PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 22: A model poses backstage prior to the Li-Ning Menswear Spring Summer 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on June 22, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Francois Durand/Getty Images for Li-Ning)
Joy in a Classical Chinese Sport
Li-Ning, the great icon of Chinese athletics, finds the inspiration for its latest collection in ping-pong—the timeless sport in which China holds a decades-long interest and passion, as well as a heritage of unmatched Olympic success. Regarded simply as a leisurely summer pastime in the West, table tennis, the Chinese national sport, commands a fervor greater than basketball, baseball, or soccer. For Spring/Summer 2020, Li-Ning delivers a collection of apparel, footwear, and accessories that pays tribute to ping-pong and ele- vates both of its understandings: the fun, uncomplicated activity as well as the high-stakes, high-tech Olympic sport that has the most participants of any in the world—and one in which China has won 28 of 32 Olympic gold medals since its introduction in 1988.
The simple ping-pong polo informed the design direction of the entire collection, which offers easy shapes and voluminous silhouettes cut away from the body—effortless Li-Ning signatures. In achieving and perfecting this airy look, Li-Ning pioneered a set of new, ultra- lightweight fabrics, which comprised everything from coats and shirts to pants, shorts, and accessories. In its styling and colorways, the collection fused nostalgia and futurism to create a new look rooted firmly in the now.
Male models strode the runway in deconstructed, zip-away Mackintosh coats trimmed in contrasting piping and affixed with patches. They layered their paperweight anoraks in contrasting tones of khaki and yellow. And they wore infinite iterations of the oversize polo—short or long-sleeved, striped, patterned, patched, piped, open V-neck, or zip-neck with vintage-inspired circular pulls. The breezy look carried through to the women’s range: females wore long tennis dresses darted with contrast stitching, as well as zip- away track coats and waisted track dresses. And for all genders, Li-Ning reimagined its signature garment—the track suit—in a wild range of colors, materials, and techniques, each of them at home on the ping-pong courts of yesterday or today.
Across all apparel, Li-Ning made strong use of vintage-inspired graphics including repeating paddle prints, abstract collages, comic book sketches, and the critical number 11, which was assigned to Mr. Li during the 1984 Summer Olympics.
In footwear, Li-Ning boldly stepped into the decade with progressive silhouettes and fearless iterations of its classic styles. New this season, the sporty, comfortable, lace-up 001 OG is a modern interpretation of the first shoe Li-Ning designed and released in 1990. The lo-top Wave Vintage and the hi-top, Vibram-soled Wave Boot reimagine the classic Li-Ning court shoe for today, making use of innovative materials and electric colorways. The basketball-inspired 2020 Ace Low is a lo-top iteration of a fearless silhouette intro- duced last Fall; its evolution retains the same signature material textures and iconic multi-pod outsole. Finally, the wild Kuafa runner debuted with clashing colorways and an exaggerated, architectural heel detail—a testament to the creativity of Li-Ning.
Presenting for the second time at Paris Men’s Fashion Week, Li-Ning this season constructed an original show space inside the Lycée Turgot. Within the custom set, graphics from the collection adorned the hyper-color, multi-layer walls; a vast mirror-ball hung from the ceiling; and seating followed a maze-like format. Models walked the labyrinth to an eclectic soundtrack of obscure Chinese tracks, ’90s hip hop, and abstract Jazz, revealing the collection to a front-row crowd that included world champion skier Eileen Gu, Chinese performer Ayunga, singer Can Chengyu, and Lucas Jagger, as well as Mr. Li-Ning himself, who took in the show alongside his daugh- ter Xiaoyan.
The show kicked off with the powerful debut of the Li-Ning’s first collaboration with Stefano Pilati and his progressive, Berlin-based contemporary label, Random Identities. Lights cut out and an army of models dressed all in black descended upon the show space wearing Pilati’s reinterpretation of Li-Ning’s Aurora 2019: a lo-top trail running night boot in triple black with a built-in LED light that functions at three settings (on, strobe, and intermittent strobe). As their feet flickered, the models carried black flags as a symbol of the cultural connections Li-Ning has made globally since its first fashion presentation in early 2018.
Of the collaboration, brand founder Stefano Pilati said: “Random Identities is a brand affirming equality intrinsically—creating syner- gies, learning processes, exchanging cultures, and, ultimately, shaping identities. I was introduced to Li-Ning in 2017, and I’ve enjoyed an extended period of observation, interaction, and an open exploration of possibilities. I discovered several styles—all of them un- known in the Western market—that I would find joy in adapting or re-styling through the Random Identities lens. The Aurora 2019 was our chosen style, and thanks to the openness and trust of the Li-Ning team, I can say I am very proud of the results. I am equally satisfied with our creative dialogue and working relationship. Which means this could be considered the beginning of something more.”
2020 also marks Li-Ning‘s 30 year anniversary. In its first three decades, the brand has been driven by the limitlessness of the human body, while being rooted in and celebrating Chinese pride. Both of these recurring themes are evident in the Spring/Summer 2020 collection’s focus on table tennis, a sport in which the Chinese uniquely excel. “Each season at Li-Ning, we lead with imagination and innovation,” said founder Mr. Li. “At the same time, we see Li-Ning as a platform on which we can expose the world to facets of our culture. Ping-pong is our thrilling, fast-paced, energetic national sport, and we are so proud of our national teams’ achievements on the global stage. This collection is presented in tribute to this beautiful game.”
After a successful introduction in its home country at retailers like Lane Crawford, Li-Ning’s elevated runway collection, now in its fourth season, continues to expand its global distribution at a range of high-end retailers and specialty sneaker boutiques. Select stockists include: KITH, SSENSE, LN-CC, Slam Jam, END Clothing, Oki-Ni, Selfridges, and END Clothing to name only a few.