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2021-09-08 10:06:50

Zhou Rui has been named a co-recipient of one of the most prestigious awards in international fashion, raising the profile of the 26-year-old best known for her genderless clothing label. It’s the first time that a Chinese designer has received the honor.

The Shanghai-based designer shared the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Special Jury Prize — named after the late German designer — on Tuesday with American designer Colm Dillane and South African designer Lukhanyo Mdingi. The trio will each receive 150,000 euros ($177,430) in prize money, and a mentorship.

The French luxury conglomerate Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton started the LVMH Prize in 2013, and is considered one of the highest recognitions in the industry. This year, Albanian womenswear designer Nensi Dojaka took home the grand LVMH Prize.

Colm Dillane, Zhou Rui, and Lukhanyo Mdingi (left to right) pose for a photo after winning the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Special Jury Prize, 2021. From Weibo

Colm Dillane, Zhou Rui, and Lukhanyo Mdingi (left to right) pose for a photo after winning the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Special Jury Prize, 2021. From Weibo

Tasha Liu, founder of the Labelhood platform working with emerging Chinese designers, said Zhou’s win is another acknowledgement of the fashion industry’s efforts to become more diverse and inclusive.

“It’s hard to say if Zhou’s recognition elevates the status of Chinese fashion and Chinese designers in the world, because everyone is an individual,” said Liu, who helps designers organize runway shows at the Shanghai Fashion Week and also markets their labels. “Zhou’s positioning, image, and style are unique.”

Born in the central province of Hunan, Zhou studied at the elite Tsinghua University in Beijing before graduating from the Parsons School of Design in New York in 2018. She founded her label Rui the following year, known for its gender-neutral, colorful, and quirky bodysuits that have been sported by celebrities like British pop star Dua Lipa and South Korean singer and model Hyuna.

Two photos of models dressing on Zhou Rui’s works. From @ruiofficial.me on Instagram

Two photos of models dressing on Zhou Rui’s works. From @ruiofficial.me on Instagram

Zhou is among the growing number of Chinese designers — including Uma Wang, Zhang Huishan, and Guo Pei — who have made their mark on the international fashion circuit in recent years. The emergence of Chinese designers on a global scale coincides the current appetite for designer labels in China, which is estimated to account for over 55% of the world's luxury market by 2025, according to a report by consultancy Bain & Co. and ecommerce giant Tmall.

The designers, according to industry insiders, are not just debunking the “Made in China” stereotype, often associated with either substandard quality or clichéd aesthetics, but challenging them — at home and abroad.

“In recent years, China’s fashion world has seen a lot of diversity in terms of aesthetics and mindset,” Liu told Sixth Tone. “There is now an increasing number of young people who are trying to break stereotypes on what’s beautiful.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Models in Zhou Rui’s designs. From Weibo)