Shanzhai Couture With Cyril Duval

Walter Pearce

Below are excerpts from a conversation with <a href="http://www.itemidem.com/">Cyril Duval</a> (item idem) of <a href="http://www.shanzhaibiennial.com/">Shanzhai Biennial</a>. </b>

Cyril Duval

“People misunderstand Shanzhai for counterfeit. The point of counterfeit is to emulate the same level of luxury, you buy the Louis Vuitton bag to pretend you are as rich as the person who buys the real Louis Vuitton bag. Then there is Shanzhai, which, we believe is more of a message from the lower class to the middle class. In the same way that some Chinese people have wealth right now and want to buy things like western brands, and then you have the people in the factories who produce fake Louis Vuitton all day, or fake iPhones, or even real iPhones and stuff. And they’re like 'Oh we can’t pay that so why don’t we do our own things?' The eastern take of profusion of icons and logos, it's like why only have one logo if you can have five? They look at the brand symbols from the West and they chose the ones that speak the most to them. Apple is the largest brand in China in all accounts, including Shanzhai. There are iPhone lighters, iPhone lamps, I have an iPhone currency counting machine, iPhone clothing of every type. Angry birds is also huge, and Obama. In China Obama was the coolest thing coming from the states for a while, a handsome black man.”

cyril duval

“We say that we are an international lifestyle brand posing as a biennial posing as an art brand. We always say we are as much of a biennial as Juicy Couture is couture. Which means we aren’t. We do see ourselves as a real Shanzhai brand. It’s almost pretentious to say that, but we are an offspring of the phenomenon. We’ve never wanted to make clothes. We’ve been collecting and looking at Shanzhai and we know the phenomenon, but faking Shanzhai would be the worst thing to do. It is too perfect as it is so you would just end up being a shitty graphic designer. You can’t fake it, it’s too good. I’m a western person living in the West, it would just be all wrong. Shanzhai comes from an accidental phenomenon, sometimes it’s a factory working with another factory, so you’ll have one logo on the sole of the shoe, another on the side. Sometimes its an accident sometimes its on purpose. Sometimes just someone wants to add another logo. You can’t fake that. The same way that the factories piggyback and borrow from Western brands, we piggyback on their brands and rebrand it (as Shanzhai Biennial). Just adding to the chain. It was the most honest way to do it, just presenting them how they are, and we make an interesting financial markup of it. It’s diffusing what the real thing is all about. We would never want a level of cynicism towards what it is, towards like, what the material is. Shanzhai is a global phenomenon. It effects multiple parts of the global economy. Shanzhai is exported, on Instagram, viral media, clothes trending everywhere. There are specific styles of clothing, if you get Shanzhai in Mexico, or the Middle East. They are Shanzhai, but are done in different ways. I’ve seen a Chanel bag that looks like Middle Eastern carpet print. It’s more subtle than the massive Chinese phenomenon of course, but its there.”

cyril duval

“In terms of the buying, when we decided to present real Shanzhai, we had an ongoing collection. I sent one of my assistants to a town that is 300 kilometers from Shanghai. It is a fascinating town, it’s the largest wholesale market in the world for small commodities. You can buy anything from tooth brushes, to inflatables, to flowers, to clothes. It’s like a town ten times the size of the Barclays Center that is a shopping mall. We went there and we didn’t buy wholesale, only samples. She sent me a selection every day and I said what she should buy. The middle class Chinese don’t see the phenomenon for what it is. It went through customs easily. Despite the differences between counterfeit and Shanzhai, I was still worried that it would get confiscated because it looks like the Chanel logo. What i realized is that my eye is too used to it, when I see five logos the average customs person is not going to see everything.”

Cyril Duval

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