As the slogan goes: “Shulong: The comfortable and stylish vintage sneakers from China.” Shulong, or, literally, “comfortable dragon” is the latest entrant in the race to become the first vintage Chinese brand to endear itself to international consumers from Williamsburg to Chinatown, and although it has yet to achieve real visibility outside of a certain niche market, these sneakers are already the latest item for fashion-forward hipsters in Sanlitun and Wudaoying. Marketed out of Hong Kong and with retail distribution arrangements in a host of Oceanic and European cities, Shulong is decidedly less retro than its predecessors, doing away with the bold 1980s graphic logos of its competitors in favor of the simple lines of the jiefangxie, or “liberation shoes” that have been produced almost continuously in China for some five decades, still common the feet of new arrivals to the major cities and, without a hint of irony, certain young professionals who have already met with some success. Shulong has also released a series of bright colors and printed textiles over the past several years, perhaps aiming to negotiate the market for ubiquitous Keds. I would advise passing on the “ShuArt Shanghai Skyline Limited Edition” (because there is such a thing as too much kitsch), but why not branch out to a classic yellow canvas paired with a bright yellow sole?
Above: Classic Shulong, Bamboo & Silk Lining
Shulong may be the footwear of the moment, appearing everywhere from the gift shop at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art to the new concept store Brand New China opened by sometime media mogul Hung Huang, but it is actually at least the third in a series of vintage sneaker companies that have already achieved some penetration. In the beginning, of course, there was Feiyue, invented in the 1920s. Its current slogan reads something along the lines of “the Chinese sneaker redesigned by the French,” and although this redesign only included the application of new colors and logo schemes designed by international fashion icons, the shoe has certainly strayed from its roots. There are, in fact, two major companies that continue to market themselves as the “original Feiyue”: one owns a factory in Shanghai that has manufactured them for several decades, while the other is the French organization that purchased the brand in 2006. This split has led true fans of authenticity to waver in their purchasing decisions, fearing that others might think they’ve merely capitalized on a European trend rather than showing their true support for a local brand.
This is the ideology of guohuo, or “national products,” a trend initiated by nationalist angry youth that has since spread through the general Chinese hipster population, for whom these sneakers are often paired with a red Young Pioneers scarf, a white-and-blue striped navy issue t-shirt known as the haihunshan popularized by rocker He Yong, and vintage 1970s aviation or motorcycle goggles (depending on who you ask). The third entrant in the sneaker war is Warrior (or Huili), and this is the shoe that has captured the hearts of the nationalists. Launched in 1935, this brand has also been supported by overseas Chinese and international consumers, including Ye Shuming of Helsinki, who published a book of photographs of people from all walks of life wearing their Warriors.
There may be no clear winner yet, but the battle lines are drawn: Warrior for the nostalgic, Feiyue for the hip international set, and Shulong for the Chinese fashionista. For the moment, Shulong is on the ascent.
- Beijing: Brand New China, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, NLGX
- Feiyue on Amazon
- Shulong on Taobao
Article by Robin Peckham, September 13, 2010.