag.
Instagram: @ sade.stan

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Caro is wearing Loewe.
Instagram: @carodaur

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Yilan is wearing a Maisonprin sweater, a vintage cardigan, Zara pants, and Alexander McQueen shoes.
Instagram: @yilun_hua

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Sarah is wearing a Vivienne Westwood shirt, a Samsøe & Samsøe skirt, Doc Martens, and Ray-Ban glasses with a Coperni bag.
Instagram: @sarahloufalk

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Emma is wearing an Aureliane outfit with Zara shoes and a Lancel bag.
Instagram: @ emma.siaut

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

“Lately I’ve been loving monotoned outfits. I also love some faux fur.”
Instagram: @pilarmadimin

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Lisa is wearing a Victoria Beckham blouse and Studio Sut trousers with Bottega Veneta shoes and bag.
Instagram: @lisa.aiken

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Caro is wearing an Hermès jumper, the Attico shorts, a Giambattista Valli jacket, and Miu Miu shoes.
Instagram: @carodaur

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Emili is wearing Lanvin with a JW PEI bag.
Instagram: @emilisindlev

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @reishito

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Chloé is wearing a Loulou Studio top and Rotate shoes with a Chanel bag.
Instagram: @louloudesaison

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Eugénie is wearing Prada.
Instagram: @eugenietrochu

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @jaimetoutcheztoi

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Emna is wearing a Ludovic crop, a Rouge cardigan, Louis Vuitton pants, and Ghazal shoes with a By Far bag.
Instagram: @emnitta

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Tiffany is wearing a Rick Owens skirt and a shirt by the Money shirt with Balenciaga shoes and an Hermès bag.
Instagram: @handinfire

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Johanna is wearing a Zaza Design dress, an Escada coat, a Be Goldish necklace, Hugo Boss shoes, and Stella McCartney leggings.
Instagram: @johannakeimeyer

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Devon is wearing Jojo jeans with a vintage hat, dress, and gloves.
Instagram: @devonkaylor

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @ st.einberg

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Chiara is wearing a vintage blazer, a Jacquemus top, and Alanui pants with a Tory Burch bag and Bottega Veneta shoes.
Instagram: @chiaratotire

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Jenny is wearing a Miu Miu dress over a Prada top.
Instagram: @jennymwalton

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Monica is wearing a vintage coat, Falke socks, Miu Miu shoes, and Rendel sunglasses.
Instagram: @monicaainleydlv

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Alaa is wearing a vintage skirt, Chloé shoes, and an AKA coat with a Paco Rabanne bag.
Instagram: alaa

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Thássia is wearing Miu Miu.
Instagram: @thassianaves

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Kay is wearing Lacoste.
Instagram: kaaymbl

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Lena is wearing a Miu Miu look with Alexander McQueen boots.
Instagram: @lenamahfouf

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Courtney is wearing Miu Miu.
Instagram: @alwaysjudging

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Blanca is wearing a Lacoste outfit with Nike shoes and a Y/Project scarf.
Instagram: @blancamiro

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Snehal and Jyoti are wearing Chanel with custom pants.
Instagram: snejyo

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Lauren is wearing Lacoste.
Instagram: @theimpossiblemuse

Photo: Christina Fragkou / Cris Fragkou

Instagram: @annarvitiello

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