Love Simone Rocha? Then you’ll adore Shushu/Tong
The Shanghai-based label that’s taking digital retail by storm
In April, Chinese fashion label Shushu/Tong presented its AW21 collection called “Brave New World” during Shanghai Fashion Week. Rather more optimistic than Orwellian, the clothes had a distinct ’60s look, touching more specifically on space age futurism thanks to a cavalcade of models dressed in A-line silhouettes, Peter Pan collars, babydoll ruffles and Barbarella-inspired dresses, which perfectly captured a sexy and gamine aesthetic.
As one of the most popular labels on the schedule, Shushu/Tong - established in 2015 by friends Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang - demonstrated why it has captured the imagination of Gen-Z shoppers: it’s kooky, a little bit retro, but more importantly, designs are full of an ebullience that seems to reject the existence of a Covid era, as if it never happened. There’s no drama or extravagance magicked up as some kind of antidote to dark times; nothing that points to a “breaking free” after lockdown.
In fact, Shushu/Tong’s collections have maintained the same fun and frivolous idealism throughout this challenging period. Why is this important? Because normality - in the guise of happy, sunny fashion, rather than OTT opulence - is what young fashion lovers have sought out in the wake of the pandemic. In the case of Shushu/Tong, this is evidenced by a significant increase in sales and stockists. It now has 50 in mainland China and more than 20 worldwide, which is quite a feat for a young independent brand. Another clue that spotlights the label’s rising popularity is its recent collaboration with Estée Lauder on a limited edition range of make-up (available to UK consumers via Estée Lauder’s Dutch site).
Over the past 18 months, the designers - who go by the names Shushu and Tong Tong - have seen their sales multiply thanks to some cool connections and a nifty digital strategy. Their SS21 campaign featured supermodel Ju Xiaowen who recently graced the catwalks of Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Hermès; she was also the first model of Chinese descent to be the face of Marc Jacobs. But instrumental to this revenue surge has been the launch of Shushu/Tong’s online store on China’s Tmall ecommerce platform - part of the Alibaba network and an increasingly popular retail destination for luxury labels, including Gucci, which launched its Tmall store in December 2020. This new venture engendered an effusive reaction from European stockists too, including SSense, which doubled its Shushu/Tong inventory.
“It was amazing to have a catwalk show after such a long period of being shut away. Models really bring our pieces to life. The music, the setting... you can fall in love with clothes again,” says Shushu who also handles the marketing side of this burgeoning label, which recently made Vogue Hong Kong’s cover in the form of a signature bow top modelled by Blackpink’s Lisa (Lalisa Manobal).
Cult films and ’90s pop culture play a fundamental part in the pair’s design practice, which has proved to be an irresistible draw for young shoppers who are embracing pre-millennial fashion styles. “I was born in 1991. I’m part of the first generation of Chinese [children] that did not grow up with a lot of censorship on TV,” Shushu says. “Animation shows - especially from Japan - were especially influential. Western culture also created an impact. For example, one of our collections [SS21] was very pink and girly, drawing from Marilyn Monroe [in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes]. So my view of the world is very different from someone born in the ’80s. The view I had was very colourful and mixed, and that’s what we like to translate into our collections.”
Both Liushu Lei and Yutong Jiang studied at London College of Fashion, and the pair share a love of coquettish fashion that tilts towards a punkish edge. It’s no wonder really, Shushu cut his teeth working for Simone Rocha, known for her feminine tulle creations, while Tong Tong designed for fashion’s “prince of darkness”, Gareth Pugh.
The idea for this latest collection, however, germinated from an unconventional source. “For six months prior to this collection, I was obsessed with space age furniture,” Shushu explains. “I wanted to use plastics, bright yellows and pinks and [apply] them to a girl from the ’60s caught in a very different place, a Brave New World, which is unfamiliar to her. It’s important for us to balance the girly look with something less sweet. I am always one to introduce [an element] of the unexpected. Our ‘girl’ is never the same, she follows different stories but there is a lasso that ties everything together.”
Given their career backgrounds, couture flourishes are a house signature. For this AW21 collection, ruffles and net-like flower embroideries are intricate additions that point to a dedication to craftsmanship. The latter were created in collaboration with New York-based airbrush artist Shuhua Xiong, who, like the designers, shares a love of anime and sci-fi.
As for their business model, Shushu maintains that spontaneity is key. Indeed, the brand took off quite by chance: a friend who owns the trendy Chinese Laundry Room restaurant in London, published the lookbook of their first collection on her WeChat account. Before long, Shushu/Tong had a loyal following. “We definitely had a strong digital start,” says Shushu. “But really on social media, I’ve never had a plan. My only plan really is to keep posting and at a certain point it just bloomed. We haven’t had any shows in Europe, so our strong European following, it really is all because of Instagram. This is why I put a lot of work into having great pictures.”
So how do they work as a pair? “We have lots of different ideas. Sometimes we are against one another! We always direct each other in the end because we know each other so well. We usually start another collection soon after the last, but a couple of weeks to relax and enjoy your success… it’s really the best feeling.”
Our advice? Nab a SS21 Shushu/Tong bargain in the sales before this label goes global in a big way. You can pick up a black tulle T-shirt and matching tulle skirt for less than £330. Very Simone Rocha, only more affordable.