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How to run a fashion magazine in China

When Conde Nast announced Margaret Zhang as the next editor-in-chief of Vogue China two years ago, many in the fashion media were stunned.

First, at 27, Zhang was the youngest editor-in-chief of a Fashion Title. On the other hand, there was her unorthodox CV as a photographer, consultant, filmmaker, model and social media influencer – with almost no magazine experience. Then there was the fact that Zhang, who was born in Sydney to Chinese immigrants, was an Australian who had never lived in mainland China.

Her appointment was a significant gamble for Conde Nast, and particularly for its global chief content officer, Anna Wintour. China has been and still is a cornerstone of the luxury fashion market, responsible for billions of dollars in sales. It’s an economic superpower with complicated ties to the West and a place where press censorship is common.

How to run a fashion magazine in China, Crypto Trading News

Margaret Zhang, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue China, is the youngest-ever Vogue editor. Photos: Bella Howard/nyt

It’s also the world’s most populous country (about 1.4 billion people), whose nationalism is helping to reshape consumer culture and the retail landscape. Some western fashion brands have faced a backlash after angering the government over moves affecting cotton from Xinjiang or Taiwan.

Angelica Cheung, the founding editor of Fashion China, held the post for 15 years. Its next editor would have to have ambitious vision, impressive connections, and commercial and diplomatic savvy – a challenge for someone twice Zhang’s age and experience, let alone a foreigner.

How would it feel to step into a job like this and know how many people expect you to fail?

In Soho during last month’s London Fashion Week, Zhang, now 29, paused as he asked the question.

Petite and currently sporting bright blue hair (she defines stages of her life with her hues), she has been free to travel for shows since China lifted its strict lockdown earlier this year.

“I don’t mind people underestimating me,” Zhang said. “And that’s actually what I say to people who come to me for advice on how to be taken seriously.”

She adds with a smile: “Actually, it’s better when people underestimate you. Then you can prove them wrong. That is all the more satisfying.”

New beginnings

Zhang’s first issue in September 2021 was called “New Beginnings” and was produced during the quarantine by a group of women including little-known photographer Hailun Ma. The cover featured a 19-year-old dance student from Beijing Sport University. Since then, Zhang, who now lives in Beijing, has continued to work on her vision Fashion and what it can represent in 21st century China.

How to run a fashion magazine in China, Crypto Trading News

Margaret Zhang, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue China, is the youngest-ever Vogue editor. Photos: Bella Howard/nyt

Her handle on Instagram, where she has 1.8 million followers, doesn’t say “editor-in-chief”; instead it says “film director”. (She’s working on a screenplay.) Unsurprisingly, one of her most well-known projects is Vogue Film, a platform to support Chinese women in film. So far 11 short films have been produced.

Then there’s Vogue Open Casting, an annual model scouting program that will be held globally this year, and the Chinese Craftsmanship Initiative, which facilitates collaboration between international designers, local design talent and traditional Chinese craft communities. Zhang has also run a mentoring program that matches emerging Chinese designers with international names like Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli.

Zhang’s magazine cover and the content inside are eye-catching, rooted in bold, saturated colors and the open style that first made her famous as an influencer. A September 2022 digital cover series explored fashion’s collision with the metaverse; The splashy cover of the December 2022 issue, photographed by Zhang, featured supermodel Liu Wen.

How to run a fashion magazine in China, Crypto Trading News

Magaret Zhang, an Australian-born influencer, got the top job at Vogue China in 2021, making her the youngest-ever Vogue editor. Bella Howard / The New York Times

In China, male movie stars and influencers — known locally as KOLs — are often more popular than their female counterparts. Last month’s cover was by movie star Jackson Yee, in a modern take on traditional Peking Opera characters that incorporated the fashions of the current season Fashion China‘S first male solo cover star.

“When Margaret was hired, we were all very surprised,” said Emma Zhang (no relation to Margaret), a fashion director at Gusto Collective, which helps Western luxury brands steer expansions in Asia. “But now that Gen Z is such a prime consumer, it’s clearer why they wanted someone with a younger perspective and visual style. Their approach is different from what came before. Many see it as a breath of fresh air.”

It’s a digitally native approach that feels young and experimental to many in the fashion industry and elsewhere. Emerging talent takes center stage, while aspects of Chinese heritage remain revered at a time when many consumers are growing in appreciation for the country’s cultural history.

A cultural bridge

China is so big that Zhang, who heads a 50-strong team, said the magazine needs to produce significantly more content than Fashion expenses in other countries. Every social media audience matters — whether it’s Weibo, Douyin (China’s version of TikTok), or shopping platform Little Red Book — and has different needs.

How to run a fashion magazine in China, Crypto Trading News

Zhang, an Australian-born influencer, got the top job at Vogue China in 2021, making her the youngest-ever Vogue editor. Bella Howard / The New York Times

Printed magazines, she said, are viewed more as coffee-table collectibles than throwaway monthly compilations of runway trends or glittering events. But she also has international markets in her sights, including Chinese diasporas around the world.

In the past year and a half she said: Fashion had repositioned itself as a cultural bridge – China to the world, the world to China.

Recently, Conde Nast has reorganized its international operations, specifically content syndication. Veteran names disappeared and were replaced by a new generation handpicked by Ms. Wintour, who, unsurprisingly, speaks glowingly of Zhang.

How to run a fashion magazine in China, Crypto Trading News

Margaret Zhang in London. Bella Howard / The New York Times

“It was her digital mastery and knowledge of where fashion is going that set Margaret apart – her ability to speak to audiences, wherever they are, and understand what’s relevant now,” Ms Wintour wrote in one E-mail.

“She is a global thinker who knows that exciting personalities, designers and stories from China can travel across borders. Most importantly, she knows how to talk to young fashion enthusiasts wherever they are because she is one herself.”

“The execution really isn’t here”

Not everyone feels that way. Last January, Sophia Liao, the former head of Conde Nast China (who is suing the company for wrongful dismissal), published a series of sharp articles on WeChat about the magazine’s direction and Zhang’s appointment, despite having a hand in her hiring.

How to run a fashion magazine in China, Crypto Trading News

Margaret Zhang. Bella Howard / The New York Times

“It was really dangerous to have a person like that as editor-in-chief Fashion China‘ Ms. Liao wrote. “Why? Having grown up and living in Australia and abroad, her understanding of China is too superficial and limited.”

Leaf Green, a former Elle China The fashion editor-turned-creative advisor asked if Zhang was fluent enough in Mandarin to edit a magazine, saying many in the Chinese fashion industry remain skeptical. She asked if a foreign perspective is what the Chinese market needs at this point.

“Margaret is trying to break the rules and bring new content to the table,” Greener said in a phone call. “She has some good ideas and supports young local designers, but sometimes the execution really isn’t there. To be successful, she needs to solve what I see as a major cover problem and aim for diverse rather than chaotic styling. I don’t think it’s where it needs to be to be a world-class fashion magazine.”

Zhang thinks her knowledge of Mandarin is sufficient. (She acknowledged that she speaks it more formally and lacks local slang, but added that it has proven very useful for communicating with grandmothers in Shanghai markets.) She also seems optimistic about naysayers, which she says she has grappled with throughout her working life.

“I would be lying if I said this job or assignment isn’t intimidating,” she said. “But I’ve gotten used to being the youngest person in the room. I’m also often the most creative in a business room or the most business-savvy in a creative space. Basically an outsider. But two years later, I feel like everything I’ve learned in my career and all my different skillsets for this role come together in a weird way.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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