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Those viral Chinese street fashion TikToks are no accident, but they are alluring
You may have seen at least one of these viral TikTok compilations of highly fashionable people in the past week. They all seem to be filmed in China, and from the vantage point of a videographer who just happens upon the person on the street. The fashionable people give an “Oh, I didn’t see you there” look to camera, and the whole trend gives us a false, but fun, impression that everyone in China looks straight off the runway.
All of these Anglo TikToks are ripped off of Douyin, China’s approved TikTok that’s owned by the same Beijing-based tech company. And many Douyin users have been reuploading various photographers’ and videographers’ compilations to their TikTok accounts.
The videos have become hugely viral outside of China — and even off the platform.
I’m a first-generation Chinese immigrant with most of my family members still back in China, so I visit the country fairly often, and these videos didn’t surprise me too much. In certain parts of international cosmopolitan cities, high fashion is so pervasive it does feel like a constant “fashion week.” (The economic boom in China has enabled a lot of young people to become wealthy and enjoy luxuries their parents never could have afforded, like haute couture. But this is getting further from the point of the newsletter. Anyway.)
I was a bit surprised by how popular these videos have become, and the strong reactions to them online. One video posted last week has been viewed over 24 million times. A friend (hi Marie) messaged me, admiring them and asking what they’re all about. She also asked if these street videos were all orchestrated in response to the coronavirus since nearly all indoor fashion week events have been canceled this year.
I thought that was a really interesting question, so I WeChatted my cool, fashionable teenage cousins in China. They never got back to me because they’re too busy being cool and fashionable. But one TikTok user, @sh1ryinyin, who’s been pasting together and posting many of these videos from Douyin, did. She offered a lot of sharp insight.
According to @sh1ryinyin, whose name is Yin and is Chinese American herself, the videos were all originally shared by the same group of photographers. The photographers congregate in a few very specific areas across China: in the popular shopping Taikoo Li district in Chengdu; in Sanlitun, the restaurant and nightlife hot spot of Beijing; and in the historic fashion district of Xintiandi in Shanghai (fun fact: this is where my mom used to shop when she was a teenager — it looked very different 40 years ago)
Many of the people featured in the videos are models and influencers, and they know where to find these photographers and videographers.
And to answer my friend Marie’s question simply: It is kind of a coordinated stunt for the fashion industry.
“With the rise of influencer culture, many influencers actually go out dressing very stylish in hopes of being filmed and having their video go viral on Douyin in order to gain more exposure,” said Yin, 20, who’s based in Hawaii. She told me it’s not a “fashion week” event in China per se, but brands have a heavy hand in it.
“It’s used by brands as a method of advertisement. I believe it’s a more ‘relatable’ way of advertising clothes,” she added.
In certain videos on Douyin, fashion brands are directly tagged or linked, and certain links will take you directly to the brand’s website or vendors. Yin said she hasn’t seen any brands post these videos directly.
Photographers are posting them directly, which, just like the influencer industry in the US, helps to build their own accounts and followings online.
Yin is from Chengdu, one of the cities where fashion photographers are posted up, and she said she’s really proud and excited about the reception her videos are getting.
“I think it’s very refreshing for people to get this new insight into Chinese street fashion. I hope that through these videos, people are more excited to learn about China,” she said. “I think these videos are going so viral now because people living outside of China may have never imagined that Chinese people are so invested in fashion.”
I’m excited by it too. And trust me, the irony of this recent admiration — sometimes edging into fetishization — of China as the world is also growing fearful of China’s potential surveillance with TikTok is also not lost on me. But for now, if a bunch of people want to gush over beautiful, sartorial, skinny, 6-foot-tall Chinese citizens, I don’t hate it. And perhaps this will inspire an alternative forum for fashion photography and fashion week during the time of COVID. I do prefer these compilation videos to Getty wires and fashion blogs.
And who knows, if a photographer in Chicago is inspired to set something up by my apartment and the 7-Eleven across the street, you might just cash me ousside giving eyes in my same quarantine outfit.
Oh, and FYI, here are the OP photographers on Douyin:
Until next time,
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