Editor: Stephany Zoo
M ore than just a Weibo phenomenon of 1.3 million followers, Peter Xu strikes as an authentic and energetic personality. Despite having worked with fashion’s top brands, Xu keeps his down-to-earth roots persona and belief in fate, a mentality that is his talisman against the cutthroat nature of the fashion world in which he is embedded.
Having built the success of his blogging empire upon a knack for knowing what brands want, Xu demonstrates an ability to delicately balance the poetic with the prosaic. While many brands he works with aggressively push sales and ‘hard-sell’ advertising, something savvy netizens are suspicious of, Xu’s challenge is to accomplish brand and product integration in a creative way that is simultaneously aspirational and cool. At the same time, there’s a constant pressure to fight for his position on the top of online buzz to convince brands of his value, many of which still veer toward cooperation with traditional media.
Working in a world built around ‘exclusivity’, Xu still seeks recognition from industry gatekeepers, as he explains, “bloggers are viewed as emerging and disruptive forces.” Despite having to fight for inclusion in high-end fashion editorials and photo-shoots, entrepreneurial Xu relishes the challenge that comes with attempting innovation and doesn’t see much disgrace in adventurous failure.
Rather than a vapid fashion-type, speaking to Xu provides surprising intellectual gratification, and instills faith that in the fashion world neither design purists nor brand executives are alone in their crusades, rather buttressed by bloggers like Xu who seek to blend multi-facets of brands and content.
In many ways Xu’s mixture of humility and daring is his most unusual yet important trait. Unlike many other bloggers in China, who often hail from wealthy families and start blogging simply because it coincides with their existing lifestyles, Xu’s humble beginnings bar him from taking what he does for granted. In a way, this resonates more with the masses; afterall, not every fashionista can fund their dream wardrobe.
Starting ten years ago with minor stints as a DJ on the radio and in marketing for L’Oreal, Xu’s early career provided little room for creative pursuit. He later took a chance on a reality TV singing show, making it to the national top 20, yet to no ends. Reluctantly abandoning his dreams of stardom, Xu began teaching SAT & TOEFL classes at the New Oriental School, all the while trying to understand a way to satisfy his artistic drive. What happened next, Xu attributes to fate andthe emergence of Weibo, which carried him along in the tide of its own explosive growth. Xu’s teaching career actually became his advantage when the tens of thousands of students he taught became the first online apostles to his influential fashion Weibo site. Increasingly influential, a number of ‘street style’ brands like Vans, Lee and Levi’s sought him out for their first forays into digital campaigns. The urban influence from his rap idols and these initial street wear brands is still evident in his style today.
U ltimately, Xu realized: “classrooms were too small for me to influence others so I made the decision to evolve as a trendsetter.” To understand fashion he would need to get to the fore at the much coveted catwalk shows. Following an invitation to attend Bordeaux’s wine festival, Xu bagged an invitation to attend a Dior Homme show the next day and was entranced by what he saw. After that initial show, many brands, such Chanel, MCM, Zegna and Dolce & Gabbana began approaching him to accept sponsorship to attend and give coverage on his blogs. Finally, Xu was able to weave together the beginnings of his brand: his love of teaching with his gregarious personality.
A deep misunderstanding of the roles of bloggers like Xu persists; even much of his own family have trouble grasping his increasing fameand lifestyle mobility. With a typical day starting at 11am, with media or client brunches, Xu spends his afternoon shopping, styling, fitting and shooting. Most important are the events and shows, which, in the fashion capital of Shanghai, occur almost every night. Making it a rule to go home around 1am in time for conference calls with oversea partners, Xu feels obliged to attend to keep up appearances as China’s foremost fashion blogger amongst his encroaching competitors. After the recent A/W 2014 London in Shanghai Burberry fashion show, he was up until 3 am, processing the runway photos and working to post the first comprehensive article for the show.
Nowadays, his greatest challenges lie in pitching brands interesting new ways to layer commercial with content, as opposed to prosaic conventional coverage of fashion shows and trends. Now positioned as a digital strategist, Xu often advises brands on which content is most likely to drive interaction on social networking sites like Weibo and Weixin. As a ‘tier-one’ blogger, he does not lack clients; rather the chasm of understanding in his work makes for a dearth of capable assistants with both the passion and meticulousness to assist.
In his own words, Xu’s worst nightmare is “losing oneself in the materialistic world of vanity and brands, or losing one’s true identity in the face of criticism and comparison.” For him, fashion has a duty to both educate and elevate using the universal theme of style. Using this understanding enables the general consumer to appreciate the artistic touch in everything, rather than pursuing fashion for conspicuous purposes alone. Thanks to the advent of social digital media, Xu now believes the world of fashion is up for grabs for everyone who makes the effort.
Like most industry professionals, Xu worries that mass consumerism has the potential to overpower creativity, pointing out that many designers have left brands because of the conflict between originality and profit. To overcome this, he advocates a distinct sense of self rather than blindly worshipping brands.
For many, the roles of the bloggers such as Peter Xu are thus far undetermined in fashions new social digital era. Rather than simply to discover and show, the talented blogger has the facility to assemble a worldview, working in the foreground and then stapling together to interpret the densely fabricated values of style and trend with the added supplement of personal ego. For the eternally curious and persistent such as Xu, fashion in the digital age has the potential to belong to anyone with enough innovation and an eye for the beautiful.