Founded in 1994, Shanghai Tang was a brainchild of anglophile Sir David Tang, an entrepreneur-socialite who envisioned a revival of traditional Chinese fashion and by making it relevant to a modern audience. Tang’s own flamboyance was interpreted with the brand’s bold use of colours and prints, most iconically, the upturned sleeve cuffs of the velvet Tang jackets (唐装) with silk embroidered motifs. On the 14th of January, accompanied by the stirring soundtrack from renowned Shanghai-based violinist Mengla Huang, the brand celebrated Milan Fashion Week coinciding with Chinese New Year with a long awaited debut at the 2023 Fall/Winter Milan Fashion Week.
A vanguard in promoting Chinese contemporary artists on the global stage, Shanghai Tang’s aptly “Reunion” show at Milan Fashion Week pays homage to the occasion of Italy and China re-embracing. Since the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995, the brand has long been a pioneer in adopting the heritage and history of the Italian art scene through Chinese cultural lenses, marrying traditional Chinese elegance and oriental allure with contrasting bold western influences. Case in point, Shanghai Tang carved out a niche in menswear with the aforementioned Tang suit which blends impeccable tailoring with the sophistication of dynastic Tang aesthetics of ages past. It is this iconoclastic approach to high fashion on the world stage that has made Shanghai Tang a darling amongst fashion and art connoisseurs.
Debut: Shanghai Tang Fall Winter 2023 Menswear at Milan Fashion Week
“We see our runway debut at Milan Fashion Week as a courageous step for our brand, and the best way to reintroduce our style of fashion, creative design, and Oriental elegance on the global stage. This is also a chance for fashion and art lovers from Italy and China to meet again,”
– Shanghai Tang team
Huang performed “Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento”, adapted from Italian composer Paisiello’s opera “La Molinara” by the violinist Paganini, to carry heartfelt emotions with his delicate performance and outstanding skills for the opening of the Fall Winter 2023 menswear collection where Shanghai Tang conveyed powerful optimism and the cultural proclivity for the bright and beautiful, a nod to Chinese penchant for red or other brightly-coloured garments like orange on New Year’s Day, believed not just to be the hue of good fortune but potent enough to scare away spirits of bad fortune. It is here that judicious use of colour blocking plays up the brand’s palette of apple green, fuchsia and the oh so bountiful orange or 柑 frequently given out during Lunar New Year festivities with the greeting of “gong xi fa cai” (恭喜发财). Throughout the collection, heavily embroidered pieces, a signature of the brand, are recreated in relaxed yet well-tailored silhouettes offering sartorial ease and comfort. It is this playfulness married to oriental traditions and perspectives, meeting in a ‘spirit of reunion’ that make the brand’s return to Italian fashion prominence reminiscent of Sir Tang’s “make life a party” philosophy.
The star, a historical emblem of Chinese royalty and sovereignty and also a symbol synonymous with the brand finds itself repeated in ensembles through the collection in a myriad of different sizes and interpretations. The ribbon, another culturally significant objet believed to be a talisman where tying a red ribbon to a “wishing tree” will make a wish come true the higher it is tied, is emblematic of a celebratory spirit, popping up throughout the collection as scarfs, neck ties, or knitwear patterns. Traditional Mandarin Buttons, either blown-up or repurposed with pops of colour, points to festive formalities with Italian whimsy.
The charm of Shanghai Tang’s Fall Winter 2023 men’s collection lies in its unorthodox adoption of Eastern philosophies in a westernised context, it adapts and incorporates elements of East and West, deftly avoiding “thoughtless appropriation” through its passion and creativity: your traditional wool jackets made to imitate denim are treated with double stitch, renewing the ideal of “rawness,” while washed denim slacks are elevated with rigor. The brand’s iconic Tang suit looks just as before when viewed from the front, but updated in profile with a slightly more architectural sleeve typical of westernised pattern making, revealing subtle yet substantive updates on the brand’s signature ensemble.
Since the 1930s in Shanghai, or perhaps even earlier with Marco Polo, the Chinese have been exposed to Italian culinary culture and art. Today, the reunion continues in a truly elevated, globalised fashion with a literal marriage of East, West and a vision of a world remade without borders.