If Shanghai Fashion Week wasn’t on your radar before, it’s impossible to miss what’s happening in the city right now. Following a round of mostly-digital shows in New York and Europe, Shanghai’s spring 2021 schedule is packed with more than 90 events—IRL ones—and lots of news. One headline comes from Wendy Yu, the investor, philanthropist, and namesake of the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a title she endowed to Andrew Bolton in 2018. In a similar show of funding and nurturing creativity, she’s announcing the launch of the Yu Prize, a new program to scout, promote, and support rising talents in China.
The initiative aims to support designers locally and boost their international visibility, but Yu also hopes it can lend some structure to the country’s rapidly-growing fashion industry. “It’s a very exciting time for Chinese fashion,” she tells Vogue. “We are seeing many talents emerge with greater sophistication and confidence in their design and manufacturing capabilities. However, there is still little support and structure in the industry, [both] for those who have the potential to breakthrough internationally and succeed domestically. We do not have an official body dedicated to the development of young designers, such as as the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode or the Council of Fashion Designers of America,” she explains. “I felt passionate about creating our own platform that would align with Yu Holdings’s mission to ‘cultivate creativity’ and incubate and accelerate our rising stars. As consumers in China are increasingly interested in shopping local brands, this makes the opportunity all the more promising.”
The Yu Prize joins a roster of other fashion competitions and awards, like the LVMH Prize and ANDAM Prize, but with a more localized bent. There’s one other key distinction: Yu and her jury (who are meeting virtually at the moment) are specifically looking for designers who see fashion in the context of the world’s most pressing issues, namely climate change. “Fashion today has a wider role and responsibility, and this is something we want to capture through the Prize,” Yu adds. “We are not just looking for designers, we are looking for creators and culture shapers with a strong point of view and impact beyond apparel. We will be assessing this when reviewing the applications and will go onto to task the finalists with a creative assignment, which will help demonstrate to us how versatile they are in cross-pollinating their vision, designs, and commercial acumen outside of their collections.”
Applications open today through December 15th. The winner and two special prize recipients—chosen by a jury that includes Giambattista Valli, Andrew Bolton, Diane Von Furstenberg, Labelhood’s Tasha Liu, Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode’s Pascal Morand, Shanghai Fashion Week’s Madame Lu, and Vogue’s Chioma Nnadi, among others—will be announced at the next Shanghai Fashion Week in March 2021. The official winner will receive a cash prize of €125,000 (around $147,000); a showcase at the Sphere Showroom at Paris Fashion Week in October 2021, plus an event co-hosted by the FHCM; a slot on the Shanghai Fashion Week schedule for October 2021; a year of mentoring from industry experts, with a special focus on sustainability; and guidance by the Yu Holdings team in the form of consulting, resource allocation, and financial investments. The winning collection will also be stocked in a range of international and local retailers, including Harrod’s. (Other cash prizes and business opportunities will be awarded to the runners-up.)
This week, Yu is getting a glimpse of which designers may apply at the Shanghai shows, which continue through the 18th. “I can’t wait to see Masha Ma, Xu Zhi, and Caroline Hu,” she says, adding that many of today’s rising talents studied abroad at Central Saint Martins or the London College of Fashion before coming back to Shanghai. As a result, “they are more globally minded,” she says. “They marry that with a sense of pride of their cultural roots, and from this a new wave of creativity and confidence is born. They represent a new perspective on ‘Made in China.’”