BEIJING Haute couture mixing traditional Chinese touches and styles from more than 1,000 years ago with Western designs opened China Fashion Week, as the world's fastest-growing market for luxury products catches the eyes of more designers.
Models showed off a wide range of long gowns in bright colours, some featuring traditional Chinese embroidery and replicas of attire from the Tang Dynasty, AD 618 to AD 907, from NE TIGER, China's oldest luxury brand.
"The haute couture industry in China is developing vigorously without any signs of slowing down. This is above my expectation," said Zhang Zhifeng, who founded the brand 19 years ago.
"I thought my haute couture would live only with a small group of people, but now it is expanding very quickly. Consumers have become increasingly fond of Chinese traditional culture."
Zhang said he wanted the Spring/Summer 2012 collection "Tang, Jing" to highlight Tang culture for the 500-strong audience at the show on Wednesday, the start of the 10-day Fashion Week, which NE TIGER has opened for the last decade.
"I was so inspired when I listened to some historians telling stories of the Tang Dynasty. It was so prosperous that in many ways, it still has influence on Chinese society even today," he added.
Some gowns featured designs from traditional Chinese paintings, while others had flaring, bouffant skirts.
Zhang's workshop is located in the heart of Beijing, the Chinese capital, where his 11-person international team dedicates itself to the creation of personalised designs.
A customised, hand-made gown usually costs about 30,000 yuan, with the price going even higher depending on the amount of human labour involved, such as embroidering elaborate designs. One garment can take up to three months.
But despite the prices, Zhang said NE TIGER has seen a boom in purchases from both domestic and overseas clients in recent years. The brand has eight boutiques around the world.
While European and U.S. fashion designers are feeling the pinch of the economic crisis, the number of millionaires in China is rapidly expanding, leading to a growing market for couture in the world's second-largest economy.
According to the 2011 World Luxury Association Blue Book survey, China's total consumption of luxury goods had reached $10.7 billion as of the end of March this year, accounting for a quarter of global consumption.
China has also become the world's second-largest consumer of luxury goods.
Some of those potential consumers, present at the show, said they were impressed.
"Every single gown presented tonight is surprisingly gorgeous," said Li Fengteng, a 28-year-old company manager.
"They combine the traditional Chinese cheong-sam design and Western fashion elements."
(Additional reporting by Wang Shubing; Editing by Elaine Lies)