China’s seemingly inexorable rise en route to possible ‘reluctant’ global hyperpower status has innumerable facets, from the almost magical creation of metropolises such as Shenzhen – established only in 1980, and now a city of around nine million people – to its possession of 26.1% of the federal debt of the United States (a cool US$1,160.1 trn, now ahead of Japan’s US$882.3bn (19.9%)).
However, the PRC’s pop culture cachet has been decidedly tenuous: there has been no equivalent of the Korean Wave or Cool Japan, and modern Chinese design – while undoubtedly being augmented by events such as the first Beijing Design Week (28th September 2011 – 3rd October 2011) – arguably has not yet produced much of international repute.
Yet – with the ascent of the Hi Panda range of clothing – even this is beginning to change. Hi Panda – conceptually, a sort of anti-Hello Kitty, the creation of Japanese corporation Sanrio that is so beloved of teenage girls everywhere – is an ‘evil’ panda which began life as a sculpture in 2000; via the China Design Now exhibition, held at London’s world-famous Victoria & Albert Museum in 2008, the ‘amoral’ take on the PRC’s most recognisable mammal became an unlikely darling of the fashion world, with Louis Vuitton Head of Communications Antoine Arnault enamoured to the point of co-ownership of the Hi Panda brand.
The person behind the Hi Panda concept is the mononymous Jiji, a Xinjiang-born thirty-nine-year-old who graduated in 1994 with a degree in industrial design from the increasingly omnipresent Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Jiji’s fusion of art and business – the clothing line is only one aspect of his empire, which includes an art gallery and a music division – is common in contemporary China, perhaps best exemplified up to now by the legendary 798 Art Zone in Beijing. But Hi Panda promises to go much further, with outlets such as Le Bon Marché in Paris and London institution Harvey Nichols already stocking Hi Panda goods and an ‘easily attainable’ goal of 100m yuan (c.€11m) in revenue during 2011.
Sayonara Hello Kitty, Ni Hao Hi Panda?